By BEN WESTCOTT
Young people have convened in Saranac Lake on Tuesday evenings this fall to converse about ways to combat climate change. The meetings are at the Saranac Lake Free Library or Lake Flower Landing, and generally attract about a dozen people.
The group has worked to plan a Dec. 6 strike with community members temporarily leaving their work or schools to congregate in front of Republican U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik’s office in Plattsburgh. In this “Strike for a Livable Future,” activists will meet at noon at Trinity Park and then march to Congresswoman Stefanik’s office.
Strikers plan to pitch three demands to Stefanik: declare a climate emergency, support the Green New Deal, and stop accepting campaign money from fossil fuel companies. They have created a video promoting and explaining this week’s action.
Gavriela Mallory, an assistant farm manager and fourth- and fifth-grade math and science teacher at the North Country School, says she teaches students who regularly ask her about climate change. Her participation in the strike will allow her to show her students that she not only talks about climate change, but takes action as well. “It feels really important to be able to tell them that we are doing something about it,” Mallory said. “And this is a really concrete thing that I can say that I’m doing.”
Casey Galligan, who works at Sugarhouse Creamery in Upper Jay, said, “We need something to happen so we can have a livable future, both for ourselves and our children.”
Margot Brooks, who also works at Sugarhouse Creamery as the co-owner and operator, hopes that the strike will jump-start more climate activism in the community. “We are going to pull off collectively this action,” Brooks said. “And hopefully at the end of that, we will have formed a close connection with one another, and have a core group of people that will then carry on with the Adirondack hub, get more recruits, and do more organizing specific to our community.”
This group of young activists conducts their meetings in accordance with the standards laid out by the Sunrise Movement, a nationwide organization founded in 2017 that mobilizes and unites young people across the U.S. in an effort to lobby lawmakers to adopt legislation that will transition our economy away from its reliance on oil, gas and coal. Sunrise Movement members nationwide are urging lawmakers to back the Green New Deal, a plan which aims at shifting American society to run on 100% clean and renewable energy by 2030.
The Sunrise Movement consists of many “hubs” across the country, which function as centers of localized activism where community members can share ideas about climate-related topics and figure out how best to take action to promote solutions. The Saranac Lake hub is the first of its kind in the Adirondacks.
Organizers at the national level of the Sunrise Movement provide a blueprint, or plan of action, for localized activists to get a regional hub up and running. The information provided includes plans for initial meetings.
“(The Sunrise Movement) gave us this package of these meetings,” Brooks said. “It feels like a way they can bring new people into their greater culture and movement, in a cohesive way so that it doesn’t just lose meaning as a bunch of these new hubs are starting up.”
At one meeting, attendees broke up into small groups of three or four to discuss their reactions to various texts they were assigned to read in preparation for the meeting.
Brooks articulated her opinion on the importance of the group being knowledgeable about the climate change issue in all of its complex facets. “I like that we are doing readings together and growing our consciousness together as a group,” she said.
Thompson Tomaszewski, a 23-year-old Paul Smith’s College graduate and Saranac Lake resident, brings experience in climate activism and raising climate awareness to the Saranac Lake meetings.
“I’ve been an environmental educator for three and a half years now,” they said. “In all of my environmental education programs I always talk about climate change and how that’s impacting things, and what people can do to make it better.”
Tomaszewski sees the Sunrise Movement meetings as positive steps in a new direction from the activist efforts they have been a part of.
“It seems more organized, inclusive, and down to earth than other things I’ve seen in the past, and that is really interesting to me,” they said.
Instrumental in building the hub’s inclusive culture is the policy that a new member leads the group discussion every week.
This lack of structured hierarchy within the organization can help to ensure opinions are solicited from a variety of group members and everyone involved feels comfortable being a leading voice when necessary.
“Creating spaces where people feel like they can say how they truly feel about things is really important,” said meeting attendee Jill Brooks, a 23-year-old University of Vermont graduate who now lives in Burlington.
Mallory recognizes the strong sense of community within the Saranac Lake hub. “What I appreciate about Sunrise specifically is that we are doing a really good job of building community. And I think that a group of people who feel supported by each other and brought up by each other can be a power to be reckoned with when it comes to making change.”