By: Edwin Pagán
“The South Bronx demands respect – Boycott FreshDirect!” were among the chants heard aloud on the eve of the autumnal equinox (a fitting metaphor) during the People’s Climate March this past Sunday, September 21, that is being billed as “the largest climate-change demonstration in history,” by its organizers. Regardless of the final figures, it’s safe to say it proved a huge and peaceful success and that we’ve experienced the ‘Woodstock of climate-change’ in earnest. Nearly 400,000 attended and 5,000,000 will claim to have been there in 45 years. Either way, there’s no turning back now that the geo-minded genie has been let out of the bottle and concerned folk around the globe are starting to work together towards one goal: environmental justice.
For a person of color living in lower-income communities the impact of detrimental environmental effects is not a far off or ethereal specter, they are ever-present and have real-world consequences: asthma, emphysema, bronchitis, and chronic hyper-tension.
Puerto Ricans have historically congregated in sectors of New York where residential zones are intersected by industrial regions like those found in the South Bronx, East Harlem, the Lower East Side, and south sectors of Brooklyn. Coupled with a lack of natural and nutrient-rich foods, and an abundance of junk foods and fast-food outlets, the unhealthy circle has also led to a high rate of diabetes and other heart-related ailments.
It’s no wonder la gente from these communities would come out en-mass to lend their voices to such a demonstration. To them this is not a sudden cause célèbre – or some back burner issue with an eon on the clock – it’s the real deal and it’s immediate. And a chance to have their voices heard ahead of the United Nations Climate Summit taking place later this week is just what the doctor ordered.
Led by Franky Vélez, the musical group Artesanos de La Plena were among the hundreds of South Bronx residents and activists who participated in the historical march, who oppose online grocery retailer FreshDirect and their attempts of building a hub for their fleet of trucks in their community, and brought a unified message to the concrete jungle of Manhattan and commercialized canyons of Times Square in full force: ¡Aquí NO! (Not here) Their panderetas and chants provided a driving beat to the protester’s feet, as well as those contingents in front and behind this lively bunch.
At one point, seasoned activists turned into amateur performers (anything for the cause and community) as they informed hundreds of onlookers about the nuts and bolts of their struggle via a bit of good old fashion street theater. The incident played out in front of a life-size maquette of a FreshDirect truck that was floated along the 2.2-mile route by concerned/determined South Bronx demonstrators. Among the cast was South Bronx Unite co-founder Arthur “Mychal” Johnson, one of 38 civil society delegates from 25 countries who will represent the region at the UN summit this coming Thursday. Johnson’s Twitter feed aptly summed up the sentiments of the South Bronx contingent: “I will get asthma delivered to my neighborhood by them if they build a warehouse in the SouthBX. BoycottFreshDirect.” Where upon he proceeded to tag NYC Mayor @BilldeBlasio
“The South Bronx demands respect – Boycott FreshDirect!”
Ed García Conde, who operates the welcome2thebronx.com blog, and is affectionately known as the Mayor of Melrose (a county in the borough of the Bronx), also joined the march and was accompanied by several Bronx-based groups, including South Bronx Unite, La Finca del Sur, and South Bronx Community Congress. He said:
“As a resident of the South Bronx, today’s People’s Climate March was an event where we could air our grievances on a scale typically not afforded to communities such as ours. For decades we have been fighting to keep our own government from dumping on our borough. To also see the youth of the Bronx unite to protect our waterfront from the corporate greed of companies like FreshDirect – and the previous administration [Bloomberg] – showed the world today that we are no longer going to be silent nor are we going down without a fight.”
Elsewhere in this sea of supporters, The Caribbean Cultural Center and Brooklyn’s El Puente were also in the house, as was the Rebel Díaz Art Collective, all here to represent their communities that have been disproportionately hit with environmental issues brought on by negligent stockholders.
The last march to draw a comparative number of demonstrators took place back in April 2006 when the people turned out in droves for immigration reform, a pressing issue that remains to be addressed via comprehensive reform (Oh-Bah-Ma). Hopefully this time around, the voices of these demonstrators will fall on more morally receptive ears (Ban Ki-moon). Equal to the example of mass cooperation was a protest-wide two-minute moment of silence that began at 12:58PM and ended with a roar that echoed with a collective sense of accomplishment. As a documentarian, this moment gave me awe-inspired chills. As a person who’s lived in three of the largest historical cradles for Puerto Ricans in New York City, the moment also swelled me with pride.
“The South Bronx demands respect – Boycott FreshDirect!”
The organizers of the march posted a late night tweet that ended the well-organized day on a tongue-in-cheek high note: “Empire State Building is green. Hope that’s an homage to the #PeoplesClimate March today.”
¡La Cultural Vive, Y Su Historia Sigue!
— Rebel Diaz (@RebelDiaz) September 21, 2014
— El Puente (@elpuentepalante) September 21, 2014
Photographs of the march by the author:
Edwin “El Miedo” Pagán is the Founder-In-Chief of Latin Horror. Pagán is a writer, filmmaker (with over 20 years production experience in the narrative and documentary film sectors), photographer/ cinematographer, curator, cultural activist, and life-long horror fan.