PHOTOS: Vermont youth rally at Statehouse for climate action

PHOTOS: Vermont youth rally at Statehouse for climate action

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Hundreds of Vermont middle and high school students rally on the Statehouse lawn on Friday to demand more government action on climate change. Friday’s Rally for the Climate was organized by the Vermont Youth Lobby and was the first time the event had been held since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo by Riley Robinson/VTDigger

Updated at 6:52 p.m.

MONTPELIER — Hundreds of Vermont students marched from Montpelier High School to the Statehouse Friday to demand more government action against climate change. Groups of students from various towns — from Bristol to Plainfield to Vergennes — bused in to join the rally. 

Friday’s event marked the return of the annual Rally for the Planet, which has been canceled for the past two years because of the Covid-19 pandemic. It was organized by the Vermont Youth Lobby, a grassroots organization that encourages young Vermonters to demand “climate, jobs, justice” from their legislators. 

“One of my big goals was to really just provide a space for young people to gather together,” said Iris Hsiang, a senior at Essex High School who helped organize the event. “Because they haven’t been able to do that, and talk about climate, and be able to connect on climate.”

About a half-dozen student speakers delivered remarks from the Statehouse steps. 

“Seeing you all here today, freezing your asses off, makes me think one thing: Change is possible,” said Jasmine Gruen, a junior at U-32.

Another speaker voiced support for an amendment to the clean heat standard, put forward by Sens. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, D-Chittenden, and Anthony Pollina, P/D-Washington. The amendment would have required that no more than 10 percent of clean heat credits each year come from liquid biofuels and renewable natural gas. 

The amendment was defeated on the Senate floor Friday, but the bill, H.715, was approved on third reading. 

Some advocates with the Youth Lobby could recall specific moments that galvanized them to act against climate change. 

For Brody Moran, a high school senior from Cabot, it was the 2016 election, because he was frustrated that he couldn’t vote. 

“I was interested in becoming political because of how the power wasn’t being used correctly, with our president in 2016,” Moran said. “I was like, OK, I have a big voice. I go to a small school, so I learned how to use a big voice.”

For Miriam Serota-Winston, 13, it was the disappointment she felt toward COP26, the United Nations climate change conference held in Glasgow last fall.

“I realized that it was truly not enough,” she said. “And that made me really sad, and feel really powerless, until I met the people from Youth Lobby and got involved.”

Hundreds of middle and high school students marched to the Vermont Statehouse April 29, 2022, to demand more government action on climate change. Groups scattered about the Statehouse lawn listened to speeches from youth activists. Photo by Riley Robinson/VTDigger

After the speeches, there was music and T-shirt decorating. Several other nonprofit and environmental organizations sat out at tables to encourage young people to get involved in other ways. A pair of students walked around with a clipboard, getting signatures to get Ram Hinsdale on the Democratic primary ballot in her campaign for the U.S. House. 

Several attendees sported big round stickers supporting David Zuckerman’s run for lieutenant governor and Sianay Chase Clifford’s campaign for the U.S. House. Chase Clifford attended Friday’s rally to speak with students and also collect signatures for the primary ballot. 

Chase Clifford, an alumna of Essex High School, said she was proud to see so many Essex students taking action. 

“It is so astonishing how brilliant and intuitive they are” about climate policy, Chase Clifford said.  “It’s astonishing, but it’s not surprising.” 

About a dozen Essex students, including Hsiang, met with three lawmakers — Rep. Alyssa Black, D-Essex, Rep. Tanya Vyhovsky, P/D-Essex, and Rep. Rey Garofano, D-Essex — who each spoke about their areas of focus this session. 

But Hsiang, who is also a youth member of the Vermont Climate Council, wasn’t about to let them off easy: “Are all of you a part of the climate caucus?” she asked. 

Vyhovsky is, Black and Garofano are not. 

“OK, well, we’d love to see that,” Hsiang said. 

She left lawmakers with a warning: “We’re watching your votes on climate.”

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