Community Climate Strike Shows Solidarity with Kids in Sunset Park

Climate and social justice activists participated in a workshop led by a transnational feminist group called AF3IRM NYC on Friday, Sept. 27, 2019 in Sunset Park. They displayed a symbol that represents Mauna Kea, a mountain that is sacred to Hawaiians, and the struggle to keep a 30-meter telescope from being built on that land.

Last week’s international climate strike was just the beginning. Climate activists of all stripes came to Sunset Park to participate in different activities that activist groups set up before everyone joined to rally for action on Friday. 

Earth Strike NYC and over 20 other groups teamed up to create a community strike one week after the kids led their own climate strike and on the final day of the United Nations general assembly. They called for people to strike from work and demand action to stop the planet from warming more than 1.5 degrees Celsius and to draw attention to the vulnerable communities already battling their rapidly changing landscapes. 

Attendees could participate in workshops and activities during two afternoon sessions that touched on issues like the treatment of indigenous people, eco-fascism, sustaining all life on Earth, and botany. At one point, children joined in a circle, and the adults led them in a climate and species justice call-and-response.  

The activities were much more than just fun and games and were meant to build community and relationships before everyone rallied and marched later in the afternoon. 

Andrea Shaw, a Ridgewood, Queens resident who works with Earth Strike NYC, was pleased with the number of events each day in the past week and with the way the afternoon in Sunset Park ended the week of climate strike and action.

“The past week has been crazy in a good way,” Shaw said. “I think people are finally starting to wake up and feel revolution within themselves.”

Shaw was channeling the emotions of the youth who led so much of the strike action in the past week, and it’s personal for her because she has an 11-year-old brother, many other siblings, and a boyfriend who has a little kid. “It’s really beautiful and powerful, and kids are also at a point where they’re feeling a little desperate, but they need everyone else to feel just as desperate,” Shaw said.

Members of the all-women Brazilian drumline Fogo Azul NYC kicked off the activities for the community climate strike in Sunset Park last Friday. The women come together and make music at any event or gathering that they feel is important. Photo by Michael Rosenthal.

Early attendees would have had a hard time missing the rhythmic sounds and high energy emanating from Fogo Azul New York City, an all-women Brazilian drumline. After performing, some of the group members even put their instruments on the back of their bikes for their rides home. One of the percussionists, Carin van der Donk, from the East Village, echoed the feelings Shaw had about the youth.

“It’s a little embarrassing that the kids have to do this as opposed to us,” van der Donk said. She’s still happy about the progress climate action made. “The strike is just something that’s been an exclamation point,” van der Donk said.

Kids, who would have to bear the brunt of the climate crisis while the adults escape it from old age and death, are not the only ones who are more threatened and taking the most action. Women have also been at the forefront of the climate movement and other social movements now and throughout history. 

When asked about having to pick up the slack of men, van der Donk said “Nobody ever does the dishes,” adding “if you leave the dishes sitting, it’s the same shit.” 

The children and women are joined by even more frontline groups, which Shaw said shows “Climate justice is colorful. It’s diverse.” One of the groups representing that struggle on Friday was AF3IRM NYC, a transnational feminist group primarily made up of women of color that focuses on issues like anti-trafficking of women and children, anti-militarism, and migrant and human rights.

A member of AF3IRM NYC named Princess, who lives in Queens, said that her workshop talked about how different problems are interconnected. They discussed issues in places like the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, and the United States and tied the corporate greed behind actions like mining and oil drilling to the ways people in those countries are affected. 

“It’s important to be aware of what’s going on so that you can figure out solutions,” Princess said. “If you’re not aware, then you won’t know how to fix it.” 

A young girl bangs on a drum from all-women Brazilian drumline group Fogo Azul NYC in Sunset Park last Friday. The drumline was one of many activities at the community climate strike event held as a show of solidarity with the youth-led climate strike from a week prior. Photo by Michael Rosenthal.

Princess pointed out that while some of the specific challenges posed by the climate crisis are new, indigenous people have faced environmental and justice threats for years. “Whatever happened last week, we have to remember that indigenous peoples have been fighting this issue when colonization was happening,” Princess said.

The day ended with marching and rallying carried to the tunes of song and chanting. The rally showed that the community of Sunset Park stood together in unity within the bigger picture of standing united for climate action and justice across the globe. 

The sun started setting on this warm but beautiful fall Friday, and those still left in the park could gaze out at the entire Manhattan skyline, lit up in its glory. They could see downtown Brooklyn, Gowanus, New Jersey, the Statue of Liberty, and ferries in the Upper Bay. 

But what they hope to never see, and never have their kids and future generations see, is some of these stoic and iconic landmarks underwater even by the year 2100, as could happen to portions of Brooklyn and Manhattan’s Financial District. For these activists, they may need some rest after this jam-packed week of action, but they believe the momentum is here to stay because it’s do or die.

“I feel tired, and I feel tired because we’re doing so much work all the time because the people in power aren’t, and that’s just ridiculous,” Shaw said. 

Reality struck quickly upon returning back to Fifth Avenue for a walk back to Park Slope, where car culture is so rampant that it would seem as if there were no crisis at all. Blocked bus stops, blocked bike lanes and crosswalks, double-parked cars, and out-of-control placard abuse heavily disincentive walking, cycling, and riding the bus. Kids are forced to ride bikes and scooters on sidewalks, and some parents who rode special bicycles with their kids in passenger seats also had to take to sidewalks to avoid the deathtrap of the roads. Getting to this point requires a lot of policy failures. 

The activists who showed up on Friday hope they can force change before the futures of the children are stolen, as Greta Thunberg would put it. They want a future where people can still enjoy sunsets in the park, not a future where people can’t come outside until sunset because it’s dangerously hot and there’s no shade because the heat and drought killed the trees.