Our first Climate Picnic had sun, music, flags, blankets, napping and lots of networking amongst people who are both experienced with and completely new to climate organizing. As parents of a four-year-old, it was nice to bring our daughter to an event that was so kid-friendly. But having a four-year-old also means it will be hard for us to run as many Climate Picnics as we would like to — so we are encouraging YOU to run a picnic of your own.
Climate Picnic, The Christie Pits and all of Toronto stand on the traditional territory of many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples. Toronto is covered by Treaty 13 with the Mississaugas of the Credit. The territory was also the subject of the Dish With One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant, an agreement between the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and Confederacy of the Ojibwe and allied nations to peaceably share and care for the resources around the Great Lakes. It is also important to recognize that indigenous history is dynamic. The Haudenosaunee Confederacy was formed from the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca nation by the Great Law of Peace (Kayanerenkó:wa) which preceded and influenced the U.S. Constitution — although “some Haudenosaunee say that, in imitating the Great Law, the United States did so poorly, for their constitution neglects some of the most important aspects: peace, the Good Mind, obligations to the natural world, the importance of families, obligations to future generations, spirituality, respect for women.”(Williams, 2018). We also encourage Climate Picnic visitors to visit Nish Dish, just down the block from Christie Pits, before or after the picnic in order to get a taste of contemporary indigenous traditions.
Goals of Climate Picnic
- Make Climate Organizing Visible to the wider public. Millions of people are worried about climate change, but don’t know what to do about it, and thousands of people are attending different conferences and meetings about the issue, often behind close doors. The primary goal of Climate Picnic is to bring those two groups of people together. As Myrtle said once we got home: “I think the best thing was that we made climate action visible. People could see that the people involved in climate organizing are fun and chill and that it’s totally normal to think about and act on climate.”
- Regenerative Culture. There have been a LOT of protests in Ontario this month, and Climate Pledge Collective has been at many of them. But marching and shouting takes a lot of energy and activists deserve to recharge their batteries. That’s one of the reasons we chose not to have any speeches. If people want to just zone out and soak up the sunshine and NOT think about climate for a while — they should be able to do that at Climate Picnic. Making the event a picnic also meant that instead of trying to scarf down Tim Horton’s and then run to the rally, people had time to eat a healthy meal at a healthy pace.
- Educate People on a Variety of Opportunities to Act. At Climate Pledge Collective, we know there is no ‘silver-bullet’ solution to climate change — and we trust in the wisdom of crowds to choose the group or action that works for them and put their skills and energy where it will be most effective.
Don’t worry about the size of your picnic. Just by being visible you will normalize the idea of climate action. We are scattering seeds here — one of the three people who comes to your picnic might be the next Greta Thunberg. We’re planning to host another picnic closer to home. It will be smaller than our first picnic and I imagine less groups will make the trek uptown, but it will be easier for my wife and I to bring our daughter somewhere within cargo bike range and we will be doing gentle activism in a quieter neighbourhood where people might be less used to tuning things out.
- People: This could just be you and a few friends or two families or it could be a hundred people. In the case of this picnic, it was a mix of people who heard about it through climate groups, old friends of mine with families and the families of my daughters’ preschool and kindergarten friends. School and parent groups are an excellent group to invite, because many of them are super-worried about climate, but have trouble attending protests or evening meetings.
- Picnic: Myrtle and I brought fruit, chips, water and a blanket and then bought a vegan pizza from Apiecalypse Now. Having plant-based, low-garbage take-out within walking distance was a plus for the location. Other people brought reusable plates and cups and cutlery and food to share. Serving food can alter the permits required for your event — so it’s best to ask everyone to B.Y.O.Picnic and let guests interpret that however they like. We also suggested that people bring vegan food. Myrtle and I aren’t vegan, but we are reducing the amount of meat and dairy we eat for health, ethical and environmental reasons, and we believe that trying it out one meal at a time is a great way for people to get familiar with plant-based eating.
- A Sign: We made a sign by taping printed pages to each side of an old municipal election lawn sign and sticking it in the grass — and it was startlingly effective! I saw lots of people taking pictures of the list of Toronto Climate Groups on the reverse side. The files I used to make the sign are here — feel free to use them as is or modify them — I uploaded them as .doc files, which might mess up some of the fonts, but will make the text easier to edit: Front | Back
- Guidance about Next Steps: At our picnic, we had our pledge sheets to sign and a climate emergency postcard pre-addressed to John Tory for people to fill out and mail. We didn’t try to do too much at the event, because we wanted to give activists time to breathe, but people were definitely networking, signing petitions and thinking about what to do next. You might also want to have some info available about personal footprints, the IPCC report, or anything else you find important. Adding a brief opening and/or closing speech with concrete suggestions might also be a good idea. If you do speeches, don’t forget to do a land acknowledgement.
