'It's either extinction or action': Across Berkshires, students demand action on climate change

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The volume and passion in voices ringing out all around Berkshire County on Friday might make one think the fate of the world is in the balance. And from what they were saying, it very well might be.

While passions were high, the area events associated with the Global Climate Strike that played out worldwide Friday largely were peaceful, although two protesters were arrested in Great Barrington for allegedly obstructing traffic.

In Williamstown, Williams College and Mount Greylock Regional School students met up with Williamstown Elementary School students when classes let out, and they all made their way together to Main Street and on to the front steps of the Paresky Center on the college campus to hear speakers discuss the climate crisis.

There were lots of colorful homemade signs, some powerful chanting and singing, and a crowd that kept getting bigger. It swelled to more than 1,000, its members from a variety of age groups and ethnicities, all calling for an end to fossil fuels and dramatic action to end global warming.

There was a second crowd lining Main Street with signs, its members waving to passersby.

A 14-year-old freshman at Buxton School in Williamstown also was there. Ruby Lerman, of Long Island, N.Y., fresh from her climate activism in New York, was the chant leader and song coach.

Lerman told The Eagle that there is not nearly enough being done while the planet is warming.

"In this time of crisis, it still has not been stopped," she said. "My generation will suffer the consequences. It is the most pressing issue of our time, and it's affecting everyone on the planet."

Later, Lerman spoke to the crowd.

"It's either extinction or action," she cried out. "We won't take no for an answer."

She also singled out polluters like Exxon who knew their business was sabotaging the atmosphere as early as the 1980s and continued along the same path.

"We need to hold polluters accountable so they have to pay for their actions, and that they have no place in the discussions about renewable energy," Lerman said.

She also noted that many people in her age group share a common experience: "They feel the fear I feel when I wake up and when I go to bed."

On Main Street in Great Barrington, traffic snarled as a lively group of about 200 sang and chanted in front of the Mason Library.

Lillian Lennox held a sign that read, "XR," for Extinction Rebellion, an international group made up of affinity organizations. She said the Berkshire chapter has met three times as one small part of a network to act against a "climate emergency."

Lev Natan, founder of the Alliance for a Viable Future, stood with her and said that the days of merely hoping for change are over.

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"What we need more than hope is action," he said. "We generate hope through our action."

Sadie Curtis and Mattie Vandiver had organized students from the Waldorf High School in Stockbridge to attend.

"We're really running out of time," Curtis said. "We have 11 years until emissions will get to a continuous cycle and the greenhouse effect will get worse."

Penelope Mitchell, Maddie Tillem and Nina Lamb came with other classmates from Berkshire Country Day School in Lenox.

"It's our planet, and we don't have anywhere else to go," Lamb said.

According to Great Barrington Police Chief William Walsh, there were two arrests during the protest — a juvenile female and an 18-year-old man were obstructing traffic, he said. Both were charged with disorderly conduct.

At Pittsfield High School, organizers staged a 10:15 a.m. walkout and then marched to Park Square.

Jordan Bradford, a senior at the school, said she and other lead organizers heard about climate marches around the region and requested a meeting Monday with Principal Henry Duval.

"We wanted to include our school in that mix," she said.

They would have walked out anyway, she said, but it was nice to have Duval's support.

Another lead organizer, Elizabeth Sprague, held a sign that read "Make the Earth cool again."

"You'll die of old age; I'll die of climate change," another sign read.

It's important that youth voices be heard on this issue, Sprague said. She said that "if the adults aren't acting, we will."

Climate change will affect them later in life, while that might not be the case for older generations, said Aviva Skoblow, another lead organizer from Pittsfield High. She wore a T-shirt that read "Recycle or die."

"We're really calling on our leaders to hear us and take action," she said.

Heather Bellow contributed to this report from Great Barrington, and Amanda Drane contributed from Pittsfield.

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or 413-629-4517.


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