In the September heat, the voices of north Georgia residents rang in the air with chants and pleas to the government for action on climate change.
More than 100 people came to Dawsonville City Hall Sept. 20, armed with signs bearing slogans like “Stand for what you stand on,” “Run Forest Run,” “Make love not CO2” and “Our future is in your hands” for the Strike for Climate Action.
The event was one small part of a global initiative that started in August 2018 when then 14-year-old Greta Thunberg staged a protest outside the Swedish Parliament as part of the “Fridays for the Future” campaign.
In March 2019, Thunberg organized a strike which drew more than 1.4 million young people in over 160 cities, encouraging them to walk out of school and demand that adults take action on climate change.
This week, millions of people around the world participated in climate action strikes ahead of the United Nations General Assembly and the Climate Action Summit on Sept. 23.
“Today was really just all about us showing our support for the environment and how we know that there needs to be a change and we want our future,” said Dawson County High School (DCHS) junior Kailee Lebel.
The Dawsonville event, which was sponsored by the Go Green Alliance at DCHS and the North Georgia Conservation Coalition, was aimed at bringing awareness to the growing fear of the future of the planet if carbon emissions and dependency on fossil fuels continue to increase.
For Lebel, she believes that corporations value profit more than environmentally conscious efforts that affect her future.
“It’s our future, and if we don’t do something no one else will,” Lebel said.
“I’m about to turn 17 next month and one day I hope to turn 70 in this beautiful planet,” said DCHS junior McKenzie Morgan as she addressed the crowd. “By the way things are looking right now, it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen, and I want that to change. I want this beautiful planet to stay alive for as long as possible, and all of us can do that.”
Morgan and Lebel agreed that they want to go to college, travel the world, have kids and have a future - something they worry may never come to fruition if policies remain unchanged.
While teenagers were protesting to protect their futures, there were plenty of older generations with signs in hand protesting on behalf of their grandchildren.
When asked why she was participating in the strike, Debbie Smith said “because of this” as she pointed to her sign that listed the name of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. “I want them to have a future.”
The 63-year-old currently lives in Big Canoe but is fixing to move back to her home in Fort Worth, Texas where companies are currently fracking on her property. She plans to continue speaking up at events like the Strike for Climate Action when she returns to Texas either by joining a chapter or starting her own.
“I think we hold the responsibility for what’s happening as far as advancing climate change,” Smith said. “Climate change is going to happen regardless. We can’t control Mother Nature, but we’re helping it along because of what my generation did, and I feel responsible. I feel horribly responsible, especially for plastic.”
That sentiment was echoed by Gainesville resident Brian Moss, a volunteer with the national grassroots organization Citizens Climate Lobby.
“I came out today because I want to support the youth. I want to support the truth because I’m tired of being treated like a chump and I’m ready to fight,” said Moss, who was met with cheers from the crowd.
While activists advocated for small changes that everyone can do to be more environmentally conscious, such as recycling, switching to LED lightbulbs and cutting down usage of single-use plastics, Roy Taylor emphasized that it will take more than just the small changes to make an impact.
“We need votes. We need candidates that are willing to run on the issues that we are talking about here today and we need to get them into office,” said Taylor. “This is part of the structural change that is required. We will need more than just changing out lightbulbs and doing some recycling. We need to fundamentally change the system.”
Taylor is the Chair of Greening Georgia, the environmental caucus of the Democratic Party of Georgia. He traveled from Canton to be part of Friday’s event.
“We can’t wait for Washington. We can do it,” Taylor said of the New Green Deal policies and initiatives. “We can do it in our own homes. We can do it in our neighborhoods. We can do it in our city, county and at the state.”
By the end of the strike, organizers DCHS senior Roxie Fricton and North Georgia Conservation Coalition cofounder Bette Holland were pleased with the turnout and response from the north Georgia community.
“It went really well, way better than I anticipated,” Fricton said. “We were willing to take the risk to see how it would go and it panned out better than I could have imagined.”
Fricton founded the Go Green Alliance at her high school during her junior year with the goal of making environmentally friendly changes within her school and community. She was glad to see that those who attended the Sept. 20 event were eager to speak about the issue at hand.
“Everyone was networking and everyone was talking and getting to know one another and getting to know why we’re all collectively here,” Fricton said. “You had people that were here for their grandkids, we had kids like me that are here for their future and there were some that were just here to support the youth, so it was super awesome.”
As a member of Generation Z, Fricton was glad to see a variety of individuals, many who were part of older generations, taking a stand for climate action regardless of political affiliation.
“It’s not a leftist or a right issue. It’s not a white or black issue. It’s an issue for the human race. All of us, the strikes around the world right now are just calling climate action for our elected representatives,” Fricton said. “We have the answers. It’s just waking people up and breaking the system.”
“If we push for clean air, clean water, less carbon, clean oceans and we accomplish that through the climate change movement, then what’s wrong with that,” Holland said. “It helps everyone to have better air to breathe, to have water to swim in in the oceans, clean water for drinking – that they’re not going to have if we don’t do this. If we don’t act soon, all of that is going to be gone.”