One of the aspects of living in Canberra that I enjoy most is how quiet the streets can be even during peak hour traffic. Everyone follows (well, mostly everyone) the street signs. They yield when they’re unsure, stop for waddling pedestrians immersed in their phones, and always keep a decent distance from the bicyclists who could destroy their driving career with one legal procedure. And so, even if there’re fifty vehicles at any given time in an intersection, no one needs to honk like a raving lunatic. No one yells at the driver next door for being a prick in the neck or something crasser—yet ever so common here. As a pedestrian, it’s nice to watch the street proceedings, as in a cartoon or a dialled toy town—things and people going about their daily life without a hitch.
All this is so fascinating because in the city I lived and worked for over five years, there’s never a quiet moment on the streets. Some might call it active participation—think loud conversations on the phone mingled with the beep-beep of old cars, revs of new motorcycles, the whee… ee… ee… of an occasional ambulance, closely followed by the screech of tyres that desperately cut through the line, tailing the ambulance to navigate the traffic quickly. The cheaters.
I’d call it madness. And noise pollution. As if we didn’t have enough from the black, smoky, gas chugging its way through the exhaust of a thirty-five-year-old green-grey motor vehicle that should’ve been banned fifteen years ago.
I’d forgotten all that manic episodes. As I strolled down the street today, stopping at an intersection awaiting the green man to take over from the red one, I noticed a group of people on the other side holding signs, acknowledging climate change. They’re a popular group in town. They often conduct protests, mostly peaceful, silent ones, trying to sway the government and the public to accept the reality of climate change.
As if to jog my memory, except more violently like chocking someone that’d been running for twenty minutes, one of the signs said, “Honk for climate.”
They asked drivers whizzing through the biggest and busiest roadway in the city to honk if they acknowledged climate change.
For a quick, painful moment, I remembered the city I tried so hard to leave. However, as I waited, observing the four-wheelers’ responses, I couldn’t help but smile. It wasn’t as bad, as loud, or as irritating as I imagined—because not everyone honked. Although it was amusing to see some shoving the end of their palm into their steering wheels, honk-honking until they crossed the protestors, most didn’t blare their horns. Instead, they gave the sign bearers a thumbs up as they went past. Yes, it was a thumb—I had a clear view, and I stood in a vantage point.
At that moment, my subconscious self reacted in a way my conscious self never would. My face broke into a smile. It was a fun way to get attention. And even though it could’ve easily turned into a noise hazard, I did appreciate the sensible drivers who showed their support mutely. As a pedestrian who’s lived through hearing numbness because of violent honking, it was a pleasant surprise.
And of course, what a creative protest.