On a cool, sunny Thursday at the end of April—over 500 students from across the state marched from the Vermont College green and through town to the Statehouse Lawn as part of the largest youth climate rally in Vermont history.
As they marched, the students chanted “no more coal, no more oil, keep the carbon in the soil!” Their arrival kicked off the morning of speakers, including Governor Peter Shumlin, who spoke on the need to divest from fossil fuels and the vision of the future carried by the students. Students also heard from other speakers who advocated for a tax on carbon pollution and a rapid transition to clean, renewable energy sources.
The entire event was actually set in motion months ago when a single senior student at
Harwood High School approached her teacher about starting an after school club dedicated to taking political action. As the group grew in size, they knew they wanted to focus on the issue of climate change–they also knew that they wanted to do something BIG.
It was then that they decided to hold a youth oriented rally on the State House Lawn. So they reached out to all the surrounding high schools, created a Planning Coalition, and began to meet on Sunday afternoons around the state. Eventually, Youth Lobby Day and the Rally for the Planet was under way. To help them organize, they connected with VPIRG and 350VT to aid in their planning efforts.
By mid-march they were ready to build their platform, which together they decided would include pricing carbon pollution, divestment from fossil fuels, and a strong desire to see clean energy in the state of Vermont. They crafted a bold mission statement that said:
As the youth of Vermont, we recognize the dangers of climate change, and we want to shape our environmental future in a positive way in our state and in our world. Now is the time to:
- Promote conservation and efficiency
- Put a price on carbon
- Enact regulatory measures and taxes to promote clean alternatives
- End the privileges given to the fossil fuel industry
- Increase awareness among youth and other Vermonters about climate change and related issues
We will do this by rallying together to work with our lawmakers and to educate our peers.
All that planning culminated in Thursday’s march, which drew the attention of several lawmakers who took a moment from their busy end-of-the-session schedules to come outside and meet with their yo
ungest, non-voting constituents. They sat on the ground in their suits or stood in informal circles, a moment of organic caucus for both students and legislators alike.
Jack Hanson, who heroically filled in last minute for the canceled keynote speaker, kept the youthful theme going with his ba
nd Headphone Jack and the Splitters, who both entertained and educated with their brand of environmentally aware hip-hop. Jack is one of VPIRG’s own student board members as well as graduating college senior, VPIRG intern, and president of UVM’s chapter of the Renewable Energy Network.
At the close of the day, many of the student organizers and their friends were able to sit in the House chamber as a resolution was passed that applauded the passion and efforts of the youth outside. As buses pulled away from the lawn, the students remaining stood together and sang the state song “These Green Mountains.”
Top photo courtesy of Roger Crowley