Teenagers in the Lake Geneva region are immersing themselves in the climate change debate with a recurring demonstration they hope will persuade local elected leaders to take a stand.
Activists Hannah Rabenhorst and Braiya Nolan are urging other young people to join them each Friday between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. outside Lake Geneva City Hall in calling for city action on climate change.
What they want is for the Lake Geneva City Council to declare a “climate emergency” as part of a growing statewide push for declarations to build momentum for more sweeping government action.
Rabenhorst, who is leading the protest, said young people, in particular, should be active on climate change, because their lives will be impacted most by disruption of the environment.
“It’s super important,” she said. “This is our future.”
Lake Geneva City Manager David Nord said he was unaware of the effort, and he had not heard that cities or other local governments were being urged to take a stand on climate change.
Nord said city officials should welcome the chance to hear what the teenagers are asking.
“Any time you can get young people included at the local level,” he said, “I think that’s a good thing.”
The local effort is part of the Madison-based Youth Climate Action Team, which is mobilizing young people to start weekly protests in Milwaukee, Appleton, La Crosse, Eau Claire and elsewhere.
Organizer Max Prestigiacomo said the protests grew out of a March 15 student walkout on climate change.
Prestigiacomo, a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said organizers have their sights set on convincing Gov. Tony Evers to become the nation’s first governor to declare a climate emergency.
Although Lake Geneva is smaller than other communities involved, Prestigiacomo said, the more cities and villages issue declarations, the better the chances of evoking statewide action.
“The climate crisis affects everybody,” he said. “We cannot be displacing any person on this.”
Rabenhorst and Nolan, both students at Williams Bay High School, began their demonstrations outside Lake Geneva City Hall on Aug. 2, and they returned again on Aug. 9.
Although turnout has been light so far among their fellow protesters, the students got their message across by scrawling messages in chalk on the sidewalks outside City Hall.
Nolan said she has long been concerned about environmental issues, so when Rabenhorst was seeking volunteers to join the Youth Climate Action Team, Nolan jumped right in.
Saying she does not mind that the protests have been small so far, Nolan said she worries about what will happen to the environment if young people do not get involved.
“It all begins with someone,” she said. “If I don’t do it, I’m afraid of what will come.”
Rabenhorst said she has urged students from Badger High School and others in the area to join the upcoming Friday protests.
She plans eventually to reach out to Lake Geneva city leaders directly and request a climate emergency declaration.
Rabenhorst said she expects interest in the effort to grow, noting that political activity among young people in the region is not common.
“This isn’t something that happens very often in our community,” she said. “So I think it’ll definitely spark some interest.”