Marchers demand cleaner air, healthier food

By Rachel Brown for the Hunts Point Express

Dozens of Hunts Point residents marched with nearly 400,000 demonstrators in the People’s Climate March in Manhattan this past Sunday, calling on world leaders to make drastic changes, all the while chanting slogans such as, “The South Bronx is under attack. What do we do? Stand up, fight back!”

Local marchers gathered at 9 a.m. with the Bronx Climate Justice bloc at La Finca del Sur community garden in Mott Haven, and started the day with some yoga, a contrast to the huge cardboard fists people would soon carry. Led by two yoga instructors, the marchers were encouraged to remove their shoes, spread their toes, feel grounded to the earth and breathe deeply, bringing calm to the already palpable hustle of the day.

Representatives from Sustainable South Bronx, South Bronx Unite, the Green Worker Cooperatives, Mothers on the Move, Percent for Green, The Point, Northwest Bronx Community Clergy Coalition and La Finca del Sur then took turns outlining their platform points, from waterfront access to healthy food. Most of the groups also made the point that while climate change affects everyone, vulnerable communities such as Hunts Point often bear the brunt of the negative impacts. Another common theme among speakers was that the people have solutions for the issues they face, and lawmakers need to listen to them.

By 9:30 a.m., the group dispersed to take the 1 train to Central Park West, where the citywide march began. A faction of the crowd instead mounted bicycles, and several riders wore lime-green gas tanks labeled with “Stop FreshDirect” stickers to symbolize the health effects that the company’s diesel trucks would bring into a community already burdened with very high asthma rates.

“As a mother whose daughter grew up with asthma, I decided to join today,” said Candace Adams of Morrisania, who rode her bike to midtown after the Bronx gathering. The South Bronx bike group later joined with a larger bike bloc, a group advocating for divestment in fossil fuels and calling attention to bicycles as an environmentally friendly way to get around the city.

Also on the bicycle route was Hatuey Ramos-Fermin, one of the co-founders of Boogie Down Rides, a Bronx-based cycling group. “As a South Bronx resident, at a time when the city is making decisions that affect us, I’m here today because I want to be a part of that,” Ramos-Fermin said.

Longwood resident Nicolás Dumit Estévez said he was participating in the demonstration to be united with the people of the South Bronx who are routinely neglected by the city government. He suggested that climate justice is connected to race, class and gender. “There is a reason we refer to the earth as mother,” Estevez said. “I think we need to change that idea to lover. We have to start loving the earth.”

Mychal Johnson of South Bronx Unite, a coalition working to improve and protect the social, environmental, and economic future of the area, was also one of 38 international civil society delegates to the United Nations Climate Summit held on Sept. 23. He marched along while monitoring the FreshDirect parade float, which was the size of a delivery truck and bore the message, “FreshDirect aims to bring 1,000 daily diesel truck trips through a South Bronx community where 1 in 5 children have asthma.”

“Hopefully I will have the opportunity to bring issues facing people every day in the South Bronx to the world stage,” Johnson said, interrupting himself to tell marchers to watch their step, and, a second later, to pick up the pace. “And I hope that the governments will create a binding agreement on carbon emissions.”

“Sustainability with Dignity!” was a phrase on Alicia Grullón’s Percent for Green sign at the march. Through months of conversations with Bronx residents, she has drafted the Percent for Green bill, which would require that city-funded development projects dedicate 5 percent of costs to public green space. The youth activist program A.C.T.I.O.N and the circus program from The Point could likewise be seen marching, juggling and holding up a banner that read “The Bronx is Breathing.” “It feels amazing to be part of a huge march like this,” said Twahira Khan, a long-time Bronx resident and volunteer with the Bronx River Alliance. “When you’re in a small community trying to solve problems, it can feel overwhelming. But when you know that others are out there working on the same issues in their communities, it’s inspiring.”