Ever since holding up a hand-painted red "Stop Harper" sign during the current Conservative government’s throne speech in June, former senate page Brigette DePape has thrown herself into grassroots activism and now spends her time expressing her dreams for her country.
"It’s been so inspiring to take part in collective action," DePape told The Canadian Press in an interview.
"I really think that it is through action that we can have hope and it's really only by taking action that we can start to imagine a better Canada."
The University of Ottawa graduate was catapulted into the national spotlight after she pulled her sign out from beneath her skirt and held it up in the middle of the Senate Chamber to an astonished audience before being escorted out.
Her actions prompted an array of responses from across the country, and made more people tune into highlights of the throne speech than in previous years, but the aftermath of the stunt wasn’t easy for the 22-year-old.
She recalls being referred to as a schoolgirl while being escorted out of the Senate while others yelled out “Shame” as she walked by. Later, she dealt with belittling comments from some quarters as news of her actions spread.
"At first it was difficult because there were many Conservative groups and people who were very critical of the action,” she said. “There's a real effort to demonize those who are challenging power in different ways.”
But DePape thinks her bold moves have paid off.
She hopes she’s jolted older Canadians into realizing that all of the country’s youth aren’t apathetic and that their concerns deserve a national stage.
“People have come up to me in the streets to give me a high five or a hug. I think it just shows the excitement for taking action and the real hunger for change.”
While her time in the spotlight was brief, DePape hopes her actions helped unify resistance among those who aren’t happy with the way the current federal Conservatives are running the country.
“There seems to be this recognition that the regular institutional means for making change simply are not working for us,” she said. “The support for the action really showed that people are understanding the importance of taking direct action.”
DePape’s primary cause at the moment is “climate justice.” The issue is so important to her that she joined The Canadian Youth Climate Coalition and travelled with the group to observe international climate talks taking in place in South Africa this month.
“We’re working to organize against Harper’s climate crimes,” she said from Durban.
“The message that we are trying to get across is that our government is working on behalf of corporate polluters rather than working for us."
Besides pushing for a drastic improvement of Canada’s environmental record, DePape is also penning columns for British Columbia-based news magazine The Tyee in which she writes on “direct action movements” she’s experiencing.
In the future, she hopes to continue working on climate justice issues with other young adults "to really hold the government to account."
"It's not just politicians whose voices should be heard," she said. "Everyone's voice matters."
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