Democracy got a little more exciting on February 13, 2017 at the New York State Legislative Offices in Albany. NY Renews, a statewide coalition of over 100 environmental justice and labor organizations, packed the room for the Department of Environmental Conservation state budget hearing to let state senators and assemblymembers know that policies convey a fundamental role in mitigating climate impacts in a world that has not been invulnerable to climate change. ACE is a part of the NY Renews coalition and on this day, we were decked in orange and life-saver signs donned with “SAVE OUR FUTURE.”
February 13, despite being a day before Valentine's Day, was filled with more love than I have ever seen—a love for the planet, its people, and justice.
We lobbied for the main components of the Climate and Community Protection Act (CCPA) to be included in the state’s 2017 budget, which would ambitiously push the state to eliminate one hundred percent of climate pollution by 2050, once mandated. By 2030, the state will be on the road to obtaining fifty percent of its electricity from renewable energy, such as offshore wind, and most importantly, the CCPA would ensure that forty percent of its funds are invested in frontline communities. During its implementation, the CCPA would also ensure that jobs in the renewable industry are also GOOD jobs, enforced with fair labor standards.
I excitedly stayed up the night before the big day and walked myself to a subway at 4 am (there's a scarcity of MTA Buses at odd hours of the night) to catch the 6 am bus to Albany. Action Fellows Mariana Vargas, Lillian Davis-Bosch, and NYC Go Team member Taspia Piya joined me as youth representatives of ACE. I expected an exciting day with folks from across the state, but I certainly never expected a budget hearing to be so lively! The energy that flowed through the room once the crowd stood up to chant phrases such as "Trump's a Climate Emergency, Cuomo Show Some Urgency!" and "What do we want? Climate justice! Where do we want it? In the budget!" could be seen on the faces of the government officials conducting the hearing. They were surprised and began recording the room with their cell phones (as any of us would!).
After cordially being told to leave the hearing, everyone part of NY Renews split up into different lobby groups to visit various assembly members to advocate for the CCPA to be implemented in the 2017 budget. The group I was a part of visited seven representatives over the course of two hours and all of us had the opportunity to share our experiences with the global issue of climate change. The conglomerate of voices that radiated each room throughout the day was perhaps my favorite attribute of this entire event. ACE provided the youth perspective on the significance of this policy alongside our individualistic input. Just getting our words out there felt a level of powerful I can't possibly do justice to by painting in words. Action Fellow Lillian and I also met with the offices of our respective district’s assemblywomen and shared our concerns regarding climate change in our community. Overall, we were all able to get our message across: climate change is real despite what the federal government believes and the CCPA is audacious enough to do something about it.
After the meetings with the assembly members and lunch, everyone attended the press conference held by NY Renews outside of the Senate Chambers. The building echoed the words and songs of everyone gathered, and once again, the indescribable, powerful feeling reverberated the room as soon as I stepped into it. Numerous New Yorkers shared their experiences on camera and I too had the privilege of stepping up to contribute the youth voice. As an immigrant from Bangladesh, I saw climate impacts from the perception of two varied hemispheres but the parallels between New York and one of the most impacted countries of climate change are undeniably conspicuous. Hence, it's the job of policy makers to ensure that just demands such as those from the CCPA are implemented to lessen the damage, which was a request everyone else in the room also had.
Ultimately, February 13 was nothing short of a momentous day. At the end of it, everyone wearily returned home in their designated buses—to Albany, Buffalo, or New York City—and with us, the collective enthusiasm also spread from the capitol building. February 13, despite being a day before Valentine's Day, was filled with more love than I have ever seen— a love for the planet, its people, and justice.