Django Grace: Not too young to take action on climate disaster

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My name is Django Grace. I am 13 years old. I was one of the students who participated in the die-in to protest climate change that stopped the Heifer Stroll. There has been much controversy on whether it was appropriate to make the actions that we made, and I just wanted to share my side of the story and why I did it.

Over the past year, I have become more and more involved with the climate disaster movement. I have gone to several protests and rallies, helped organize one, done research on my own, and joined several organizations. But I realized that while all of these actions did make a difference, they weren't fully doing enough. In the local protests I've joined, I estimate there were always the 20 percent of people that supported our cause, showed their gratitude and sometimes even stood with us. There were the 10 percent of people that openly disagreed, burning out on the street corners in their cars, yelling at us, insulting, and making profane hand gestures (yes, there are people like that in Brattleboro).

And then there was the 70 percent that just turned away. They ignored us and didn't have to think about what we are saying. They weren't forced to look at us, they could simply cross the road and keep staring at their phones. It was this 70 percent that bugged me the most. They weren't on a side, they were just passive in the middle, not having to care. I realized that it was this 70 percent I wanted to target. There was no use trying to negotiate with the opposers, their beliefs were set and couldn't be changed. But the 70 percent? They probably would want to save the world, but just didn't have to think about it, they didn't have to care.

And then I heard about the die-in. Some high school activists wanted to temporarily stop the Heifers Stroll, and get the message to the thousands of onlookers. I had mixed thoughts about this, my first one being "Is it really a good idea to momentarily upset more than 30,000 people to try to stop climate change? Won't it distance them from us?" And then I was told there was a chance I would be arrested.

Doing the die-in was going to be a big risk. I was honestly pretty scared. But I thought about it more, and I realized this had the potential to do exactly what I wanted, awaken that 70 percent. Basically, double the population of Brattleboro was going to be standing on that street, being forced to look at the problem and think about it. The 70 percent was no longer going to be able to turn away and go back to checking their Instagram, they were going to have to think about it, and explain to their kids what was happening. We were going to force discussions and awareness into this community, and if I was going to have to get arrested for that to happen, so be it.

So there I was, standing next to the commentators tent, the banner in my hand, my friends behind me, and the number of the attorney written on my ankle. Honestly, I was still really scared. But I was no longer doubtful, I was just scared of the consequences. Maybe I was going to be marked as a weirdo among other middle schoolers. Was I going to be "eco nut, the crazy kid who pretended to die in the middle of the road" for the rest of my teenage years? But before I could think about it anymore, the last cow passed and we were already walking into the street. We all screamed and fell to the ground pretending to be dead, hence the name die-in. Then I saw what I described before during our other protests. There was my family and my friends clapping, my grandpa calling out "we are on your side," a man I don't know yelling over and over "power to the youth!"

Then there were the opposers. There was a group of people standing over me jeering and yelling things like "Arrest them! Splash water on them! Find their mommies and daddies and arrest them too! Tie them to the heifers and drag them the rest of the way!" There was a man who came over and started shaking our banner, my friend heard a murmuring that we should be run over by tractors. It was like in the other protests, except one thing was different. From what I could see through my squinted eyes, the 70 percent was seeing us, thinking, wrestling with these ideas, and maybe changing. And that is what I set out to do.

Over the next few days, the event blew up on Facebook. My parents showed me many discussions and debates over whether the die-in was the right thing. Again, this is what I wanted to see happen. People are talking about, raising questions on and wrestling with the topic of climate disaster. Now when people come up and congratulate me, I say thank you, but the next step is for you to take action also. It's not only the youth's responsibility, it's all of ours. Join us Sept. 20.

Django Grace writes from Brattleboro. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.

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