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Youth group stages climate change ‘die-in for life’ at Santa Rosa Plaza

Time is running out.

That was the message from the Sunrise Movement, whose members gathered at Santa Rosa’s Old Courthouse Square at noon on Friday.

They weren’t talking about the dark rain clouds overhead. The Sunrise Movement is a national, youth-led environmental organization. The Sonoma County chapter on Friday encouraged young people to skip classes and join a “climate strike,” coinciding with the United Nations climate conference going on now in Madrid.

Around three dozen students showed up in downtown Santa Rosa.

“Right now, it’s still math class,” said Gavin Sellors, a senior at Summerfield Waldorf High School who blew off calculus in order to lead the group’s “die-in for life.” After making the short walk from the square to the Santa Rosa Plaza, the group circled up just west of the Starbucks, where Sellors addressed his fellow “Sunrisers,” who support the enactment of the progressive Congressional resolution known as the Green New Deal.

“This year alone, we’ve all been effected by blackouts, unbreathable air, and the threat of wildfires ripping through our county,” said Sellors, his voice amplified by loudspeaker. “We have 11 years left to make changes, before we cross a threshold from which we can’t come back.

“In 11 years, I will be 28 years old,” continued Sellors, his voice rising with indignation. “I don’t deserve to live the majority of my life on a planet that has been poisoned by past generations.”

For each of those 11 years, the protesters spent one minute lying still on the floor of the mall, holding signs on which the cause of their symbolic deaths had been written:

“I died from air pollution.”

“I died from wildfires.”

“I died from depletion of resources.”

“I died from climate-induced social unrest.”

“I died from heartbreak.”

“You all need to get out of the way,” said Santa Rosa Junior College student Oliver Simmons of the generations that have bequeathed to him these profound environmental problems. “I want to have kids someday, and I don’t want them to suffer because of what’s not being done today.”

Shoppers coming in and out of Starbucks, and neighboring mall stores such as Aeropostale and Forever 21, reacted with a range of expressions, mostly positive. One 30-something woman winced and warned them, “you’re getting all dirty.” Half a dozen teenagers walking past the protest spontaneously joined it, dropping to the ground in solidarity.

“Rise up,” declared Sunrise member Sierra Downey, once 11 minutes had passed. “Take off your masks. The smoke will rise and so will we. We rise up to signify hope because we have 11 years to fix this, 11 years to fight for our survival.”

Also showing up to support the youth was a cohort of 60-something women including one with the T-shirt bearing the legend “1,000 Grandmothers.”

“They get it,” said Elaine Wellin of the young people around her. ”The threat is real, and we need to understand that. We need to listen.”

You can reach Staff Writer Austin Murphy at 707-521-5214 or austin.murphy@pressdemocrat.com.

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