New Paltz Striking for The Future

Students at SUNY New Paltz and schoolchildren from the town’s public schools are planning to walk out of classes Friday as part of an international school strike against climate change.

The strike is part of an increasing global movement started by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who began skipping her ninth-grade classes in August 2018 to protest outside of the Swedish Parliament. She has since become an international figure in the movement.

In New Paltz, students are planning to walk out of classes at 10 a.m., then will meet by the New Paltz Middle School at 10:15 a.m. for a march down Main Street to the Elting Memorial Library, where there will be speakers, as well as protest music by the Resisterhood Choir and Tin Horn Uprising.

Several local climate groups are taking part, including Extinction Rebellion New Paltz (XRNP), founded in July as part of the Extinction Rebellion (XR) movement, a British-born monkeywrenching group that has been blocking transit routes in major English cities to bring attention to climate change.

XRNP founder Margaret Human described the purpose of the group in simple terms.

“We’re trying to save the freaking climate,” she said.

Human, who said she was arrested in New York City for helping block the Brooklyn Bridge as part of an XR protest, said Friday’s action was “in solidarity with the ones that are going on all around the world.”

XRNP recently held civil disobedience training, which about 30 people attended, Human said.

“Extinction Rebellion is expressly a disruption organization,” she said. “We want the government, such as it is, to sit up and take notice. We’re in a climate emergency, we need to be on an emergency basis – so we wish to disrupt business as usual.”

The strike’s coordinators have been communicating with public school administrators about the strike, said Sue Son, one of the strike’s organizers.

In a testy letter to parents, New Paltz Superintendent Maria C. Rice wrote there had been insufficient communication about the strike, but that the district would support students leaving to participate.

“We believe that civic engagement allows our youth to learn vital skills needed to form, support and express personal positions on issues,” according to the letter.

All high school students are required to present written parental permission prior to 9 a.m. Friday to participate. Emailed permissions had to be sent by the end of the school day Thursday, according to the letter.

Middle School or elementary-aged students participating in the strike are to be signed out of school by a parent or guardian using standard protocol. A letter prior to Friday about their children’s plans to strike “would be appreciated” but is not required, according to the letter.

Strikers will not be allowed to gather on the Middle School’s grounds, Rice wrote, a decision made after consulting with the New Paltz Police Department about “potential safety risks.”

The New Paltz strike endorses the list of demands laid out for the international action, Son said.

The demands include transforming the economy to 100% renewable energy by 2030; immediately halting all leasing and permitting for fossil fuel extraction, processing and infrastructure projects; honoring treaties protecting indigenous lands and sovereignty; and a halting deforestation by 2030.

The event is being hosted by Liz Elkin and her fifth-grade daughter, Tahlia Elkin. Speakers include the Elkins, state Sen. Jen Metzger, Village of New Paltz Mayor Tom Rogers, representatives from NYPIRG and the Newburgh Clean Water Project, and SUNY New Paltz student activists.

The event’s page can be found here.

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