Brenda Siegel: Let us listen with both our ears

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"It's a shame they had to stop the parade." This is what I heard from a nearby table in Townshend as I sat in a caf doing data entry for the Southern Vermont Dance Festival. This statement was the end of a long discussion about the peaceful disruptive action held at last week's Strolling Of The Heifers. I interrupted and said; "Sorry to interrupt. I just wanted to offer that perhaps, those kids' actions had the intended impact because you are talking about it today, almost a week later."

The woman responded and said "well, they could have just marched in the parade." I said "Yes, but then you wouldn't have been talking about it. I know that because I marched with a climate group and it isn't me that you are talking about right now." The woman said "hmmm, maybe you are right. Thank you, I didn't think of it that way and I am just mostly so glad to see kids engaging." This discussion evolved into how important it is to support, not condescend, this type engagement.

We shared stories of how our respective generations had really made a mess of it and hopefully that it is not too late to fix. This next generation is willing to fight, disrupt, lobby, rally, write and bravely invest in their earth and future. We owe them respect, honor and to listen with both of our ears.

It was 12 minutes. Just 12, that the parade was stopped. A disruption that amounts to barely the wait in a grocery store line. Folks that complained about it on social media are the same folks that would wait in a two-hour line at Disney World or a fair for a ride. These kids waited until the animals had passed, they were aware of the impact and took that into account. They planned out how they would go about this peaceful action and did it with respect. Did kids wait an extra 12 minutes in the sun and maybe were thirsty? Yes, but, parents and organizers of marchers, you should have had water with you. That is on us to remember sunscreen and water. If we didn't have it, then that 12 minutes was not the defining moment where our kids got a sunburn or dehydrated, it is because we didn't bring it. Was your kid dancing in that parade? I have done that for years, it hurts my body every single time. That 12 minutes is not what hurt, it was that our bodies are not meant to be smashed into pavement.

Some said that they were "preaching to the choir." To these folks, I ask, "what choir?" Is there some misconception that we are doing enough? If there is, that makes me nervous. This is the earth we are leaving to our kids and grandkids. This is about their lives and many of them can not vote. Most of them have had the quiet and calm conversations. They have marched. They have done it the way that is not disruptive. We are not hearing them. It was time for this action, long past time. My generation should have engaged a long time ago and we didn't. We have left our kids and grandkids a mess. We have left them gun death, opioid death, poverty, an eroding democracy and a dying earth. How dare we criticize them for acting. Where were we when we needed to do better?

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If your response to these kids is to tell them that if they stay too long, they might lose support where they would have gained it, to say that they are selfish for taking a brave action, to be irate that you were left to feel a little extra uncomfortable amid a crisis that will impact them and likely not you, than perhaps it is time to reflect on where you stand. Ani Difranco has a line in her song "Splinter" that says "Like we just gotta see how comfortable comfortable can get. Like we can't even bring ourselves to sweat." This line has been floating about my head since this protest. We are not the choir. We also, can't stand the idea of being a little less comfortable to create change. We are so narcissistic that we blamed the kids protesting, for the people in the parade idling their cars in that 12 minutes. I mean, we all are aware of the ignition key that is in the hands of each and every driver, right?

Our kids are screaming to us that we are not doing enough. They have rallied, they have walked miles, they have testified, they have written, they have lobbied. They are acting, in ways that we have not been willing to and I am so proud of them. I knew many of the kids involved, the climate group I was marching with, many of us were psyched when we got word. I was at the end of the parade, there were kids, they were OK. Was it a little more uncomfortable? Yes. That is OK. Business as usual must stop as we shift our systems to address the real challenges of our time. Our children are willing to be arrested, to be criticized, to have people the age of their parents and grandparents slam them for their action. I wish half of us were half as brave, perhaps we would not be where we are today. Here we are a week later and we are still talking about it. This action worked.

I absolutely am reflecting about how I could be a better climate ally. How I could be louder and bolder with my climate action. If you're not, you are choosing that. Here we are, we know what it was about, it should make us think, regardless of how annoyed or inconvenienced we were.

The reality, 12 extra minutes in the sun does not kill our kids, but, climate change will.

Brenda Siegel is a former Democratic candidate for governor, founder and director of the Southern Vermont Dance Festival, vice chair of the Newfane Democratic Committee and delegate to the Windham County Democratic Committee. She is an anti-poverty activist and single mom from Newfane. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.


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