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Revolt Resurfaces: The Story from Sleepy Sonoma County, California

“Students need to understand the gravity of the current local and global situation, but only talking about doom and gloom is disempowering for youth. Asking them to have hope isn’t enough, either. It’s necessary to give them skills, information and knowledge so that they can have active hope and actually do stuff.”

– Marika Ramsden

Revolutions don’t move in straight lines, but rather zigzag, bounce up and down and circle around. They also often skip a generation or two. Indeed, some generations are “angry,” others “silent.” Some are about “me” others about “we.”

Donald Trump, his tweets, speeches, policies and outrageous behaviors have co-joined to mobilized the current generation of teens, twenty- and thirty-year-olds.

When Obama was in the White House, members of Generation Z and many of the Millennials, who preceded them, insisted that they didn’t have to act. The president would take care of their issues and resolve their problems. That’s what they now say. Today, no one who cares about the future of the Earth wants to leave it to Trump. In fact, that’s the last thing a socially-aware citizen wants to do.

In Sonoma County California, which has never been a seedbed of revolt, students are protesting against guns and violence in schools. Though it’s only a short drive to Berkeley and San Francisco, where rebellion is often a way of life, Sonoma reflects many of the values of Middle America.

People like to say “please” and “thank you.” Churches are big, class divisions are rifle and Mexicans, who do most of the hard physical labor, are treated as aliens, even when they’re born and raised here.

In Sonoma County, which was recently decimated by fires, the big issue is the environment, though there isn’t one single thing that has provided a tipping point and persuaded the current generation to leave their phones and their laptops behind and rally, demonstrate, speak-out and reach out to their peers.

Indeed, it’s not one single environmental issue, but everything from climate change and rising ocean levels to loss of farmland and the expansion of suburbia. They all play out in Sonoma County.

One clear sign of the generational storm that’s brewing beneath the surface is the summit that’s coming in April, right before tax day. No, it’s not a summit with government officials. There will be no presidents, prime ministers and plutocrats in attendance, but rather students and teachers who care about sustainability and resilience, not just in the classroom as an academic exercise, but also in “real life,” as educators like to call it.

The all-day “One Planet Youth Summit” takes place on Saturday, April 14, at an experimental school called Credo in Rohnert Park, the ticky-tacky town known to kids as “Rodent Park.” Jake Mackenzie, Rohnert Park’s 78-year-old, Scottish-born mayor, and the feisty chair of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission will speak at the summit, and so will representatives of groups and organizations that care about a green future.

But for the most part, the speakers and presenters will be students and teachers, not politicians, public office holders and entrepreneurs.

Marika Ramsden, an instructor at Credo, is one of the primary movers and shakers behind the summit, which aims to increase awareness about the need for recycling, restoration of the natural world and the creation of green schools, green towns and green communities.

Born in California and educated in England from age two to age 16, Ramsden attended the Summerfield Waldorf School in Santa Rosa where non-conformist ways are valued. She has a degree in sustainable development  from St. Andrews in Scotland.

“Students need to understand the gravity of the current local and global situation, but only talking about doom and gloom is disempowering for youth,” Ramsden told me. “Asking them to have hope isn’t enough, either. It’s necessary to give them skills, information and knowledge so that they can have active hope and actually do stuff.”

At Credo High School, seventh-to-twelfth graders learn about composting, recycling and landfill. They also collect and analyze their own trash, and then do research about alternatives to the current ways humans handle tons and tons of garbage.

At Credo, “zero waste” is a guiding principle and a part of the curriculum.

Ramdsen calls the movement that she is in the process of creating, “One Planet.” She hopes to spread it around the world. Not long ago, she bicycled from one end of California to the other and brought her environmental message to 30 schools.

She also bicycled from Land’s End, at the southern-most tip of England, to John o’ Groats, at the northern-most tip of Scotland. She gave workshops along the way, provided students with video cameras and asked them to tell the story of sustainability in their own schools.

All that experience on the road has made her eminently suited to encourage a major paradigm shift. Indeed, what she’d like most of all would be for humans to work close to where they live and shop. She also wants to help create communities in which everyone knows his and her neighbors.

If that sounds utopian, it is. The future has to be utopian or there isn’t one at all.

Meanwhile, the One Planet Youth Summit is at the top of Ramsden’s list of things to do. Local organizations, such as the Sonoma Ecology Center, an environmental powerhouse, Recology, a waste hauler and recycler, and The Switch Lab—a company that plans to make and sell electric vehicles—will take part in the daylong event. There’s even a break for lunch. Utopians are practical and know that they have to eat and also move from place to place,

Not surprisingly, the Switch Lab’s website says, “We are striving to build and market useful, sporty, safe, affordable electric vehicles while advancing electric vehicle education to create green employment locally and globally.”

Sponsors of the summit include Sustainable North Bay, the California International Studies Project, and BioRegional, an international environmental organization created by Pooran Desai and Sue Riddlestone, a husband and wife, team who inspired Marika Ramsden to create the “One Planet” movement.”

“We’re sending out an SOS,” Ramsden told me, and added that “The Earth is our ship and we all have to save it.”

Caitlyn Thomasson will attend the summit. A 21-year-old-environmental-studies major at Santa Rosa Junior College, she said that not long ago she looked at the world and saw one big mess: species decline, deforestation, glaciers melting, oceans rising, loss of land mass, people multiplying everywhere and over consumption.

Not surprisingly, Thomasson felt depressed. Then, out of curiosity, she took a class on environmental science that she says transformed her life. Indeed, she bought an airline ticket, jumped on a plane, traveled to Australia and New Zealand, where she learned about Maori culture and values, then returned to Sonoma County, created the Eco Leaders Club at her college, and recruited people in her own generation.

“I used to go to events about the environment where I was the only young person,” she said. “I felt like an outlier and wondered ‘where are my people?’ Now there are many more who are my age.”

Teachers who are involved with the One Planet Youth Summit aim to help empower students.

“We don’t want to be sages on the stage, but guides on the side,” Ramsden said. “It’s essential for student voices to be heard.”

At the summit, those voices will be loud and clear and inspiring.

Revolutions almost always require revolutions in the revolutionary movement itself. Each new rebellious generation has to jettison much old thinking and create new paradigms, new organizations and new slogans and phrases. That’s happening now in normally sleepy Sonoma County and in much noisier and more rambunctious places from Florida to Nevada, New Mexico to New York.

Jonah Raskin is the author of For the Hell of It; The Life and Times of Abbie Hoffman.

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