BRATTLEBORO — About 150 students at Brattleboro Union High School kicked off Friday's climate change activities with a walkout from school around 10:30 in the morning. Following speeches and chants, about 100 of those students walked to downtown Brattleboro to join around 400 other people for the Global Climate Change Strike.
"No more coal. No more oil. Keep your carbon in the soil," they chanted. "When the air we breathe is under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back. When the water we drink is under attack, what do we do. Stand up, fight back. When the Earth is under attack? Stand up, fight back."
"The Amazon rainforest is burning," said Elias Gradinger, during the rally in front of the high school. "The Great Barrier Reef is dying. Alaskan sea ice is melting and California's beaches are disappearing and our leaders are failing to do anything about it."
Gradinger said the walkout and Friday's actions around the world show that youth are deeply concerned about their future.
"Young people make up more than half the global population," he said. "Our generation grew up with the global climate crisis and will have to deal with it for the rest of our lives."
Despite that fact, said Gradinger, the young are not included in the discussion on how to address the crisis.
"We demand justice for all past, current and future victims of the climate crisis and so we are rising up," he said. "We will not accept a life in fear and devastation. We have the right to live our dreams and hopes."
Gradinger said the climate strikers have a number of demands, including the implementation of a new green deal that will replace fossil fuels with renewable energy by 2030. They are also calling for a halt of the issuance of extraction leases for fossil fuel projects. The other demands include respect for indigenous land and sovereignty; environmental justice for people living in communities most affected by pollution; the protection of biodiversity; and the promotion of sustainable, regenerative agriculture and the end of subsidies for industrial agriculture.
"You, the government, have failed us in the past," said Gradinger. "If you continue to fail us, we, the young people, will make the change happen by ourselves."
Amelia Glickman warned the crowd that she was going to swear, before shouting "In the eloquent words of Bill Nye, the planet's on [expletive] fire. There's no way around it. Eight hundred million people are at risk of being affected by sea level rise, heat waves and droughts."
Glickman said it's up to the kids to "fight and scratch and claw" for change. "There is no Planet B. There is nothing left to do but fight. Use your voice. Refuse to be silenced."
She also took to task older people who say the youth don't know what they're talking about.
"We're living this emergency," said Glickman. "We have change to make. Listen to the youth or get the [expletive] out of the way."
Alexandra Miskovitch reminded the students that they are part of a much greater movement of people who are standing up to others who are just getting in the way of change.
"You've been told by people older than us that this is our problem to fix," she said. "Many of whom seem to be preventing us in every way from fixing this problem we are told is our problem to fix."
Maia McNeill said change won't be easy.
"Changing our lifestyle ... is going to be a pain in the ass," she said. "These are changes many of us aren't going to like. But what do you like more? Beef or being alive?"
Principal Steve Perrin said while he doesn't recommend students walk out of class, he is proud of them just the same.
"I have a great amount of respect for their advocacy and for their passion for the future," said Perrin.
However, he noted. "There will be consequences for those leaving school grounds."
He said those consequences might range from detention to a restorative school day, depending on the status of each offending student.
Perrin also noted that students across the country and the world are standing up for what they believe in and for that, they should be commended, not condemned.
"I'm really proud that kids in America are recognizing that climate change is a real, science-based fact and they're taking action," he said.
At Pliny Park, the rally continued, with students from around the county and adults supporting them gathering to wave signs, chant, talk and laugh together.
"They've been very respectful," said Brattleboro Police Chief Michael "Gunny" Fitzgerald, who was helping to keep traffic moving while making sure all the rally goers were safe. "It's a civil disturbance and they're out here advocating for what they feel is right. I have no problem with that."
Connie Cline, of Brattleboro, said she was excited to support the students and shrugged off the kids walking out of school.
"This is the best education they can be getting today," she said.
Sandi Mann, of Newfane, a local member of Extinction Rebellion Vermont, also shrugged off the school walkout.
"This is the most important thing they could be doing right now," she said.
Jack and Kathy Marshall, who were in town on vacation from Michigan, said they had planned ahead of time to attend the rally in Brattleboro.
"There is nothing more important than what's happening here right now," said Jack Marshall. "If global warming is not turned around, all the other issues mean nothing."
"The youth need to speak out," said Kathy Marshall.
Celia Segar, of Marlboro, said it was wonderful to see all the students at the rally.
"I love that the kids are here. It makes me teary. It's their future."
Brattleboro Select Board Vice Chairman Tim Wessel said he supported the students and the "terrific energy" they were exuding during the rally.
"There also might be a price to pay at school, but that's OK," he said. "That's also an education."
After the crowd walked to the Common, Django Grace, a student at Hilltop Montessori, told the crowd that now is not the time to feel powerless.
"We stand for the people who don't have a voice, those who are oppressed, those who are scared, and those who are feeling the direct effects of the selfish actions we have been taking for hundreds of years," he said. "When we unify like this, they're is nothing that can stop us. When we stand together like this, we tap into this power, this raw energy that's inside us. It doesn't matter where you come from, what color you skin is, how much money you have, what your name is, how cool you think you are ... we all have power, and that's the thing that's going to carry us over."
As he closed, he raised his fist in the air and declared, "We are the thunder that is ringing in everyone's ears. We are the Lorax."
Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or firstname.lastname@example.org.