- A Location: Choose a park that doesn’t get overcrowded, but has a lot of passers-by — either on a path through the park or a nearby street. If you choose a large park, pick a site within the park and advertise the selected spot clearly. Some people wandered Christie Pits for a while looking for us! Sorry.
Nice to Have:
- Promotion: We did four kinds of promotion: online, posters and flyers, a media release and promotion through other networks. I will talk about the network promotions in the section on experts and groups. Promoting through a schools or parenting groups is also a good idea.
- ONLINE: We made some videos about the picnic, a clear image that stated the goals of the picnic and a facebook event page and we promoted relentlessly on social media. We are happy to help anyone organizing a picnic with this. Just reach out to us: contact [at] climatepledgecollective.org.
- POSTERS AND FLYERS: We made posters and posted them on notice boards and in cafes near the picnic. We also made flyers and dropped them in mailboxes. I’m not sure how effective this was — although we did make a connection with another climate organizer in the neighbourhood who ran us down after getting our flyer! But, at the very least, it will get people thinking about climate for two seconds while they read the poster or flyer. I am happy to change the details on our flyer or poster for you as needed.
- MEDIA RELEASE: We did one, but we got no response. It might be best to target neighbourhood newspapers for this.
- Activities: These weren’t as necessary at our picnic because we were blessed with live music — but I would definitely suggest planning something like sidewalk chalk or a scavenger hunt with a loose climate theme to occupy the kids!
- Volunteers with tasks: We had a few people who volunteered to share our pledges and other groups had people going around with petitions and sign-up lists — but this was definitely an area where we could have been more organized. I would recommend having a volunteer greeter who hangs out near the sign to welcome people to the picnic and share info.
- Experts and Group Representatives: At our picnic, we had an atmospheric physicist, a city councillor, representatives from 10 or more Toronto climate groups, a government policy analyst and others. Most of them just relaxed on a picnic blanket, but they were also talking to one another and drawing the climate community closer as well as explaining their work to the general public in a casual way. This meant sending a lot of emails, but I was able to bring people out, partly because I did the pre-work of attending group meetings for different groups and building connections over time, partly because I am privileged to have a lot of social capital and partly because these groups are eager to reach the general public. Your mileage may vary here, but I’m happy to help make connections in Toronto for you. Inviting other groups also meant that many of those groups promoted the event through their lists and networks to achieve cross-pollination.
- Live Music: This is a tricky one — because asking musicians to play for free is not cool. The way it worked out for us was that I have met a few musicians at climate organizing meetings and got them involved early and they reached out to other musicians that they knew would enjoy jamming in the park (we will shout them all out with links in our Thank You post coming soon). So run through your mental rolodex (yes, I’m that old) and see if you know any musicians who are also committed to climate action and ask them if it’s something they would like to help out with. Or, if you are in a good financial position, just pay them.
- Performers: A professor in my department who helped with the organizing was generous enough to pay for a stilt-walker and a glass juggler. They were a hit with the kids and gave the parents a moment or two to actually talk to one another. The stilt-walker is probably most useful if you are expecting a large turnout.
- Banner: We made our banner with an old sheet, projected the letters with a screen projector, traced them with chalk and then painted them by hand.
- Permit or Equivalent: For the most part, you won’t need a permit to do this — these are public parks and it’s just a picnic. If you are expecting a large turnout, if you are planning to sell things or serve food in an organized way, if you are planning scheduled performances or if you are going to set anything up you may have to looking into permit requirements for the chosen park. We had the possibility of a large turnout and we had musicians playing, so we filed a ‘notice of demonstration’ with the Toronto Police Services just so we would have some paperwork in case someone complained. Ask me for info on that if it is something you might pursue.
CLOSING THOUGHT: If you divvy up the tasks, trust people and plan in such a way that the event will be successful if one or two people aren’t able to fulfill their commitments — this is a pretty easy event to organize. A friend who goes to a lot of music festivals looked around in surprise at the end and said “Wow. No clean-up. I guess that’s the advantage of throwing an event for climate people.” And he was bang on — people brought their own food in reuseable containers, picked everything up and took it away with them. The people who care deeply about our planet are good people and you can mostly rely on them to take responsibility for themselves and for the places they visit.