Upper Valley activists plan strikes for climate change

  • Woodstock Union High School students march from the school to the town green in Woodstock, Vt., on March 15, 2019, as part of a national climate strike inspired by Fridays for Future. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Geoff Hansen

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/6/2019 10:09:02 PM
Modified: 9/6/2019 10:08:48 PM

SHARON — Activists around the Upper Valley are planning to strike while the planet is hot.

And they’re not waiting for this month’s weeklong “Global Climate Strike” — a mix of demonstrations, teach-ins and school-walkouts, including protests in South Strafford and Randolph — to see who else wants to sound the alarm about worldwide warming caused by humans.

Next week alone, high school- and college-age activists will visit two Upper Valley forums to encourage people of all ages to join them during climate strikes at major intersections and other public places between Sept. 20 and 27.

On Monday night at 7 at the Seven Stars Arts Center in Sharon, members of the Vermont Youth Lobby will make the case for — and suggest locations and tactics for — protests. Co-sponsoring the gathering, at which environmental author and Vermont Law School professor Gus Speth also will speak, are the Two Rivers Action Coalition, the Royalton-based Building a Local Economy collaborative and Extinction Rebellion Vermont.

“We want to build up momentum for that week of action,” Sharon resident and Two Rivers co-leader Jill Wilcox said Thursday. “The idea is to let people know that youth are leading this movement. They’re a really powerful voice for change in this world that’s being taken away from them.”

With the aim of motivating their elders to speak out and walk out, young activists also will lead a discussion Sept. 14 at 9 a.m. at Damon Hall in Hartland. The guests include members of the Hartland Selectboard and state legislators representing Windsor County. One of the lawmakers, state Rep. Zachariah Ralph, a Progressive from Hartland, said that while he recommended some student activists for the forum, “I will not be presenting at the event.

“I will just be there to listen and learn,” said Ralph, who is also a program director for Sustainable Woodstock.

In addition to co-hosting the planning session in Sharon on Monday, Extinction Rebellion Vermont, based in South Strafford, will hold a preparatory forum on Sept. 18 at 6 p.m., at the Bugbee Senior Center in White River Junction.

The September actions come six months after high school students across the Upper Valley joined peers nationwide in walking out of classes for the Youth Climate Strike. Inspired in part by that kind of youthful enthusiasm, United Church of Strafford pastor Tom Kinder convened a series of discussions over the summer about how to act locally on threats to the planet at all levels.

“The effects of climate change will increase refugees and migrants, violent conflict, poverty and economic inequity, racism, bigotry and xenophobia, and erode freedom and civil rights,” Kinder said Thursday. “Many of our children are scared, even terrified, and feel hopeless about their future. This ... is something religions need to address.”

While the United Church and the Universalist Society in South Strafford co-hosted those discussions, the conversation soon took a secular turn.

“We brainstormed a lot of ideas,” said Strafford resident Susan Hughes, who belongs to neither church. “Now we’re in the process of having conversations with the Selectboard and the energy committee about actions and policies that can make a difference. In our little town, we can do something right here.”

On the morning of Sept. 20, they’ll post up in front of Barrett Hall in South Strafford, with the aim of stirring awareness among commuters turning for Interstate 89. Kinder expects activists in neighboring communities to start their own strikes, including Norwich.

“I think it is snowballing,” he said. “People from other towns have attended our planning meetings and may be organizing there now, like Thetford and Royalton.”

As of Friday, the Vermont Climate Strike website listed a “strike rally,” at noon Sept. 20, at the gazebo in downtown Randolph, with students of Randolph Elementary and Randolph Union High Schools leading the way.

In New Hampshire, Sept. 20 climate strikes are planned at such places as the Plymouth Town Common and Keene State College.

Wilcox said that she sees hope in the way local kids are following the example of teen Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who traveled to New York by boat instead of by jet to attend the upcoming United Nations Climate Action Summit on Sept. 23.

“They’re not only concerned but really motivated,” Wilcox said. “They are not waiting around for (next April’s 50th anniversary) of Earth Day.”

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.

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