On Earth Day, April 22, Sonoma County climate activist groups stood with vibrant “Rise” banners at pedestrian bridges along Highway 101 from Petaluma to Windsor and organized a small rally in Healdsburg at the steps of city hall and in Santa Rosa at Old Courthouse Square to inspire residents and Sonoma County leaders to take action against climate change.
Tyra Benoit, who recently formed a Sonoma County-based division of the national climate activist group Arm and Arm, was one of several organizers of the day’s events.
“My name is Tyra Benoit and I am a relative newcomer to Healdsburg. I am a fire transplant, you might say. I lost my house in the Tubbs Fire in the Wikiup area of Santa Rosa and since that time, I’ve gotten much more involved in climate action,” Benoit said.
She said being directly affected by climate change elements, such as larger wildfires, directly amped up her interest in climate action.
“In my case, in 2019 I got trained as a climate reality leader through the climate reality project and came together after that training with a number of other groups and organizations. Sonoma County has a lot of organizations that are concerned about the environment and the climate crisis. In 2019 a number of us came together and we worked to sponsor the climate strike that happened in September of 2019, it was quite a massive event, and that led to us also trying to plan an event for Earth Day 2020,” she said.
The organizations were deep into planning for the 2020 event, however, then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and their plans were placed on hold until this year.
“We wanted to do something that would be COVID safe. Obviously having a huge strike or protest is difficult during COVID, even though some of us have gotten vaccinated, and we were thinking about what we could do for Earth Day,” Benoit said.
Sonoma County Arm in Arm, Sunrise Movement Sonoma County and Sonoma County Climate Mobilization joined forces to try and inspire Sonoma County residents on Earth Day to rise up and to demand that leaders across Sonoma County take action on the climate emergency.
The trio of groups shared their message by placing handmade banners on pedestrian bridges and overpasses along the Highway 101 corridor from Petaluma near the Lakeville Street exit all the way to Windsor off Los Amigos Road. The signs were also raised in Rohnert Park and in Santa Rosa.
The brightly colored banners had messages in both English in Spanish and featured phrases such as, “Rise with us” and “Climate justice.”
One sign in Spanish that was seen frequently down Highway 101 said, “We are one.”
“Sonoma County is the first county in the nation that has all of its jurisdictions, that means all city councils and the board of supervisors, that have signed a climate emergency resolution, but the big question now is, ‘What’s next?’” Benoit said.
She said part of that next step has to be involving the citizens of Sonoma County, many of which have experienced the trauma of climate change.
She said it’s also about “Trying to get our leaders to move boldly and quickly. It’s not for me, I’m 71-years-old, I’m retired ... Many of us are involved because we’re concerned about our children, our grandchildren and future generations. I want to change what I can in the time that I have remaining.”
“We just want to do something that will really ignite a transformational era,” Benoit said.
From about 2 to 3 p.m., a climate-centered rally sponsored by Sunrise Sonoma County was held in the Old Courthouse Square in Santa Rosa.
“There’s already some really excellent things that are happening in Sonoma County. We just want to give it a boost and give more voice to everyone who’s affected by this and we want to tie it into racial and economic justice as well … So many times, the people who are most affected by climate change are the people who are the most vulnerable and unable to really address it,” she said.
In Healdsburg, Benoit and other climate action activists hung banners at city hall at 11 a.m. and waved to curious onlookers and drivers, some of whom honked in approval of the inspirational climate justice signs.
“It’s primarily the idea of bringing attention to the fact that we’ve got to do more. I think Healdsburg has been more traumatized than many of the other communities in Sonoma County by the climate crisis and the amount of fires that we’ve had to face … And Healdsburg has done some really good things about climate change and we’re lucky to have our own municipal utilities department and the solar array at the wastewater treatment plant, but we can’t stop there. We have to keep moving forward,” Benoit said.
Despite the cloudy weather, the small crowd of about 10 to 12 activists seemed to be in good spirits, taking photos and discussing the steps that Healdsburg has taken to address climate change.
Benoit spoke with climate action members outside of city hall and with Healdsburg City Councilmember Ariel Kelley, who’s been a strong advocate for bold and robust city climate action goals and initiatives.
“I think what is the first step is being here and showing up. It’s having faces to go with this movement, residents of our community. Those of us who are advocating and trying to advance solutions, it is such a monumental challenge that it can feel overwhelming and I think for a lot of folks (it’s) the incremental pieces that we can put into action now that are actually going to have (an effect). It’s kind of like compound interest. You start putting stuff in motion now, it’s going to have an exponential impact, but if you wait 10 years the impact is going to be really small. We have to take action steps now,” Kelly said.
Kelley tried to get a community climate action ad hoc committee on the list of city priorities for the next fiscal year but didn't have a full consensus from her colleagues to do so. Instead, the city is aiming to host public town halls to discuss the climate crisis and to receive a presentation from the Regional Climate Protection Authority (RCPA) at a future city council meeting.
She added that it’s not enough to create plans, but to create actionable goals with a deadline and to evaluate whether the city is on track to meet those time bound goals or if they have to course correct.
“We have to start implementing them (plans) now. The Regional Climate Protection Authority created this climate mobilization strategy, it’s been adopted by all of the entities that are represented in that agency, the county and all nine jurisdictions and now they need our help. They need the cities to step up, they need residents to step up,” Kelley said. “For Healdsburg and where I see us going is the low-hanging fruit. We invited RCPA to come and give a presentation on the climate mobilization strategy.”
The RCPA climate mobilization strategy was adopted by the RCPA board of directors on March 8. It is a 10-year policy package that outlines 14 county-wide actions with the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030 under local authority, according to the RCPA website.
On the RCPA website, people can learn more about the strategy, take a survey to provide input on the plan and use interactive tools to learn about your carbon footprint and ways to reduce your footprint.