Local youths resist 'climate disaster'

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BRATTLEBORO — Lucy Congleton sees activism as a bridge from expression to action.

"I think one of the best ways to make impact is to have young people act in addition to standing and yelling at a rally," the West Brattleboro resident and recent graduate of Brattleboro Union High School said. "I think that's really powerful."

Congleton said she hopes to affect people on a personal level so they want to be more involved. She helped organize a rally at BUHS before school from 7:40 to 8:45 a.m. Friday, one of three happening that day in Brattleboro in tandem with others throughout the world. Pliny Park will host a rally from noon to 1 p.m. and again from 4 to 5 p.m.

Friday's rallies are meant "to focus the attention of local, state and national legislators on protecting our resources and environment," according to a news release. Young people will "demand that lawmakers do what they can to steer us from climate disaster and protect our frontline communities, who are already suffering the consequences of it."

Attendees are encouraged to bring signs, songs, knowledge, stories, passions, respectful arguments and a willingness to listen to the rallies, which were organized by middle and high school students as well as postgraduates with support from 350 Brattleboro and Post Oil Solutions.

Congleton's involvement with climate activism began at a workshop at the Root Social Justice Center hosted by 350 Brattleboro. Discussion centered around the connection between climate and racial justice.

At the end, smaller groups formed and Congleton was asked to help organize rallies. She said she shared information about Friday's event via Facebook and face-to-face interactions.

"It would be really nice if there could be youth speakers," she said. "But it's hard to make people dealing with their own problems everyday and dealing with their own busy schedules put their energy into anything other than that."

Climate change can seem "too big" and "awful" to contemplate, said Congleton. "But as I say that, there are things I try to do in my daily life to cut down on my carbon footprint on an individual level."

Congleton said she's looking at other ways to make a difference and she's encouraging young people to go to town meetings or gatherings where relevant issues will be discussed or acted upon.

"I feel like I'm not doing enough most of the time," she said. "I think I need to get out of my comfort zone."

Part of her work involves research.

"There's so much to take in with the Green New Deal and the March 15 rally is to support the Green New Deal, and it's such a radical idea," she said, adding that other values may need to be ranked higher than profitability in the country.

The Green New Deal "seeks to solve the climate crisis by combining quick action to get to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and 100 percent renewable energy by 2030 along with an 'Economic Bill of Rights' — the right to single-payer healthcare, a guaranteed job at a living wage, affordable housing and free college education," according to gp.org.

Congleton participated in weekly Sunday protests against President Donald Trump before going to the Women's March on his Inauguration Day in 2017. She also joined two protests at BUHS regarding gun control and the appointment of Betsy DeVos as United States education secretary.

Abby Mnookin, 350Vermont organizer for Mother Up!: Families Rise Up for Climate Action, said it is "so inspiring to see youth rising."

"I've been incredibly moved by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist who continues to speak truth to power and demand climate action from global political leaders," she said in an email. "Her leadership, along with the Sunrise Movement and the recent [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] report, has spawned a global youth resistance in which hundreds of thousands of youth around the world are striking from school and hitting the streets. Although we haven't seen these numbers yet in the U.S., I'm hopeful that the movement and momentum are building."

Mnookin said a core group of youth have been striking every week from noon to 1 p.m. at Pliny Park for several months and young people organized Friday's rallies.

"Although climate change will affect everyone, it won't affect everyone equally, and young people will be among those affected more," she wrote. "The time for brave action is now ... I believe parents and families are powerful voices in advocating for the health and safety of our collective future. And youth voices are crucial. I'm excited to show up in solidarity on Friday, to listen to the youth, and to let them lead the way to a brighter, livable future for all!"

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.

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