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Sonoma County students to stage walkouts Friday for national climate strike

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Fifteen-year-old Lola Guthrie of Sebastopol didn’t want to sit back and do nothing in the midst of the climate crisis — and it’s why she plans to join other students across the country Friday and go on strike.

“I think it’s my responsibility,” she said. “It’s almost like a duty for people in my position to take action on climate change.”

Guthrie, a sophomore at Credo High School in Rohnert Park, is one of many Sonoma County students who plan to skip classes Friday and participate in an environmental walkout, part of a nationwide, youth-led demonstration meant to coincide with world leaders gathering at the United Nations’ annual climate conference in Madrid.

The protest event comes in the wake of the massive global climate strike in September, during which about 2,000 people protested in downtown Santa Rosa.

The Sonoma County chapter of the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led environmental organization that Guthrie is a member of, is organizing the local strike. It will be centered at Old Courthouse Square with a rally and what organizers are calling a “die-in for life,” where they plan to stage their death by lying on the ground and holding up signs that reflect the different climate-related disasters killing people around the world, including drought or starvation.

The die-in will last for 11 minutes, symbolizing the 11 years that scientists believe the world has left to achieve drastic cuts in carbon emissions and avert the most drastic effects of climate disruption, Guthrie said.

“It’s really depressing just seeing all of these people lying on the ground and realizing that’s where we’re headed,” Guthrie said. “That sends a really strong message to people walking by.”

Some local schools will also hold die-ins on their own campuses Friday, said Christine Byrne, a coordinator for the county chapter of the Sunrise Movement. Guthrie and her classmates plan to walk from Credo High School to downtown Cotati to stage their demonstration.

Protesters will gather at 5 p.m. in Juilliard Park for a silent candlelit procession, which will take them through downtown Santa Rosa. The strike will end in Old Courthouse Square, with speeches meant to encourage people to take action on the climate crisis.

Byrne said the candlelit march is intended as a kind of vigil in remembrance of those who have suffered because of the climate disaster. Byrne, a former high school science teacher at Roseland Collegiate Prep, became involved with the Sunrise Movement after the 2017 North Bay fires, which burned her old school. She said many of her students and colleagues lost their homes in the fires.

“Once we get back to Courthouse Square, it’s kind of like bringing back the light and hopefully that inspiration tone that even though these are dark times ... that we still have community and we still have to fight for everything that we love and hold dear in our hearts,” Byrne said.

The strike, like other youth-led environmental movements, allows young people to demand action from political leaders on this issue, Bryne said.

“The bottom line is the past generations haven’t done anything about this, so it’s fallen to us in a way,” Guthrie said.

While the strike is youth-led, organizers emphasized that everyone is welcome to participate Friday.

“We’re all neighbors on this planet, and so we are hoping to get as many people from as many different walks of life out to this as possible,” Byrne said. “Everyone has been impacted by the climate disaster.”

You can reach Staff Writer Chantelle Lee at 707-521-5337 or chantelle.lee@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ChantelleHLee.

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