Vermonters march for their future
MONTPELIER — Though she had to use a step stool to reach the microphone, 16-year-old Greta Solsaa wasn’t fazed by thousands of people gathered below her on the snowy Statehouse lawn this past Saturday.
“Never forget your voice,” the Rutland teen told the crowd at the March For Our Future. “Never forget that we are the future, and we have something to say about it.”
That was the theme of the day as an amped-up throng converged on Montpelier to rally around issues like climate change and discrimination. Even those who were far too young to vote stepped to the podium and vowed to take action.
“We’re all human beings, and we can all do something,” 8-year-old Sophie Freebern told the crowd.
Speakers included two Addison County youngsters: 13-year-old Ethan Sonneborn of Bristol and 12-year-old Narges Anzali of Weybridge.
Saturday’s event was a combination of youth activists March For Our Future and the Women’s March. It was held on the one-year anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, and opposition to the president’s policies was a unifying sentiment.
“There was a really deep commitment to take back Inauguration Day,” said Emma Schoenberg of Rights and Democracy, one of the groups behind the event.
Last year, on the day after Trump took office, the Women’s March overwhelmed Montpelier with a crowd numbering 15,000 to 20,000. This year’s event was much smaller, with organizers estimating attendance at 2,000 to 3,000.
Euan Bear of Bakersfield attended the January 2017 march, and returned for Saturday’s event because she feels a powerful need to “fight the Republican agenda.”
“Not very much has changed (in the past year), except for the government getting more screwed up and lots of people’s rights getting impinged on,” Bear said.
Bear said she fears that Trump is stacking the judiciary with conservatives who will further erode the rights of minority groups. She carried a sign that read “No Retreat on Equality.”
Lesley Fishelman of Dummerston traveled a few hours north to hear her grandchild speak at the march and to protest what she called the “meanness” and “unforgiving” policies of Trump and the GOP.
The rally was held a little over a week after Trump used a vulgarity to describe Haiti, El Salvador and African countries during immigration talks at the White House.
“It’s very much against how my family got to this country — and how Trump’s family got here,” Fishelman said. She’s embarrassed for America because of the president’s behavior. But she’s also hopeful. “I’m assuming there’s going to be a huge backlash. I think there are going to be more Democrats in all offices in 2018.”
University of Vermont freshman Olivia Vought expressed a similar optimism. Before the march, she stood outside Montpelier’s City Hall holding a sign that read, “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.”
“From (Trump’s election), all these movements are really gaining momentum now,” Vought said.
Fellow UVM freshman Hannah November said she came to the rally because “it’s unfair that anyone should be singled out because of things they can’t control, like their race, their gender and their background.”
Anger “is not really enough,” November said. “You have to figure out what you can do for the future.”
The students were among a crowd that swelled on both sides of Main Street before marching down State Street to the Statehouse, led by a banner proclaiming “Youth Know What’s Up.”
The lineup of speakers outside the Statehouse included a number of children. The youngest, Freebern, showed no hesitation in striding to the podium to talk about cleaning up litter and reducing electricity usage. “We all want to save those polar bears, right?” she asked.
Toward the end of her short speech, the 8-year-old lauded her fellow activists. “This march really helped raise morale,” she said. “Thanks for coming.”
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