'I Want You to Panic': Youths Lead Williamstown Climate Strike Event
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The petite fourth-grader made her way up to the microphone. In a voice that belied her small frame, she explained why she took the opportunity to speak in front of the several hundred people who came out to the front steps of the Paresky Student Center at Williams College for the Williamstown Climate Strike on Friday.
"When I learned about climate change, I wanted to cry," said June, a fourth-grader at Williamstown Elementary School. "All the animals are going extinct. And it's just terrible."
Then her voice broke, and tears started running down her tiny face.
It was a heartbreaking moment that clearly moved the crowd of people of all ages who came to Paresky to join more than 3,000 other climate strikes around the world on Friday and Saturday - including a joint rally just across the Paresky lawn at the First Congregational Church, where organizers hung an upside-down American flag to signal the country is in distress. June's tears came in the middle of an hour-long program that focused on the leadership of youths who are leading the charge to force the adults in power to take meaningful action on climate change.
"What we need is to demand from our leaders an aggressive response," said Kofi Lee-Berman, a sophomore at Williams College who emceed the event. "It's either extinction or action."
Ruby Leman, 14, of Long Island, N.Y., part of the Fridays for Future group of young people fighting climate change, targeted those leaders - and all adults, really - whose inaction has led to the crisis facing the world.
"I don't want you to be proud. I want you to panic," she said, urging those adults to vote - but not just for any Democrat, but for a candidate who has a serious "climate conscious," as she put it. "I want you to vote. Because we can't.
"Yes, we are your leaders of tomorrow. (But) we have been forced to become the leaders of today," she said.
And to the adults, she had one other very specific message: "I want you to pull your weight."
Williamstown Elementary School fifth-grader Adele Low had similar sentiments when she took the microphone.
"Did you know that there are 2.9 billion fewer birds in Canada and the U.S. than there were 50 years ago?" she asked the crowd. "We need the adults to step up and act now to save our planet. The children should also not be silent, because this earth is our future. When we are older we will want to be able to think back to the day that WE stepped up and made a difference.
"This mistreating of our planet has to stop now."
Williamstown siblings Henry and Arden Wall, who are in fourth and second grades at Williamstown Elementary School, respectively, presented the book "Goodbye Earth" by Nancy Caye Jones. Henry read the book, which skewers the inaction of today's leaders in fighting climate change, while Arden held up illustrations.
"| know, we're kids, so we don't know, about all your big adult woe, your spending bills and budget fears, your re-election each two years," Henry read. "We kids can't vote, we don't pay tax, or donate to your super PACs. The only thing that we can do, is stand and say, shame, shame on you."
Other students from area schools - including Mount Greylock Regional School, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and Buxton School - also spoke on Friday about various other aspect of climate change that concerns them, like climate refugees and climate justice. Their voices were the loudest both on stage and off. But when one "adult" took the microphone - Wiliamstown COOL Committee founder Wendy Penner - the first thing she did was to acknowledge the truth of the students' criticisms of adults and apologize on their behalf.
"I'm so sorry you have to be here," she said. "The adults on the planet have forsaken you and left you this mess."
Penner listed several initiatives the COOL Committee has undertaken over the last decade in an effort to be part of the change, from offering energy efficient lightbulbs to promoting home energy assessments to working to lower individuals' carbon footprints. But it hasn't been enough, she said.
"It is an absolute failure of leadership. It is absolutely time to strike," she said, proceeding to quote author Bill McKibben's "23 Reasons to Strike," written as part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story, co-founded by The Nation and Columbia Journalism Review.
"Strike, because our governments move with such painful slowness, treating climate change as, at worst, one problem on a long list," Penner read from that list. "Strike, because every generation faces some great crisis, and this is ours.
"Strike, because what we do this decade will matter for hundreds of thousands of years."
Lee-Berman sounded a loud warning note when he wrapped up the event with some thoughts of his own, urging the crowd to remember to register to vote (text "climate" to 38383 to receive instructions on how to register) and hang on to their anger.
"We're not just in a struggle for our future. We are at war," he said, asking the youths at the event to have hope but to gird themselves for a long battle to save the planet. "You're the reason why we still stand a chance. Hold on to that energy. We're going to be fighting it for the rest of our lives. And you have to be prepared for that."
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