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Hundreds show up at youth-led climate rally

A crowd listens at a Climate Strike in Riverside Park in Saranac Lake Friday. (Enterprise photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

SARANAC LAKE — Speakers at a youth-led rally decried certain politicians, saw hope in the mass of support at the strike and worried about the immensity of the global problem.

Around 400 participated in the protest Friday afternoon in Riverside Park, which had been organized by Saranac Lake High School student Leena Keal and was associated with the Global Climate Strike happening worldwide.

The event started at noon, although the speakers began at 1 p.m. Around 100 were on the green at the first strike of the afternoon. Adults stood in groups. Children hung around in circles. The sun beat down on a sea of brown, green, blue and purple shirts. People with clipboards asked those not yet registered to register to vote. Signs were held high as the crowd waited, listening to several renditions of “Imagine” by John Lennon on the speakers.

Barbara Curtis of Saranac Lake held an American flag over her head. She said she’d participated in rallies since President Donald Trump had been elected. She said “progressives and liberals need to take the flag back.”

Asked why the rally was important, she said, “It’s important that we know that there’s other people who think like us.”

Keene Central School student Cal Page-Bryant, of Wilmington, stands at the intersection of River and Main streets during a climate rally at Riverside Park in Saranac Lake Friday. (Enterprise photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

The rally had students from several schools show up. High school, middle school and elementary school students from Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, Keene and Tupper Lake showed up. Students from North Country and Northwood private schools in Lake Placid were in attendance. Students from North Country Community College and Paul Smith’s College showed up. Homeschooled students were also there. For many adults in the crowd, supporting the children was important.

“We are here to support the kids,” said Katharine Preston. “We adults are here to support the kids.”

Preston, who traveled from Essex to attend, said elected leaders need to do more to lead and stop climate change.

“It gives me great hope when I see the kids leading us,” Preston said.

Just before 1 p.m., Keal led. A group of around 20 high school students followed her across the bridge on state Route 3 and then into Riverside Park where, from the bandstand with a microphone, she corralled the masses close to begin the speeches, presentation and song.

A local student holds a sign featuring 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg at a climate rally in Saranac Lake Friday. (Enterprise photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

“We’re all worried about losing something that we love,” she said. “So what makes me hopeful is seeing you all here today.”

Lake Placid High School students Anya Morgan and Elise Pierson were the first to speak after Keal. They first thanked Lake Placid village Mayor Craig Randall and North Elba town Supervisor Robert Politi. Other students had been bused from various schools. Saranac Lake Central Schools Superintendent Diane Fox said that only the Green Storm Club had been bused as a field trip. The rest had walked.

Pierson presented various impacts that climate change has had, such as a rising average temperature, and the impact it will have, such as rising water levels.

“Young people all around the world are demanding action,” Morgan said. “We are demanding immediate and urgent leadership from politicians to tackle climate change.”

North Country Community College student Schuyler Cranker said that he had invited U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik to the rally but heard no response. Stefanik’s communications director Maddie Anderson said she was uncertain if they had received an invitation or not, but added that Stefanik was working in Washington today, as there were votes happening.

Paul Smith’s College Professor Curt Stager speaks to the crowd at a Climate Strike in Riverside Park in Saranac Lake Friday. (Enterprise photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

“Our representative to Congress, who did not respond to our invitation to come here,” Cranker said, pausing to allow for the boos from the crowd to subside. “She has repeatedly said that she’s all in favor of making changes, so long as they do not affect the economy. But she fails to recognize … that if we continue as we are, there won’t be no functioning economy.”

Franklin County Board of Legislators Chairman Don Dabiew, D-Bombay, said he was glad to see such a large group of people at the rally and hoped everyone votes. He said half the eligible voters in Franklin County are registered and only half of that group actually votes.

Nathalie Thill, director of the Adirondack Center for Writing, told a story about the terrible realization her son had when he was 5 that he might never get to swim in the Great Barrier Reef.

“What could I say?” Thill said. “As a mom, what do we always say? ‘It’ll be OK.’ I couldn’t say that and be honest, so all I could say and mean was, ‘I’m sorry.'”

Sean Jackson of Paul Smith’s College spoke of a project he and his friend, another PSC student, had been a part of named Climate Fellowship. His friend, Ryan Novak, had spoken to people in South Africa about the impact climate change has on their lives, and Jackson had done the same with people in the Northeast United States. Although Jackson did not share what they found, he said people were willing to bring him into their homes and talk about the problems because he said it is affecting people now.

Harriet Brooks, 2, of Upper Jay, looks over her mother’s shoulder at a climate rally in Saranac Lake Friday. (Enterprise photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

Paul Smith’s College Professor Curt Stager finished the rally with a discussion of how it is time for the new generation to take the information that scientists like him had gathered and do something with it. He said three things need to be done. First, use only clean energy. Second, stop subsidizing the fossil fuel industry. Third, bring justice to climate change victims.

He then sang a remix of “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X, which has been the No. 1 pop song in the nation all summer.

“I’m going to take my voice to the old town road. I’m gonna fight ’til I can’t no more,” Stager sang, changing the original song’s chorus.

The crowd eventually chanted the chorus along, ending the rally. Students went back to school. Homeschool parents walked their children home. A few stayed behind to wave posters and elicit honks from cars on Route 3.

North Country Community College students Katlynn Allen, Elizabeth Meraz and Tia Hosler talk as they wait for the first speaker at a climate rally in Riverside Park Friday. (Enterprise photo — Elizabeth Izzo)