British Columbia·Photos

We spent a day with the 15-year-old activist who led the Vancouver climate strike

CBC photographer Maggie MacPherson captured Lilah Williamson as the teen helped co-ordinate the massive event.

Lilah Williamson had class in the morning before she addressed a crowd of thousands in the afternoon

Lilah Williamson, 15, addresses the crowd at Vancouver's climate strike at the corner of West Hamilton and Georgia Streets. An estimated 100,000 took part. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Just hours before she helped lead a march of 100,000 people through Vancouver, Lilah Williamson had to write a social studies exam.

By 10 a.m., the 15-year-old girl was done the test, plus choir practice. She boarded the SkyTrain and arrived at city hall at around 10:30 a.m. By then, a crowd had already started to form on the front steps.

Four hours later, Williamson would address a crowd of thousands who turned out for a climate strike organized by the teen climate justice group Sustainabiliteens. 

It was part of a series of global strikes inspired by 16-year-old Swedish student Greta Thunberg, who began skipping class on Fridays to protest a lack of action on climate issues.

Williamson, one of the founding members of Sustainabiliteens, has cared about climate change for years, but said that the forest fire smoke that blanketed Vancouver during the summer of 2018 motivated her to act.

The group spent four months planning the climate strike on Friday. CBC photographer Maggie MacPherson spent the day with Williamson as the teen helped co-ordinate the massive event.

Williamson leaves school at 10 a.m. Her day started with choir and a social studies exam. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)
Williamson she says takes transit daily and eats a vegetarian diet to help combat climate change. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)
Lilah Williamson, left, and her two friends first protested at Vancouver city hall in 2018. Her father, Andrew Williamson, captured the moment. (Submitted by Andrew Williamson)
Williamson says her father inspired her climate activism. Andrew Williamson is a documentary producer who is currently working on a film about the emotional impact of climate change. He traveled Friday from Vancouver Island to support his daughter. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)
Williamson arrives at city hall at around 10:30 a.m. The strike is scheduled to start at 1 p.m., but crowds have already started to form. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)
Williamson and the Sustainabiliteens set up an information tent outside city hall. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)
An inflatable effigy of an oil executive with dollar bills in his pockets towers over the crowd at the Vancouver climate strike. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)
Thousands brought homemade signs to the climate strike in Vancouver on Friday Sept. 27. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)
Sustainabiliteens look out at crowd. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)
People climb trees to see the teens speak. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)
Williamson and the organizers start to fear the size of the crowd is getting out of control. They work with a group of adult volunteers called the Peace Bearers to keep the area accessible and safe. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)
Nervous and excited, Williamson steps up to the mic. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)
Williamson addresses the massive crowd. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)
After a couple speeches, the teens realize that the crowd has started to march without them. They decide to move the speeches to the end location and tell everyone else to march. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Williamson stays behind for a moment. In shock of how many people attended and also how things were not going as planned.

Williamson's father tells her the crowd is even bigger than what she could see from the steps of city hall. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Williamson had expected to lead the march with the other Sustainabiliteens. Without them being at the front, she wondered if the thousands of people would end up at the right location. 

Several of the Sustainabiliteens jumped into a shuttle to try and beat the marchers to the end destination. 

Two of the Sustainabiliteens look in awe at images of the march on social media. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The shuttle was stuck in traffic, so the Sustainabiliteens jumped out and walked the rest of the way to the final destination.

The shuttle gets stuck in traffic, so the Sustainabiliteens jump out and walk the rest of the way to the final destination. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)
The Sustainabiliteens reunite. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)
Williamson addresses the crowd once more. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)
Vancouver police estimated about 100,000 people participated in the climate strike march. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Williamson says the climate crisis may be the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced.

"The power of people is so strong and human beings are really smart," she said. "If we all work together and make it a priority, we can turn it around."

About the Author

Maggie MacPherson

Staff Photographer

Maggie MacPherson is a photojournalist based in Vancouver, B.C.

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