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Geoffrey Land’s letter to the editor


On September 20 some forty students from PRHS decided to ditch school and join millions of other students around the globe for a School Strike for the Climate.  In doing so, they made history for Paso Robles. Never before has a group of PRHS students exchanged class time for global political action. And so I’m writing to acknowledge this milestone and express my support for those students (sophomores, juniors and seniors) who are paying attention, caring, educating themselves, speaking out, standing up for what they believe and moving outside their comfort zones to be heard.  As a Government teacher, I’m encouraged any time a young person jumps into the fray with passion and integrity.

In Amish communities, neighbors gather in “barn raisings” where an entire community literally helps raise a barn.  Last Friday was another sort of barn raising, when student activists conversed with community members about the petitions available to sign and showed them the next generation is ready to lead.  The event was spearheaded by Ysabel Wulfing, who imagined, then realized, a day of speeches, songs and a connection to the worldwide movement for Climate Action. It was also a test piece for the new Activists’ Coalition for Tomorrow (ACT) club. (Full disclosure: I was asked to be ACT’s teacher advisor, for which I get paid $0 per year.)

At Friday’s barnraising, participants built generational connections, community awareness, and an impetus for action.  Over one hundred people turned out in downtown park, most of whom were over 40. The students who went on climate strike weren’t your typical absentees.  Most of them had never ditched before, and certainly never been in a political protest. These were the A students who knew their truancy meant having to make up quizzes and homework from their honors and AP classes.  The organizers had already met with Mr. Overton and Superintendent Dubodst. They’d offered climate activists a way to make up missed attendance with a Saturday school. They’d explained their intentions to school board member Chris Arend, who had spent time himself on local talk radio stations discussing why he was opposed to the Climate Strike. 

People wanted — indeed needed — to see young people who care. Older folks there needed to know that young people understood the critical importance of the ongoing climate crisis.  And our PRHS activist students didn’t let them down. Student after student spoke and sang their love for the planet, their urgency, their frustration with the status quo. Marylin Miller Farmer, a seasoned environmentalist from SLO was impressed by these “awesome youth climate activists.”

I took a “personal necessity” day off last Friday and I watched the entire event.  One of the things that struck me was the stark difference between Wednesday (the day of the mob violence and motorcycle cops on campus) and Friday (the day of the Climate Strike).  To me, Wednesday represented the worst of humanity (and PRHS for that matter), when violence and anonymous mob-think overcame a peaceful space. Friday, in contrast, was filled with smiles, art, conversation, song, fellowship and courage.  Friday represents the best of humanity, when people can make a sacrifice to work collectively for a common good — planetary survival. 

Any analysis of an individual inevitably asks: what side of history was s/he on?   Well, as the planet faces rising temperatures, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, extreme storm events, burning forests, and carbon overload, we must ask ourselves what side of history we are on.  On Friday, students eloquently showed us a way, through education, activism and action. So here’s to the barn that was raised on Friday September 20. Well done, Bearcats, for showing me again why I teach. 

Geoffery Land

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