MONTPELIER — Student activists brought downtown traffic to a standstill in the Capital City on Friday, demanding action on climate change from state and national leaders.
About three dozen students marched from the Kellogg-Hubbard Library at 11 a.m. to the intersection of Main and State streets, and blocked traffic for about 30 minutes. They carried banners, sang songs and spoke from the middle of the intersection using a portable public address system.
The action was orchestrated by students attending the weeklong Uprise Youth Action Camp in Marshfield, from July 28 to Aug. 4. They plan to be part of a national and global strike by students on Sept. 20, demanding an education that prepares them for “the collapse of the economy and the climate.” Students called for a “cooperative economy” that ends systematic injustices of racism, sexism and environmental exploitation, and climate resilience that supports sustainable communities and climate refugees.
The event was the third strike by student climate activists in recent weeks.
On July 23, Extinction Rebellion student activists shut down State Street for three hours outside a meeting of the Public Utility Commission, hearing a petition by a Canadian company seeking to buy the public shares of Vermont Gas Systems and Green Mountain Power – activists fear approval would lead to the building of more fossil-fuel infrastructure, such as VGS’s gas pipeline through Addision County.
On May 16, Extinction Rebellion activists also forced the temporary adjournment of the Legislature during a protest in the House, demanding more action from state leaders on climate change.
Before the march began, Erin Kelley, 16, of Montpelier, outlined the objective of the protest.
“We’re going to be shutting down the intersection of State and Main, that is our goal,” Kelley said. “We’re really excited to do it because we are demanding an education about the climate and economic crisis, and we’re raising awareness about how the systems we depend on will collapse.”
Students marched down Main Street to the intersection with State Street and blockaded it with banners that read: Our House is on Fire,” Global Climate Strike” and “Eco Revolution.”
Students also set up a public address system in the middle of the intersection to address the crowd and sang songs.
“We want everyone to participate in the global walkout on September 20th,” said event organizer Ruby Jovin, of Rockland, Maine, as people cheered and car horns blared. “We are here to start a movement and we are here to start a revolution.
“So many days, I wake up and I’m afraid for my future. Everywhere I look, I am told that we only have 12 years to keep our planet, our home, from the point of no return and I am terrified. We can already see the beginnings of a complete climate collapse. There are fires and hurricanes and droughts. There are record-breaking winters and record-breaking summers. Everyone is freaking out about climate change and no one is doing anything about it,” she added.
Iris Hsiang, 15, a student at Essex High School, also spoke from the middle of the intersection.
“We are growing up in a different world than that of our parents,” Hsiang said. “They didn’t have to deal with rising sea levels, exacerbated natural disasters and the host of other curses that come with a changing climate.
“I wish the green that we cared about was that of our trees and not the green of our money. Because no one stood up for our futures, we will. And because no other generation could be bothered to take on this burden, we will have to,” she added.
Some motorists and pedestrians were unhappy with the protest, while others supported the action.
A motorcyclist revving his engine on Main Street drove between some of the protesters to reach State Street, and one passerby yelled, “Get out of the street.”
Police arrived shortly afterwards to stop more traffic backing up as motorists made three-point turns to leave the area.
Barbara Bruno, of Montpelier, was one driver stuck at the intersection, who gave the protesters several thumbs-up and honked her horn in approval.
“I just came by, coming from a class,” Bruno said. “This the perfect time, it’s about time, so I’m thrilled.”
Jon Hatin, a truck driver for Coastal Forest Products in Winooski, was left stranded at the intersection of Main Street and State streets, unable to turn around. He left his truck and went into La Brioche to get a coffee while he waited for the intersection to clear.
“It’s an inconvenience because I’m not going to be able to get to all of my stops today,” Hatin said, adding that he was driving a “clean-air vehicle” which has “clean-idle, state-of-the-art equipment.”
Legislator Tom Terenzini, R-Rutland Town, was stuck on State Street at the intersection for the duration of the protest.
“I think it’s all a bunch of crock,” said Terenzini. “I think living in a sanctuary city, you people up here can break the law whenever you want.
“You can disrupt the downtown, you can disrupt business, you can disrupt people trying to get through their daily life. That’s what I think,” he added.
Assistant City Manager Sue Allen was ambivalent about the protest.
“Well, we’re a capital city and people like to make their voices heard,” Allen said. “This is the second time, essentially the same group, same cause. They made their point and agreed to walk down (State Street) and get off the streets.
“They are, from their own internal position, upsetting a lot of people in Montpelier whose daily lives are being disrupted. This is a significant intersection and we can’t allow it to be closed, so I hope we can work out something that will be more cooperative, and they can find a way to speak without making the city inconvenienced, and residents and businesses very unhappy,” she added.