She was only 16-years old, an illiterate peasant girl tending her father’s sheep and spinning wool into thread with her mother. But she knew of the mortal danger facing her country and believed that she could help save her people from the invading enemy. So convinced she was of this that she went to the commander of the local military garrison and told him that he had to give her a horse and armor and send her to see the king. He threw her out, of course. But she persisted. Her motivation was the heavenly visions that she saw and the voices that commanded her to become a soldier. And she became a soldier, the most famous warrior woman in history. But the king’s men knew there was no such thing as a women warrior. They were professional soldiers and they were aghast. A girl in command of the army? Was the king insane? They had suffered defeat after defeat. How could this girl turn that around? But she did.
She defeated the English enemy and led the pusillanimous king, who was not yet crowned, to his coronation. This ensured the survival of France as an independent nation which has made a huge difference in the history of Europe and the world. For her pains she was betrayed, fell into the hands of the enemy and was tried as a heretic by the Church because she claimed an unmediated connection with God. She was found guilty and burned at the stake. She was barely nineteen.
This is the story of Joan of Arc, and it is fascinating. We are deeply touched by a David and Goliath story like Joan’s, and heartened and inspired by the triumph of good over evil that transcends Joan’s martyrdom. Now we have a new Joan of Arc. Greta Thunberg, a Swedish girl, has exploded on the world stage, just like the French Joan and just as fascinating. She is every bit as full of charisma, faith, power, dedication, and leadership as Joan.
Regardless of how we may feel about the war this new Joan is fighting, the war against the disastrous consequences of global climate change, once we feel this young woman’s piercing eyes and hear her ringing voice speaking in flawless English, we can accept her as our commander. She has a vision, a vision of world leaders and the United Nations finally committed to science and to policies to reverse the worst aspects of the calamity staring all of us in the face. This victory has not happened yet, but it will, and Greta and the legions of world youth will triumph.
We have our own charismatic young leaders, inspired by Greta and their own common sense and idealism. I attended a meeting of the Environmental Club at a local high school, convened by Taylor, a 15-year old girl. Taylor is very articulate. She made it clear that she participated in the Climate Strike on September 20, against the wishes of the school principal, because she is “terrified about our future.” She knows the Climate Strike was successful, that 700 youth rallied, and that much awareness was created. Science teacher Kara, parent Paige, and Taylor’s peers, Roxy, Avery, Jaylee, Adele, Peter, Alex, Finn, and Christopher were in attendance. I was quickly put in awe at the maturity of the young people — children really — who have a plan of action which they vowed to pursue. Step one is to partner with the city’s Office of Innovation and Sustainability in order to coordinate their activities with a wider audience. Step two is to convince the students, the adults in the school, the School Board, the Mayor and City Council, and their parents to support them in a project to install solar panels on the roof of their building. It’s going to take money and they are committed to fundraising. Once they achieve this objective and do their part to relieve the planet of that much carbon pollution, they want to go district-wide and convince students in other high schools to spear-head efforts to install solar panels.
Seeing them in action I feel a bit more optimistic about the future than I did before I met them.
Joe Barrera, Ph.D., is the former director of the Ethnic Studies Program at UCCS, a lecturer in U.S. Southwest history, and a combat veteran of the Vietnam War.