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Protesting for the planet

“Baby boomer” generation speaks on generation “Z” participation in climate change activism.

Alex Martinez

Stella Shenkman, staff reporter

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At McCallum High School, it is not out of the ordinary for the student body to participate in organized walkouts to protest topics they find important. Last year, it was gun control, but this spring, it was climate change. On the Friday before spring break, various high school students from all around Austin walked out of their first periods to meet on the state capital lawn alongside activists, parents and children alike. The event hosted many guest speakers such as candidate Dr. Pritesh Gandhi, who is running for the District 10 seat in the House of Representatives. Dr. Gandhi was the first speaker to address the crowd.

“For a long time, young people like you all have relied on adults like us to take action, to safeguard our air, to safeguard our water, to safeguard our soil,” Ghandi said. “But in many respects, we have failed you.”

The candidate went on to discuss his concerns regarding climate change.

Stella Shenkman
THE GROUP GATHERS: As students arrived to the rally, a group formed on the capital lawn hill, facing their adult activist supporters. “I came here to let my voice be heard.” Sophomore Emmett McCormick told us. “It’s us, and our kids; We are the ones who will have to live through this.”

“We have not done enough,” he said. “Now we know that we must address global warming. We know that we must address it now and within this decade. We know that we are seeing many once-in-a-lifetime events such as hurricanes and natural disasters every other year. We know that the economic impact of climate change will disproportionately affect our communities right here and rural communities right down the road where farming is the major industry.”

Gandhi went on to address the rally organization directly.

“You all know that we have to move forward now,” he said. “We can’t wait for action, and that’s why we are here today.”

Gandhi was followed by many speakers that included students, parents and representatives from 350 Austin, an anti-fossil fuels climate protesting organization. In specific, 350 Austin’s Barbara Fetonte believes that climate change is not only an environmental concern but a political conflict as well.

“I want young people to have as long of a life as possible,” Fetonte said. “Global warming is the key. It causes drought, flooding and fires. With that, you get fires in Syria and civil wars that cause refugees, which causes people to not want to accept refugees at their borders.”

Stella Shenkman
RESPECT YOUR MOTHER: A pair of young protestors display their grattitude to their earth through a shared sign. Students were arriving as early as 8:30 am to the capital lawn. The strike organizers offered the crowd coffee, breakfast snacks, and were playing music on a speaker to welcome activist.

Fetonte feels her frustration with the topic of materialism in conjunction with climate change solutions going ignored.

“It’s not about the money,” she said. “It is about people wanting to be able to just live a good life. We don’t want mansions, we just want to be able to feed our families, to be able to take pride in our world, and to care for each other.”

This wasn’t Fetonte’s first rodeo either. She has been an activist in her community her entire life, even dating back to the Vietnam War protests and Civil Rights movements.

“I have fought for things all of my life,” she said. “But this just seems to be one of the most important. It’s not like we need a ten-bedroom house. I just want a place where I know my family will be safe. I am not asking for a lot.”

Fetonte’s life has been devoted to activism, even in regards to her marriage, according to her husband Danny Fetonte.

“[Barbara] would not go out with me until she saw that I was serious about activism,” Mr. Fetonte said. “It took me sixth months to get a date with her, but now we’ve been married for 40 years.”

Activism played an important role in Fetonte’s life and he is glad to see younger generations continue the fight.

Zoe Hocker
HELPFUL HAPLIN: Activist Richard Haplin poses with his home-made sign demonstrating his climate change concerns. “Let’s get past the crazy,” he said. “Let’s wake up and do something smart with each other to make the world a better place.”

“This is wonderful, seeing high school and college kids stand up,” he said. “My wife and I did it back in the day too. People think that activism doesn’t do anything, but you can change things if you stand up and fight.”

As the topic of climate change grows to be bigger and more urgent, Fetonte hopes that younger generations of activist do not lose hope.

“The people here are perfect examples,” she said. “Don’t become cynical, don’t give up, it’s our planet. The young people have the right to fight as much as anyone, you still have a whole life ahead of you here.”

