Raising the standard for good working conditions is like a chain reaction. More people will see their work life can be better.

~ Clara Vargas, 32BJ Member, Florida

Climate March and Beyond

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by Héctor Figueroa
President, 32BJ SEIU

Last Sunday was an incredible and indelible day in New York City. More than 300,000 people, representing over 1600 organizations, took to the streets to demand action on climate change from world leaders. All told, people marched in 296 American cities in the United States and 166 countries.

Marching in Manhattan I witnessed a unified people, filled with energy, passion, and hope for our cause. As a father, I was proud to share this moment with my son, Eric, and daughter, Elena. I was also moved to see 32BJ member Bill Aristovolus, a Green Super, chosen as one of only 7 people to speak at the Climate March Press Conference. Moments later, I was joined by another member, Marit Olif, who spoke at the Labor Rally about the important role of labor in finding solutions to climate change.

 

32BJ played a vital part in the People’s Climate March because our members live and work in communities that are affected by climate change. We reside in coastal cities that have been flooded by storms like Hurricane Sandy. Our urban areas suffer with skyrocketing asthma rates. Many of us have families in the global South that have been devastated by climate change.  We marched to bring attention to this problem and demand action now. We know that solutions can be found that both generate jobs and deliver sustainable energy.

While thrilled to be part of this event, I was most impressed with the diversity of the crowd. Never have I seen such a wide range of people coming together to deliver the same message: this is our planet and we demand action.

Even more inspiring to me, Sunday has the potential to be much more than a one day People’s Climate March. It can also be a starting point for a movement that can harness the power of focused people to effect real progressive change on a wide range of fronts.  While these organizations have different interests, we all share a commitment to improve the quality of life. This means not only action on climate change, but education, voting rights, immigration reform, economic and social justice, and much more. The beauty of the March was the recognition that progressive people and organizations have so much in common.

Let me share a moment from a meeting of global labor leaders that took place at 32BJ on the day after the March. There was an impassioned discussion among the participants who included labor, community, and environmental activists. A representative from a British Trade Union made a strong case for how a commitment to sustainable energy cannot only reduce carbon emissions, but creates good middle class jobs, as well. There was also a call for groups to take action locally as an alternative to relying on Washington and the United Nations. It was pointed out that a progressive new administration elected last year in New York City submitted a long term plan last week to lower carbon emissions by over 80% in the city.

As the week of Climate Change in New York draws to a close, I am optimistic about the future. We must seize the moment. In the weeks and months ahead, we must elect progressive local officials in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, and Pennsylvania who will follow-through on our legislative agenda. We must wage and win the fight for organizing airport and fast food workers. We must negotiate strong contracts for our members. We must work with other committed organizations to advance the work on immigration reform and climate change.

While there is much going on around the globe today that is disturbing and disheartening, it is also a time for hope. A worldwide action by the people for climate change showed what we can do. Let’s keep moving, marching, organizing, voting, and winning.

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