VUHS blends peace and climate activism


AFTER A FULL school day of climate change workshops and Peace One Day celebrations at Vergennes Union High School on Friday, dozens of students and community members kept the momentum going by staging a climate rally and “die-in” on the Vergennes City Green. Independent photo/Christopher Ross

VERGENNES UNION HIGH School seniors Marlie Hunt, left, and Alder Donovan-Cook show off their 2019 Peace One Day T-shirts, which were designed by classmate Emma Huestis. Hunt and Donovan-Cook collaborated with classmates, teachers, administrators and community members to create a daylong climate justice program to coincide with the Global Climate Strike on Friday. Independent photo/Christopher Ross
Get out there and give a damn. — VUHS senior Alder Donovan-Cook

VERGENNES — On Friday, thousands of people in Vermont and millions of people worldwide went on strike and rallied to demand that action be taken to address the climate crisis.

At Vergennes Union High School, however, students decided to combine climate action with one of the school’s beloved annual traditions so that their community could “lean in” instead of “walking out.”

Since 2005, VUHS students have led a Peace One Day event every Sept. 21 to celebrate the United Nations International Day of Peace. Because the event would have fallen on a Saturday this year — and because the U.N. chose “Climate Action for Peace” as this year’s theme — students decided to celebrate it during the Global Climate Strike.

“Let us reflect on the peace we have right now,” said VUHS senior Marlie Hunt in a Peace One Day speech she co-wrote and co-delivered with fellow senior Alder Donovan-Cook. “Look at the people sitting next to you, feel the sun shining on you, listen to the silence and maybe the murmur of voices or birds chirping. Reflect that we can have this ... a moment to appreciate, a moment to love. Remember this, because soon enough we will need to fight for it.”

Hunt and Donovan-Cook had been planning this day since June.

“They felt it was important to talk about the issues related to climate change rather than walk out,” said VUHS Language Arts teacher Allison Mahoney, who helped with planning and logistics.

In addition to the afternoon Peace One Day rally, Hunt and Donovan-Cook came up with the idea of holding morning workshops focusing on climate justice.

“The focus on climate change throughout the day included workshop topics such as de-escalating conflict, climate resilient food systems, Vermont wildlife challenges in a changing climate, writing for action on climate change, climate change and Vermont traditions, a climate change trivia game and many more,” explained VUHS Health and Wellness Coordinator Lynne Rapoport. Workshops were led by community members and Addison Northwest School District employees.

Rep. Diane Lanpher, D-Vergennes, held a Q&A event to talk about student concerns.

“The workshops were a great addition to an already amazing annual event for peace,” Rapoport added. “It was an opportunity for students to become empowered by others to take action and lead the way for the change they want to see.”

Both Hunt and Donovan-Cook are Walden Project students who, along with some of their classmates, participated in the Next Steps Climate Solutions Walk, a 65-mile march from Middlebury to Montpelier last April.

After the final bell rang on Friday, they led dozens of people, including members of the community and Rep. Lanpher, to the Vergennes City Green,. There they staged a rally and “die-in” where participants laid down on the grass pretending to be dead as a symbol of the impending doom that climate change could wreak.

“I think last year is sort of when a more urgent vein of climate activism (caught on),” said Donovan-Cook, referring to groups like Extinction Rebellion, a growing global activist organization that has focused on disrupting business as usual. “This isn’t a problem with the polar bears anymore, this is a problem of the survival of our species.”

Hunt agreed.

“The planet is going to be fine,” she said. “We’re the ones who are going to be gone.”

As climate activists chanted and waved from the green, and drivers on Main Street honked appreciatively, Hunt and Donovan-Cook reflected on what was next.

“This is definitely not the only thing we’re going to be doing this school year,” Hunt said. “This is the first thing.”

“This is us hitting the ground running,” said Donovan-Cook.

They’re thinking about organizing a die-in in Montpelier next January, when the Vermont General Assembly gathers for the first day of the 2020 session.

“Just to send a message to legislators that, hey, we’re still here,” said Donovan-Cook. “We were here last year and we’re here again.”

“We need to act now,” Hunt said. “We need to get our heads out of the sand.”

“It’s like our banner says, ‘Our planet is dying and so are we,’” said Donovan-Cook.

At the end of their Peace One Day speech, Donovan-Cook asked the community to “get out there and give a damn.”

“I don’t know what the future holds,” he said. “I don’t know if we can save the world. But I do know that I can fight the good fight until the bitter end.”

Reach Christopher Ross at christopherr@addisonindependent.com.

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