By Pam Hersh
Friday, March 19, the windy day before the arrival of spring, blew me away when I had the good fortune to bump into a climate strike in Princeton’s Hinds Plaza. Late in the afternoon, I found myself in the midst of a dozen masked young people, chanting “Our Planet/Our future, Our Water/Our Future, Our Air/Our Future” and carrying signs about loving, sustaining and saving our planet.
Earth Day on April 22 was four weeks away – so what were these youngsters doing?
They were “striking” to make the point that every day ought to be Earth Day – the celebration and nurturing of the earth should be ongoing. These teenagers apparently took to heart the wisdom of Princeton’s well known social justice and community activist Albert Hinds, whose words are inscribed on the plaza’s gates: “It Is Always the Right Time To Do the Right Thing.”
Princeton High School (PHS) junior Harmonie Ramsden organized the Princeton Youth Climate Week Strike (PYCW) and other advocacy activities with the help of her “team” that included PHS adult advisors Ken Kurtzig, Meredith Soden and James Smirk; along with students Yaw Asante, Aurora Yuan, Jane Bennett, Neha Viswanathan, Abby Walden, Joycelyn Brobbey and Amy Colhoun.
The climate change advocacy initiative, conceived by Harmonie, was actually a 10-day festival that ran from March 11-21 .
“The PYCW festival aimed to help youth find an outlet for their creativity and climate frustrations through a multifaceted approach that targets the interests of our generation. We will be the ones to resolve the current crisis of environment degradation—this is a precursor to future environmental advocacy,” said Harmonie, who noted that the other activities included a virtual advocacy strike, sewing reusable masks, letter writing campaign, tree planting and a session on environmental journalism.
The project grew from an honor that Harmonie received a few months ago. She was selected last October as one of only 16 finalists in the international Project Green Challenge (PGC). PGC participants are “challenged to envision and work toward the healthy, just, and resilient future they want to thrive in.” Since launching in 2011, PGC has built a movement of young leaders, engaging 145,032 students directly and tens of millions indirectly on 9,700+ campuses, in 50 states and 188 countries. The movement invites and inspires youth to join together to change the world.
The seed for Harmonie’s environmental activism, however, was planted about three years ago when she and her family lived in Davidson, North Carolina, a suburb of Charlotte. With a population of about 13,000 people and often cited as one of the best places to live in North Carolina, Davidson inspired Harmonie to fight a development project that she felt would ruin one of Davidson’s best assets – open space that invited people to enjoy the outdoors.
“My family’s house was on a cul-de-sac that was surrounded by a forest with walking trails and a pond. We found out that the mayor was supporting a plan to turn the wooded area, a favorite recreational site for my family and friends, into a hotel,” Harmonie said.
With help from her younger sister Keegan – 18 months younger – and two other friends, plus support from her parents, Harmonie launched a campaign to protest the hotel plans. She made her position known by attending town hall meetings and hosting lemonade stands, with the lemonade sales financing her campaign.
“We spread the word, the mayor was voted out of office in the next election, and the hotel project was stopped completely,” she said.
When the family moved to Princeton, Harmonie found her new home town to be fertile turf for environmental and local government activism, and the high school embraced Harmonie’s activism and supported her save-the-planet initiative.
She assured me that her environmental advocacy efforts are no passing fancy.
“No matter what I study or what path I take as far as a career, I always will be an environmental activist,” she said in acknowledgement of the fact that what good is an interesting profession or joyful lifestyle, if there were no earth in which to enjoy it?
Several of the sign’s slogans that I saw during the strike struck chords with me as being perfect for getting a message to stick.
What I stand for is what I stand on. Respect existence or expect resistance. Be part of the solution, not the pollution. Like the oceans, we rise. The Earth should not be hotter than Danny DeVito.
My slogan would say: Go Harmonie, With A Bit of Dissonance, You are Making Beautiful Music.