Danny Fetonte, who also works with 350 Austin, is among the organization protesting corporations who he believes to be destructive to the climate.

“The Fayette Coal Plant is leaking coal lash,” Fetonte said. “The main products of coal lash are lead, mercury, and arsenic.”

Fetonte went on to explain his frustrations with the policy changes that underwent following a new presidency.

Zoe Hocker
SCREAMING SASHA: Junior Sasha Ashton, who attended McCallum her freshman year before transferring to the Khabele School, used her diary when speaking at the rally. “I draft all of my speeches in my diary,” Ashton said. “My time spent writing speeches and journal entries is symbolic to my feelings about the cause.” Ashton is an active member in many rally organizations around Austin. “Something about paper drafting makes me really think about what I am writing,” she said. “The emotional charge of it being my diary certainly helps, too.”

“The Obama administration cited [the Fayette Coal Plant] for having massive piles of coal lash around,” Fetonte said. “Because every time it rains, it leaches into the groundwater. When Trump came in six or eight months later, he got rid of the fines and he got rid of the regulations. I talked to [the Fayette Coal Plant] recently, and they said ‘Well, we are following all of the regulations,’ but there are not even any regulations on monitoring the lead content.”

Mr. Fetonte, among many at the rally, is disappointed in the city of Austin’s participation in this conflict.

“They’re not enforcing that these things are supposed to be sealed,” Fetonte said. “So it does not go down into the ground. The city of Austin makes a third of their budget from that coal plant, and the only reason they’re making so much money is because the coal plant is not dealing with their bi-products in a responsible way.”

Mr. Fetonte feels the health risks that come with chemicals being leaked into drinking water are extremely serious.

“It is literally poisoning kids in the Grange and Bastrop,” he said. “Lead is very deadly. It is bad for adults but it is terrible for kids. It builds up in your brain slowly as you drink the water, and you get a high level of development at that age, but if you have lead in it, it totally messes the brain up.”

Zoe Hocker
YOUNG AND YELLING: As speaker Morgan [last name] shares his story with the crowd, this young activist cheers and shares his quirky sign comparing school homework to the affects of climate change.

Fetonte believes that lack of regulation is no excuse to be unethical with bi-products.

“This country is crazy with making money fast and being irresponsible,” Fetonte said. “Just because Trump got rid of all of the regulations on how to handle coal lash does not mean that City of Austin or the LCRA (Lower Colorado River Authority) should go along with it.”

Similar to his wife, Danny Fetonte’s beliefs agree that the money made off of the damage does not compare to the lives of the community members.

“The money should not be a question when you’re dealing with people’s lives, especially children,” he said. “We’re telling LCRA and the city of Austin that no kids lives are worth the money.”

The rally held many participants whose lives were devoted to rallying against climate change, but for activists such as Richard Halpin, climate change has affected his life in a bigger way.

“My father-in-law and mother-in-law were swamped in Houston with the flood of Harvey,” Halpin said. “[My wife and I] had to go down there in the flood and move them out of [Houston] in a wheelchair, then move them into our home where my father-in-law died from results of the flood.”

Halpin has been striking for climate change for over 40 years and believes that results will come from education.

Stella Shenkman
A student leader of the 2019 Climate Strike Rally makes her rounds ensuring that the event is going smoothly. “We cannot afford former years of climate inaction.” she said. “There can be no ‘Bernie or bust’. That means whoever gets on the [DNC] ballot needs to get into office, do not split the ballot.”

“I want to see that the biggest change is more people who are educated to act. “ Halpin said. “I want more people to realize that their lives are at risk, their children’s lives are at risk, and the whole world we live in is at risk. I want them to take the solutions that we have at our fingertips and make them pervasive.”

While the rally held on the state capital lawn was not dense in numbers, their voices rang powerfully, whether it be the students skipping school or the concerned activist.

“It feels like we are all frogs in a pot,” Halpin said. “And the heat it turning up.”

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1 Comment

One Response to “Protesting for the planet”

  1. Kelsey Tasch on April 16th, 2019 8:25 pm

    I love this! Stella Shenkman deserves the world. An environmentally clean world.

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