On September 20th, 2019, Deerfield Academy students joined dozens in Greenfield and over 4 million others around the world to be a part of a youth-led global climate strike. In what has been called one of the largest youth-led demonstrations in history, students from around the world skipped school and took to the streets armed with signs and speeches in an effort to fight for climate justice.
The strike in Greenfield, organized by the Franklin County Continuing the Political Revolution group and sponsored by a number of local organizations, was held on the town common and was attended by people of all ages and backgrounds. The rally consisted of songs, art, storytelling, and speeches, all of which addressed the urgency of climate change efforts.
Following the events, the students lined the Main Street of Greenfield donning printed T-shirts and holding protest signs. The signs displayed at the march were mostly homemade, each showing a variety of colors and containing a variety of texts such as, “Science not silence” and “There is no planet B.” As the cars rushed by on the street, some honked as the students yelled protest slogans. Students on one side of the street asking “Whose planet?” and students on the other side responding loudly “Our planet!”
The Greenfield strike was just one rally among hundreds of thousands held across the world, all of which were inspired by the efforts of 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. The strike came days before the United Nations Climate Summit in New York City, which Thunberg attended and spoke at. The main goals of the strike, as listed on its official website, were achieving environmental justice, implementing sustainable agriculture, protecting and restoring biodiversity, respecting indigenous land and sovereignty, and passing legislation of the Green New Deal.
Thomas Lyons ‘21, an organizer of the Deerfield group that went to Greenfield, inspired by the work of youth across the country, contacted the Center of Service and Global Citizenship office in order to receive guidance on how to go about getting Deerfield students involved in the movement. He aimed to provide transportation to the Greenfield Common for students who wished to actively participate in the march. Though the CSGC could not provide a bus for safety and liability reasons, he organized students to utilize the Friday Greenfield Shuttle as a way to attend the demonstrations.
Lyons, who is passionate about issues relating to climate justice and activism, elaborated on the importance of issues relating to climate change. He stated, “This issue impacts much more than just our generation here; really the future of humanity is at stake. So if we fail to take action now, we are condemning the rest of humanity to failure.”
Abby Persons ‘21, another student who attended the strike, also believes that advocating against climate change is an important responsibility. She said, “I think that climate change is one of the biggest issues, if not the biggest issue, we’re facing today. Nothing else is really going to matter if the planet is uninhabitable in 10, 20, 50 years. I think that standing up for what is right is always important. Even if it’s as small as going to something in Greenfield.”
While the protests were led by students, whose futures are most directly affected by the effects of climate change, many adults supported the cause as well. The rally in Greenfield was attended by several local adults and a Deerfield teacher. Though he did not attend the strike, English teacher Mr. Joel Thomas-Adams echoed the importance of youth fighting for their futures.
Mr. Thomas-Adams shared his sentiment by stating, “The real question for us is: why is it taking so long for educational institutions to grasp the enormity and the necessity of this challenge and to put it at the center of everything we do, every day? If this doesn’t define what it means to teach ‘leadership in a rapidly changing world,’ then the phrase has little or no meaning. These students are showing the rest of us the way, and we need to listen.”
As far as what Deerfield can do as an institution, Lyons suggested that the school implement a self-applied carbon tax — in which a small sum of money is invested by the school in a climate charity or solar panels — for each pound of carbon emitted in the atmosphere resulting from plane rides taken by members of the community on CSGC trips. “I think, most importantly, we need to step outside of the Deerfield bubble and realize that our actions affect more than just this community,” Mr. Thomas-Adams said, “We, as a school with lots of money, have the means to do a lot more than just these individuals.”
In the days following the protest, the official Deerfield Academy Instagram account, run by Communications, posted pictures of the students striking. The post was captioned: “Deerfield students gathered on the Greenfield town common on Friday as apart of the global climate strike spearheaded by youth worldwide”.
While some have interpreted it as Deerfield endorsing political views given the protest’s goal of establishing a Green New Deal, Social Media Manager Jessica Wissemann cites a different motivation. “We like to show a broad view of student life at Deerfield. It’s a touchstone for current students to see themselves here and, although we may be on an insulated campus, it’s good to showcase a variety of student views.”
Lyons elaborated, saying, “Climate change is not a political view. It’s backed by hard science. To be fair, a lot of the protests are for a Green New Deal, which is very much a democratically aligned view. So while the protests overall were apolitical, part of the hope of the goals that would come out of this protest were political.”
Whether political or not, the September 20th demonstrations showcased the concern of students around the world and in Deerfield. They raised concerns about the consequences of climate change. Truly, as Lyons put it in his speech to students: “The time is now.”