Amidst honking horns, cheering allies and occasional jeering, Jürgen Shantz remained steadfast in his protest against climate change inaction.
The crowd alongside him has dwindled over the course of his protest on four-consecutive Fridays, from more than 40 strong to approximately 10 by his final demonstration April 12. His fellow Haliburton Highlands Secondary School students had not joined him consistently. Although elementary students and adult activists have come, the protests have also attracted negative attention from skeptics.
Despite the challenges of losing out on class time and balancing a schedule with school sports, Shantz said he did not want to stop coming.
“I didn’t want to disappoint people,” Shantz said. “I really want to grow up in a world where I don’t have to worry about this kind of stuff anymore.”
Shantz was inspired to start demonstrating by Swedish student Greta Thunberg, who has become internationally-acclaimed for not attending high school to protest climate change inaction.
He made his mind up to follow in her footsteps and began protesting outside the Dysart et al municipal building March 22.
“I’m not that much of an outward person, so starting this was pretty difficult for me,” he said. “It was also difficult getting the word out there. But I had to do it.”
The support came quickly, with adults and activist groups spreading the word.
“It means a lot to me,” Shantz said. “I was just really scared of nobody being here, but at least 40 people showed up (to the first protest).”
Bonnie Roe joined in the protests each week and said the youth attending would learn a lot from the experience.
“They’ve received tons of support and I think it’s going to help them realize we can have a voice,” Roe said.
Not everyone has supported the effort. The protest has attracted negative attention on social media. One driver passing by on the final day of protest called it crazy and said not to “use the kids.”
“I thought that specific case was hilarious,” Shantz said. “I was the one who started this, so they’re not using me.”
“There will always be a few naysayers,” Roe said. “We should admire the depth and insight they have about such a serious issue as climate change, not undermine them as not understanding or following adults.”
Shantz said government action on climate change at all levels is critical.
“They’re the people who have the power to do things,” he said. “We really need governments to get on board with this.”
Although Shantz’s weekly protests are ending, he plans to co-ordinate local demonstrations in solidarity with international ones. The next one is planned for May 24.
He said he hopes that he can attract more of his peers to attend.
“I accomplished about half of what I was hoping. I was hoping a lot more students would show up which didn’t happen,” Shantz said. “But a lot more people seemed to be paying attention to the subject.”