Brian Pearson | September 22, 2014
I had two reasons for marching in the People’s Climate March on Sunday. First, I wanted to send a message that low-income people and people of color care about climate change. Across the globe, from New York to Nigeria, it is always poor people, and people of color who suffer most from the impacts of climate change. If anyone in the black community here in the United States had not realized it before, Hurricane Katrina made it abundantly clear. And by the time Super Storm Sandy hit here in New York City, we were unsurprised when it was our communities left to survive without adequate resources. And unsurprised that when Bloomberg began the process of cleaning and rebuilding our communities, he did not consider ways to include us, neither in the planning process of how to rebuild, nor by actually training and employing us to do the work.
The second reason I marched on Sunday was to unite our fight against climate change and global warming, with the fight to combat inequality and unemployment in our city.
To combat climate change we need to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, and do it in a way that is sustainable, with the smallest carbon footprint. Here in New York City, the best place to begin would be a massive “retrofitting” project where we upgraded all of large buildings built in the last century to make them as efficient and resilient as possible. That means replacing outdated boilers, installing the most efficient utilities, replacing windows and doors, all of the many ways a large building wastes energy. This was both decrease our carbon footprint, and decrease our utility costs.
And we need to invest in training and career programs so people like me, people who have been excluded from the workforce, can be a part of the solution, and pull ourselves out of poverty.
Listen, I’ve made some mistakes in my day. Believe me, I’ve been there. I took responsibility and I’ve started over. People can change.We have to. Together we can figure out how to have a zero carbon footprint by 2050.
After spending some time on the inside (NYS prison), I started to rebuild. I became a leader at Voices of Community Activists and Leaders (VOCAL-NY). We are organizing to end mass incarceration and the collateral consequences associated with it. I have learned to look for the solution to every problem, and not just the immediate problem, but its root causes. And I learned the importance of binding my own struggle with the struggles of others so we can a diverse and powerful political movement that meets the needs of all of us. That is why I’m marching on Sunday in the largest gathering to save the planet that was ever assembled.
We need a new “New Deal” that combats both climate change, and the “tale of two cities” that plagues our city.
Which brings me to how Mayor de Blasio made it worth it…
While I was marching with my fellow members of VOCAL New York, the Mayor announced that he wanted to start a massive retrofitting program. He made the announcement knowing that, unlike other cities, New York’s large buildings, not cars, are the leading cause of our burning of fossil fuels. And he made the announcement knowing that over 100,000 people marching in the streets provided him all the political will and support he would need.
The Mayor’s announcement talks about 3500 new jobs and job training, but I believe that the Mayor who we elected because he spoke to us with his “tale of two cities” campaign slogan, spoke to us about the impact of stop-and-frisk, income inequality and hospital closures across my borough of Brooklyn could go bigger and create a real “New Deal” for New York that combats climate change, unemployment (and our crumbling infrastructure and high utility costs!) all at once. We need a real commitment to rebuilding the workforce, while we commit to rebuilding the City.
And, because I have had the opportunity to work with some of the building trade unions of this city, I am happy to say that he has willing partners inside these trade unions who are willing and eager to do the work, trade and add people like me to the labor force, and create careers to pull us out of poverty and into the middle-class.
We all deserve a 2nd chance. Mayor de Blasio is giving NYC hers and I’m using mine to make sure it isn’t wasted.