by Thomas Altfather Good
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — April 29, 2017. On a unseasonably warm Saturday hundreds of Islanders assembled in Staten Island’s Midland Beach, a coastal community ravaged by Hurricane Sandy, to demand Climate Justice from the Trump Administration — linking economic and environmental issues.
Workers from several local unions – including CWA Local 1102 and IBEW Local 3 – peace and environmental activists, and members of immigrant rights organizations gathered on Staten Island’s Franklin Delano Roosevelt boardwalk on Saturday. The protesters rallied and marched to demand climate justice from a president who appears to spend more time lounging in Mar-a-Lago and holding victory rallies than addressing pressing issues in a meaningful way.
Organized by two local advocacy organizations, Sustainable Staten Island and Move Forward Staten Island, with a broad coalition of labor unions, immigration rights groups, environmental justice, social justice and other community organizations from throughout New York City, the event was timed to coinicide with climate marches held in other cities.
The issues raised resonated with Islanders and turnout was impressive – the march was the largest on the Island since the Eric Garner protests of 2014.
The rally and march took place in an East Shore neighborhood that was ravaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, a neighborhood still recovering from a storm whose impact was made worse by rising sea levels and abnormally warm temperatures on the ocean’s surface. Although all of New York City was affected, Staten Island’ East Shore was hit particularly hard by the storm. 24 Islanders perished, and thousands were displaced when their homes were severely damaged. Five years later, many Staten Islanders are still struggling to rebuild.
“Environmental toxins and climate change affect all of us. However, we also know that these issues can affect different communities disproportionately. And so we can’t talk about environmental issues and climate change without at the same time, addressing the variety of other social issues that keep our communities down,” organizer Julienne Verdi said, linking the issues of climate change and economic justice.
Founder of Move Forward Staten Island, Verdi told the receptive crowd: “We can no longer stand silent while our politicians ignore the science and reality of climate change. We must stand up, tell our stories and demand action now. And that’s what you’re doing by being here today.”
Other speakers included Sam Cocozza, vice president of CWA Local 1102 and Hurricane Sandy survivor, Sofia Gouin of Barnard Divest for a Just Transition, Nidhi Khanna of Climate Reality, Steve Lawton of Sustainable Staten Island, Yesenia Mata of La Colmena Project, Beryl Thurman from the North Shore Waterfront Conservancy, Caesar Vargas of Dream Action Coalition, and Allison Ziogas, an electrician with IBEW Local 3.
“We’re here to stand in solidarity with members of our community and amplify our collective voice to call for bolder commitments to sustainable energy. Transition to renewable energy represents not only an opportunity to make our communities greener and healthier, but also address economic inequality through job creation — good paying union jobs,” Ziogas said.
The march was led by the children attending the event — to underscore the urgency of the call for action.
“Our children will bear the burden of climate change if we do not act now,” said Jessica Indelicato Hamil, Move Forward Co-Chair and co-organizer of the event.
Recognizing the need to keep the pressure on elected officials, the coalition of labor, peace and justice organizations and environmental activists that planned the event is here to stay, according to organizers.
“Today is not the end of this movement. We will continue to stand together to protect our families, our city, and our Staten Island from climate change and other injustices,” said Steve Lawton of Sustainable Staten Island.
Thomas Altfather Good is a member of the National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981