Activists hang banners across Sonoma County in the “fight for a livable future”

Jennifer Sawhney, Reporter

Sonoma County climate activists hung banners in various locations across the county Thursday morning to mark Earth Day and push for immediate reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Activists from Sonoma Arm in Arm, Sunrise Sonoma County and Indivisible Healdsburg hung banners with stark yellow and black imagery of hands holding up a heart, and an hourglass that shined bright in the overcast grey morning.

The statements “Rise with us,” “Climate Justice” and “Nuestro Clima, Nuestro Futuro” (“Our Climate, Our Future”) hung along high-traffic corridors in Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa and Healdsburg.

In Petaluma, a group of eight climate activists ranging in age from 14 to 73 hung the banners while drivers headed in both directions on Highway 101 honked their horns.

Pete Gang, 74, oversaw the Petaluma banner drops that hung from the McKenzie Avenue pedestrian pathway and the E. Washington Avenue overpass that both cross over Highway 101.

“We are the bigger picture,” Gang said. “We are stirring things up, bringing climate issues into people’s thinking.” 

To address the climate emergency, Gang said elected officials need to enact policies at both the local and state levels. And getting elected interested will require a “groundswell from the people. This is an effort to get the people engaged.”

Amy Cohen, 15, braved the cool weather and early morning hours to help with the Petaluma banner drop “to fight for a liveable future,” she said.

Mark from Arm in Arm, a new grassroots organization that helped Sunrise create the banners, said they made about 600 feet, or two football fields’ worth, of banners.

Mark and activists from Sunrise hung banners from the north and south sides of Rohnert Park Expressway to the honks of passing cars.

In Healdsburg, activists met at the corners of Los Amigos and Milk Barn Roads to hang up their banners.

“It’s a really difficult time here because we have to deal with drought and fire. When it comes to our grandchildren, we have to think ahead and think about climate change. Since we have so many vineyards, what can we do to promote more greenery,” said Cynthia Buffa, co-chair of Climate Action Committee for Indivisible Healdsburg.

“We can’t just cut back carbons, we also have to be able to absorb some of the ones that are out there. I think in this area we can get more people to be interested in electric cars, and I don’t think that’s a problem in this area,” Buffa said. 

Tyra Benoit, climate activist and retired Santa Rosa Junior College dean and adjunct history instructor, was at the Healdsburg location.

Benoit lost her home during the 2017 Tubbs fire. She realized she needed to become the change she wanted to see, and in 2019 she received environmental activist training from the Climate Reality Project.

“You declare that there’s an emergency, that we’ve got to do better for our future generations, but how do we act? How do we respond?” Benoit said.

To reach carbon neutrality through reduced greenhouse gas emissions, Benoit thinks the county needs to create a plan that unifies the cities’ approaches.

“And so now the problem is to get all the different cities and the county to unify on what can they do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to be carbon neutral, not by 2045 as the state says, or 2035 as the city of Healdsburg says, but by 2030,” she said. “So that’s less than 10 years. We’ve got a lot of work to do.” 

Additional reporting by Maritza Camacho, Audrey Fry and Cass Stewart.