Some Sunset Park residents support the Industry City plan because it would create new jobs, and others, fearing gentrification, vehemently oppose it. Both sides showed up for Menchaca’s event, and in the end, his gesture toward compromise likely satisfied neither. But the resisters – including community groups like UPROSE and Protect Sunset Park and leftist activists from the South Brooklyn DSA – bore a superior fury, and their unconditional stance against the rezoning shut down Menchaca’s night. After he left, they took the microphone and, in an energetic display of popular democracy, continued to occupy the room, even after security tried to turn off the lights.
“We’re saying no to the Industry City proposal because they’re not in the business to help the community and be climate resilient,” said Summer Sandoval, the energy democracy coordinator at a local environmental advocacy organization called Uprose. “We need to move our waterfront from what it is today into a climate-ready waterfront that addresses climate mitigation and resilience.”
The neighborhood is predominately Asian and Latino. The group Uprose says a plan to rezone one of the last industrial waterfronts would push many longtime businesses and residents out.
This isn't the first time groups like Uprose and Earth Strike have come together to protest this. They hope the message comes through clear that this plan can't move forward.
“For a lot of young people and the conversation around the climate strike it’s about 10 years, but this is a lived experience for so many people we brought to the protest,” said AJ Hudson, an organizer with the Sunset Park-based Latino community organization Uprose. “It’s not a theoretical emergency, it’s something they’re dealing with right now.”
Nyiesha Mallet, an 18-year-old artist and activist from the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, boils down the frontline youth fight to this axiom: Climate justice entails an economic shift that swaps an economy focused on the individual for one focused on people. Beyond clean energy, that involves a just transition, which means helping phase out environmentally harmful industrial practices for better pathways, while also making sure workers from those industries aren’t left out in the cold. And she believes people of color know just how to do it.
“You are the leaders. You are the ones fighting power plants and shutting down pipelines. You are doing it with a lot of sacrifice. You’re doing it in communities were the police are after you. You’re doing it in the middle of ICE raids. Leadership looks like the faces in this room,” Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of UPROSE, issued in her opening remarks at the Brooklyn-founded advocacy group’s seventh Climate Justice Youth Summit on September 21.
“CLIMATE CHANGE HAS FORCED OUR COMMUNITY TO BECOME OUR OWN FIRST RESPONDERS.”
Nyiesha Mallet, 18
UPROSE — Brooklyn, New York
Cooper Union School of Art
How is climate change affecting your home and daily life? Climate change impacts my home and community not only physically but economically. When a superstorm like Hurricane Sandy hits communities of color like mine, we are completely unprepared, underfunded, and without the resources that we need to rebuild. Climate change affects our health, our bodies, and our way of living. What is so amazing is that after Hurricane Sandy hit, the people in our community came to us at [my organization] UPROSE and urged them to help prepare them for the next storm. They want to learn how to adapt to the changing climate and take matters into their own hands to lead the recovery and preparation efforts in our community. Climate change has forced our community to become our own first responders.
“I HAVE A DUTY TO PROTECT THE EARTH.”
Why are you joining in the climate strike? I have a duty to protect the earth and use my voice to help represent people of color and our frontline communities who are fighting day and night to just survive climate change. For this movement to be successful, it has to be intergenerational and aligned with frontline-led movements. There has to be a culture of practice that is committed to building just relationships.
What solutions do you want to see come out of the strike and UN climate events this month? I hope to see a real push for a just transition to come out of this strike and the UN climate events this month. That means we stop extractive economies and extractive fixes and build a regenerative economy where everyone can thrive. I want to see the people in “power” take climate and our lives seriously and recognize that long-term solutions will come from the frontline communities who are experiencing the brunt of the climate crisis.
To 18-year-old Nyiesha Mallett, a youth organizer with the Brooklyn climate justice organization Uprose, the climate strike participants who have experienced the impacts of the crisis firsthand hold the knowledge essential to navigating the emergencies ahead. She’s involved in organizing a Frontline Climate Strike that will include representatives from numerous communities impacted by climate disasters, including Puerto Rico and New Orleans.
Working through UPROSE, the oldest Brooklyn-based Latinx organization, we have been a part of creating real solutions that will directly affect our neighborhood in Sunset Park. In partnership with other local organizations, we have created the first community-owned solar cooperative in New York state. This means that now our families can afford non-toxic energy and will have a say in how it is run and distributed—and can even profit from it. These frontline-led solutions work.
With climate change and pollution having the greatest effects on our neighborhoods, we have solutions, including plans to reduce carbon emissions and switch to renewable energy sources like wind and solar. We cannot be ignored, or have our communities be sacrifice zones that don't experience the benefits of pollution controls or innovative solutions to limit the impact of climate change.
Together, at the Climate Justice Youth Summit, we will work to operationalize our Just Transition principles, recognizing that we must build a visionary economy that is very different than the one we now are in. This requires stopping the bad while at the same time building the new. We must change the rules to redistribute resources and power to local communities.
Just Transition initiatives are shifting from dirty energy to energy democracy, from funding highways to expanding public transit, from incinerators and landfills to zero waste, from industrial food systems to food sovereignty, from gentrification to community land rights, from military violence to peaceful resolution, and from rampant destructive development to ecosystem restoration.
