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We Went to Court for Climate, but Albany is the Real Culprit

Gustavo Gordillo, Nadia Tykulsker & Illapa Sairitupac Jan 20

Photo: Climate activists from New York City DSA rally near City Hall last June to demand that the state government implement an aggressive Green New Deal. Credit: Michael Paulson.

When we tell you we were arrested last June outside the offices of state legislators who are deep in climate denial, you might guess we were in a red state like Texas. But no, it was right here in New York, where beneath our political establishment’s fair-weather promises of climate action lies not much at all.   

“New York leads the way on climate action” doesn’t just sound good, isn’t just the right thing to do, but is crucial. Sea levels at the tip of Manhattan have risen about 8 inches since 1950. This past year, Hurricane Ida had the highest death toll since Hurricane Sandy less than 10 years ago, affecting tens of thousands of New Yorkers, particularly working-class, frontline communities who live in areas increasingly vulnerable to floods. This isn’t even the tip of the iceberg. Every year of inaction puts more homes and more lives under threat: Soon, we won’t be talking about a few thousand New Yorkers, but millions of lives at threat globally.  

Listening to the Governor talk this month about making New York the “renewable energy capital of the nation,” you’d have no idea that our state currently runs at just 6% wind and solar energy. To put that in perspective, that’s five times less than oil-rich Texas.

Politicians need to lead by example and put their bodies on the line. Because all of us are on the line — especially the New Yorkers already most vulnerable.

You’d also miss that instead of racing to remedy this embarrassment, New York’s state government has blocked every single climate bill that could address this failure, for three years straight. This despite having Democratic supermajorities in both houses that can pass anything they want — no GOP obstruction in sight.

It’s enraging enough to make you want to chain yourselves together with pipe and shut down the street outside their New York City offices at 250 Broadway in Lower Manhattan until police literally buzzsaw you out. So that’s what we, activists with the Public Power NY coalition and the NYC Democratic Socialists of America, did last June.

Yesterday morning, we attended virtual court for this action, where we received ACDs (adjournment in contemplation of dismissal), which means we must avoid arrest for six months, after which our records will be sealed. We also, ironically enough, were sentenced to two hours of community service.

“Community service” is why we were there in the first place, and in community is how hundreds of working people across New York fought last year to end the building of a fracked gas plant in Astoria, Queens, ensuring clean air for generations to come. Hundreds of working people will continue to fight for a livable future in this city. 

Gustavo Gordillo (third from left), Illapa Sairitupac (fourth from left) and Nadia Tykulsker (furthest right) participate in a June 2, 2021 lockdown outside 250 Broadway where a number of state legislators have offices. Photo: Michael Paulson.

While we can’t read the minds of corporate Democrats, we can read their campaign finance records. It turns out that from party leadership on down, key Albany Democrats regularly rake in donations from the same fossil fuel companies whose pollution they’re supposed to be stopping.

To take just one example: State Senate Energy Committee Chair Kevin Parker receives the most fossil fuel money of anyone in the legislature and uses his position to block every climate bill. Who needs Republicans when you have the Joe Manchin of New York?

As we were arrested, we called out this corruption so it couldn’t be ignored — when will elected representatives like Carl Heastie, Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Michael Cusick be beholden to the people of New York rather than more-than-questionable financial backers? We also called for the passage of the Build Public Renewables Act, a sweeping bill that would enable New York to build renewable energy — directly, cheaply and with union labor — at the speed science actually demands.

Politicians need to lead by example and put their bodies on the line. Because all of us are on the line — especially the New Yorkers already most vulnerable. And more and more are: Last week, two Assembly Members, DSA’s Marcela Mitaynes, and BPRA lead sponsor Robert Carroll, were arrested outside the governor’s office demanding she pass the Build Public Renewables Act.

Kathy Hochul’s climate plan announced yesterday  is little more than small tweaks that were mostly in the works since Andrew Cuomo was governor.

Also attending were four state candidates, David Alexis, Samy Nemir-Olivares, Sarahana Shrestha, and I, Illapa Sairitupac, who are putting the climate crisis at the center of our campaigns.

No, the Governor didn’t listen. Yet. While the budget she unveiled yesterday may have said “CLIMATE” in big words, the plan announced was little more than small tweaks that were mostly in the works since Andrew Cuomo was governor.

But that won’t last. Saying “climate change is real” may have been the bar for climate action 20 years ago, but we know from knocking doors that, from Asthma Alley to the Hudson Valley, that New Yorkers are ready to lead. The way New Yorkers lead.

We don’t like going to jail. But since we aren’t flush with lobbying money, it seemed like the only way to get our politicians’ attention. So if they’re reading, they should know:

The climate crisis isn’t coming; it already started. And if New York had cared to deal with the climate crisis, New York’s children wouldn’t get asthma at twice the national average. And our COVID death toll wouldn’t have been multiplied in Black and brown neighborhoods by pollution-induced illness. Our working class would have been protected from Sandy and Ida by resilient infrastructure instead of a last-minute Home Depot run. Our renewable industry would be booming with green union jobs instead of unsafe, precarious contract work. And instead of dreading the future, New York would be leading the way to it.

No, us four don’t have a web of connections to industry lobbyists. But that’s the point. We are organizers who joined a mass movement which has fought fossil fuel industry titans like Danksammer and NRG, and beat them.

And we’re not running to sit in offices. We’re running to fight. To grow our movement until it’s big enough and organized enough to fight whoever we have to fight to make New York the renewable energy leader the world needs. So that soon, New Yorkers will finally be able to say, “The Green New Deal starts here.

Gustavo Gordillo, Nadia Tykulsker, and Illapa Sairitupac are members and organizers with NYC-DSA. Sairitupac is also a candidate for Assembly District 65.

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