EVENTS | ACTIVISM
On Sep 27, 2019, a climate justice organization “Uprose” marched on Industry City, a creative waterfront business hub, blamed for the neighborhood’s fast-paced gentrification.
During September’s “Global Week for Future,” over 6 million people all over the world took to the streets demanding their governments take action to address climate change. A series of passionate speeches by climate strike youth leader Greta Thunberg were a catalyst to last week’s series of global protests. The first youth-led wave of climate strikes on September 20, ahead of the UN’s Climate Action Summit on September 23, amassed over two million marchers. The US, the second-biggest polluter in the world, left the Paris Agreement in 2017; that agreement tasked world leaders to limit their countries’ greenhouse gas emissions to less than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels , according to Vox.
I missed the first “Fridays for Future” climate strike on September 20, so I had to make sure to attend a strike the following Friday. I was interested in finding a small march that would be held in a New York neighborhood that I’d never visited before. Thanks to my old friend Google I found a strike that was going to take place in Sunset Park, a waterfront neighborhood in Brooklyn.
I got to Sunset Park a couple of hours before sunset, and the first thing I saw was about a hundred people peacefully sitting on a grassy slope, listening to speeches by different activists. Several people gathered behind benches where speakers were standing up and holding self-made protest signs and posters.
A guy standing just a hundred feet to my left quickly caught my attention. He was wearing a crop top and peach velvet pants. It’s fairly easy to spot your own kind, I thought, and as if he read my mind, within two minutes he was standing right beside me offering an activist newspaper. “Come to our meetings, it’s every Wednesday. Just a bunch of queerdos getting together and talking about issues like police brutality, then going in the streets and getting arrested for it.”
He handed me a flyer targeting the MTA – their group’s new campaign. The flyer stated that “The MTA just added 500 cops to stop ‘farebeaters’ and is planning to lay off 2,700 MTA workers.” The MTA is claiming that it’s losing $260 million due to people skipping the fare, “but yet they have enough finances to hire cops.”
Many speakers took turns speakin, from a Black Lives Matter movement founder, to three speakers from the International Indigenous Youth Council. The speakers brought up many issues: illegal cattle ranching in Nicaragua, DeBlasio’s plan to build four new jails in order to close the Rikers Island prison complex, ICE targeting Greyhound buses, and so on. But the main focus of the protest organized by “Uprose” – a leading advocate for climate justice – was to fight gentrification and rezoning in the neighborhood.
We then left the park with half a dozen activists carrying several pieces of cardboard that spelled “Climate Justice” as we marched towards Industry City. The predominantly Asian and Latino neighborhood of Sunset Park is afraid that the rezoning of one of the last industrial waterfronts will “push many longtime businesses and residents out,” News 12 Brooklyn reports.
Several speakers took to the microphone to express their frustrations about Industry City, whose owners, they argued, are responsible for the displacement of the local community. In the middle of the protest, Industry City turned on loud music inside its courtyard to drown out the crowd. The executive director of “Uprose,” and a national leader in the climate justice movement, Elizabeth Yeampierre, joked that “They are dancing to displacement.”
Towards the end of the rally, a cop car pulled in, eventually accompanying the marchers on their way back and herding everyone onto the sidewalk. The cops flashed their lights and asked protesters not to spill out onto the road so as to avoid blocking traffic.
I’ve never attended a protest before, and my initial aim was to simply observe, as I never knew how I could personally contribute to any cause. When we got closer to Industry City, one of the marchers asked me if I wanted a sign, and I found myself saying “yes.”
It’s very easy to go through life with your eyes closed, letting someone else make decisions on your behalf – for example, putting our trust in politicians and public figures that we assume will have our best interests. However, when we see that the issues that we care about are not being prioritized on a legislative level, it’s time to take action. It’s obvious that greed and money are taking precedence over vitally important issues like climate change, or basic human rights.
It’s difficult to ignore the fact that climate change is something that will unquestionably affect all of us personally at some point. During that climate strike at Sunset Park, I realized that the first step towards change is knowledge. Go to more local meetings, and educate yourself on present issues as this may be just the right start towards real change.