Core to a Just Transition is deep democracy—in which workers and communities have control over the decisions that affect their daily lives.
UPROSE, which used to enjoy a closer relationship with Menchaca, has advanced a plan for Industry City embraced by neighborhood leftists: a return to full-scale manufacturing while building wind turbines and solar panels as part of a national Green New Deal. “We’re talking about an industrial waterfront that serves the region and this community, that builds for climate adaption, mitigation, and resilience,” said Elizabeth Yeampierre, UPROSE’s executive director.
The plan has faced fierce pushback from community groups such as Uprose, Brooklyn’s oldest Latino community-based organization, and the Protect Sunset Park Coalition. Locals argue that Industry City’s push to increase its footprint and allow for an additional 900,000 square feet of retail space, 600,000 square feet for classrooms and educational facilities, and a pair of hotels with more than 400 rooms, will further ramp up rents and push out long-time locals.
“There’s nothing, nothing innovative about what’s happening on this waterfront because gentrification is old,” Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of Uprose, told a gathering of protestors ahead of Monday’s town hall.
This is a false choice. Menchaca can both reject the Industry City plan, eschew developer-led rezoning and usher in a planning process that is community-based, equitable, and provides thousands of good-paying jobs for local residents. Work towards this vision for has already begun and was recently debuted at Brooklyn’s Community Board 7 by the Sunset Park community-based organization UPROSE, in their Green Resilient Improvement District (GRID) proposal. UPROSE’s GRID offers a compelling alternative to Industry City’s plan, and illustrates a future where the waterfront’s development can help bring about a more sustainable, resilient and dynamic future for South Brooklyn.
On one side, there’s the United Puerto Rican Organization of Sunset Park-Bay Ridge, more commonly known as UPROSE, founded in 1966, and led by the fiery Elizabeth Yeampierre. It claims the title of Brooklyn’s oldest Latinx community-based organization, and among other activities has been working for years to bring back blue-collar jobs while simultaneously addressing environmental justice and climate change issues along the waterfront in Sunset Park. Yeampierre, a lawyer by training, also serves as the national steering committee co-chair of the Climate Justice Alliance.
The goal is to create a local economic engine that addresses both climate change and local economic needs. You can sell avocado toast and lattes somewhere else,” said UPROSE Executive Director Elizabeth Yeampierre, taking a swipe at Industry City, which has created thousands of jobs for the local neighborhood.
Amazon is expanding in the city, and there’s little the e-commerce giant’s many vocal critics can do about it.
The trillion-dollar firm found itself in an unfamiliar position when it selected Long Island City as a site for its second headquarters late last year. Rather than the enthusiastic support it had expected at the end of its much-hyped search for an “HQ2,” a wave of negative public sentiment, scrutiny by elected officials and opposition from activist groups dogged the $4 billion development. When Amazon scuttled the deal in February, critics celebrated the vanquishing of a corporate interest intent on expanding on its own terms.
Two electric generating stations on six power barges, floating along the shoreline of Gowanus and Sunset Park, are looking to be replaced and updated by 2024.
Collectively they provide enough energy between one and 1.5 million residential customers in Brooklyn. The barges continued operating during Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and were only offline for two hours, due personnel evacuations, according to John Reese from Astoria Generating Company (AGC). They have been the first units back on line to restore power during blackouts.
Four of the six barges burn natural gas as their primary fuel and, as required, have ultra low sulfur diesel as a back-up fuel. The remaining two power barges burn only ultra-low sulfur diesel.
Elizabeth Yeampierre, the executive director of UPROSE, told Earther the 40 percent number came from an analysis by groups backing the CCPA, including hers. That analysis showed 40 percent roughly corresponded with the percentage of New York residents who are people of color as well as the percentage of New Yorkers living in households with incomes below $50,000.
“That may be different in other places,”she said, noting that the Inslee administration would have to fine tune how exactly it spread out funding for frontline communities to ensure fair access.
Our climate is changing, and our approaches to politics and activism have to change with it. That’s why The Nation, in partnership with the Food & Environment Reporting Network, has launched “Taking Heat,” a series of dispatches from the front lines of the climate-justice movement, by journalist Audrea Lim.
In late 2019, the first cooperatively owned solar installation will go live in New York City. The 80,000-square-foot array sits atop the roof of an industrial building at the Brooklyn Army Terminal. Nearby residents in the low-income Sunset Park neighborhood can pay a subscription fee to access clean energy from the installation, and in exchange receive credits that lower their monthly bills.
The Brooklyn Army Terminal project was careful to build in both environmental and equitable returns to residents of Sunset Park. The solar array can provide enough clean energy for 200 households or businesses, while saving those cash-strapped New Yorkers about $1 million in offset power costs over then next 25 years. In monthly terms, that’s about a 20% reduction per bill.
A report released Wednesday by the Center for an Urban Future determined that in the past decade Brooklyn has outpaced Manhattan and most major U.S. cities in jobs and company growth for fields related to technology and the creative and advanced manufacturing industries.