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In Our Own Backyard

Kay Bolden | 5/4/2017, midnight
In Our Own Backyard is a Times Weekly column covering environmental justice and climate change, and how these issues impact ...

In Our Own Backyard is a Times Weekly column covering environmental justice and climate change, and how these issues impact our local families every day. If you think oil spills, contaminated soil and toxic water pipes don’t really affect you – we want you to think again. It’s happening right here, right now, in our own backyard.

Rise Up!

Among the estimated 200,000 people who participated in the People’s Climate March on Saturday, April 29 in Washington, D.C. were thousands of teens and young adults. They came by train, by car and by the busload from every state; their voices were loud and their message was clear in their chant: The Oceans are Rising … and So are We!

Young people convened the day before the march to talk about the role of youth in the climate movement, to build art installations and banners, to hear from inspiring speakers and to build relationships with other youth from around the world.

Mark Hoyt, a college student from New Mexico, participated in a drumming ceremony called One Earth, One Heartbeat, One People. “It was nothing like I’ve ever seen before,” he said. “So many of us coming together for the same purpose.” He vowed to go back home after the march, and get more involved with environmental issues in his hometown.

The Youth Gathering was only one of dozens of pre-march events, which included sacred water ceremonies by Medicine Women from Indigenous Peoples, workers’ forums, worship and potlucks at various churches, poetry slams, leadership training, poster making parties, teach-ins, panel discussions on building a green economy, and LGBTQ rallies.

“We’re all in this together,” said one marcher. “And we better start acting like it.”

The climate movement is sometimes criticized for not being racially diverse enough, especially since low-income communities and communities of color are often hit first and hit worst in environmental crises.

But the People’s Climate Movement, which describes itself as “a broad-based coalition of environmental, immigrant, youth, indigenous, Latino, racial justice, economic justice, and faith-based groups and labor unions demanding an economy and a government that works for working people and the planet”, went to great lengths to address and include environmental racism in the march and rallies.

Mary Kay Henry, International President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) which supported and participated in the march, said, “As working people, people of color and immigrants, we’re here because our families are disproportionately hardest hit by pollution and climate change’s impacts. Every day SEIU members and our communities see the impact of toxic pollution in our air and water. We march because we are on the frontlines.”

The next day, Paul Getsos, National Coordinator of the People’s Climate Movement, responded to news reports that Congress has reached a compromise regarding a continuing resolution (CR) to fund the U.S. government until September. "Congress took a solid first step in rejecting the Trump administration's proposed budget cuts to the EPA by proposing to fund it virtually at current levels until September. However, this Congress needs to continue to stand up to an administration that favors corporate profits over clean air and water and places our workers, communities and our people at great risk."

Protesters in DC and sister marches across the country and around the world urged government leaders to act on climate while creating family-sustaining jobs, investing in frontline and indigenous communities and protecting workers as the nation transitions to a clean and renewable energy economy.

“We know it’s going to take a lot of work,” said Alexis Brown, a high school student from New York. “But that’s why we have to start now.”

Kay Bolden is an author, Times Weekly blogger, youth advocate, community activist and urban farmer on Joliet’s southeast side. She’d love to hear your thoughts on sustainable living, economic justice, and how we can all live together on the only planet we’ve got. Follow her on Twitter @KayBolden or drop her a line at Kay@KayBolden.com