Youth lobby Bayonne City Council to endorse Green New Deal

Students undaunted by tepid response

Youth lobby Bayonne City Council to endorse Green New Deal
Students vow to keep pressure on the city council to endorse the deal.

A group of young Bayonne residents is lobbying the Bayonne City Council to endorse the Green New Deal. The students, all Bayonne residents who attend High Tech High School in Secaucus, are part of iMatter, a national organization that partnered with the Sunshine Movement to engage youth to encourage local governments across the country to support broad solutions to a problem that most consider to be highly urgent.

“Why is climate change such an important, critical, and pressing issue, and why should Bayonne be concerned about it,” Cindy Chung, a High Tech High School senior, asked the Bayonne City Council on Feb. 20. The students cited studies warning of catastrophic outcomes from human-caused climate change

The study by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that global warming must be kept to a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius, or in a dozen years the planet will see worse droughts, floods, extreme heat, migration crises, and poverty. It concludes that urgent and unprecedented changes are needed.

Hurricanes and floods

“We’re especially susceptible to the effects of climate change because we’re a peninsula,” Chung said. Daniel Ibrahim added that hurricanes are of particular risk to Bayonne, which experienced massive flooding after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. “All these different extreme disasters could be accentuated and be more intense because of climate change,” he said.

“Our resolution isn’t necessarily to get Bayonne to implement all the asks of the Green New Deal, but to show public support and endorse the Green New Deal,” Ibrahim said at the meeting.

The Feb. 20 meeting was not an ideal platform to communicate their message to the public. It was sparsely attended due to a snowstorm, with even regulars staying home. Social media was more effective, but also a bit traumatizing. The students posted their petition on a Facebook group well-known for getting the word out fast but infamous for its vitriolic dialog.

“I’m in high school, and there are these 60-year-old men bullying me. It was shocking.” — Cindy Chung

Adults behaving badly 

“We got a lot of backlash I didn’t expect,” Chung said. “It was from lots of older adults tearing it apart. One guy, I think his comment got reported, commented hashtag kill the communists. I’m in high school, and there are these 60-year-old men bullying me. It was shocking.”

Their social media presence didn’t only draw out the bullies. It also connected them with groups aligned with their values, such as the Bayonne Nature Club, which appreciates nature and cleans Bayonne’s shorelines; and the Bayonne Water Guardians, which encourages residents to capture rain water in barrels to help prevent the city’s sewage from overflowing into surrounding bodies of water. Many in those groups signed the petition.

Response from the city council was respectful, but the organizers felt it was lukewarm. Now the group enters the second phase of their advocacy: persistence. The group hopes to raise awareness and get other youth excited about the issue. Then, they hope to propose specific resolutions down the road that would address the issue on a local level.

Persistence, persistence, persistence 

“As for getting a response and getting what we said considered, I don’t think they’re going to follow up with it unless we keep presenting,” Chung said. “So, part of our agenda is following up in the coming months. We knew it would be unlikely we’ll get a response. The only way is to follow up and bother them about it, or they’ll sweep it under the rug.”

“I wish there was more conversation about it,” Chung added. “It was more like ‘good job guys.’ Like, do they think it’s over? They didn’t talk about the resolution. Maybe if we were a group of adults, they would have taken it more seriously.”

Legislation for the Green New Deal was introduced in Congress; the full details have yet to be worked out. But the broader concept and values it represents are simple, and shared by many young people coming of age in an industrialized economy they inherited. The deal, not coincidentally echoes the New Deal of the 1940s. It would be a massive federal investment in green infrastructure and clean-energy jobs meant to de-carbonize the economy and make it more fair and just.

For updates on this and other stories check hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Rory Pasquariello can be reached at roryp@hudsonreporter.com.

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