Young advocates appeal to hearts and minds at The Point
By Kimberly Devi Milner
Calls to create a green Bronx, tear down the Sheridan Expressway and serve nutritious lunches echoed across The Point’s Live from the Edge Theater at the community center’s annual Town Hall meeting on March 21st.
Teen activists from the center’s community leadership program, A.C.T.I.O.N., presented campaigns to combat social and environmental injustice affecting Hunts Point, attracting close to 100 people to this year’s event.
The young activists wanted to commemorate past victories and enlist the support of parents and others in their fight to improve living conditions in the industrial park area.
Representatives of The New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, The Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance and the Hispanic Federation joined them, registering voters for the 2012 election.
These kids are eye-openers for big corporations,” said Sherry Philips, whose 14 year-old son, Jordan, participated in the A.C.T.I.O.N. campaign calling for equal distribution of trash waste centers throughout the city, “Fair Share.” Phillips said neighborhood health conditions probably inspired Jordan to join the particular project.
“We live on Manida Street, so in the summer time we get [garbage] stench from the waste transfers,” said Phillips.
Fair Share, also called “Stop Dumping on Us!,” reported the South Bronx and Newtown Creek that separates Queens and Brooklyn host some 60 percent of the city’s waste transfer stations, where garbage trucks congregate to unload trash later exported out of the city. Not only do the waste centers themselves pollute the area, said Eddie Baustista, the Executive Director of the Justice Alliance, but so do the multitude of garbage trucks traveling to them releasing diesel fumes.
In 2006 the city responded to community outcry and activist campaigning and passed The Solid Waste Management Plan to reduce truck traffic by using rail and water barges to transport waste. The act also ensured no borough would be dumping grounds for another. However, The Point and the Alliance have both released statements acknowledging the city has delayed funding for the project, and has called for the South Bronx to host new thermal processing technology in its PlaNYC2030. The new technology, the advocates argue, will still burn garbage and harm the community.
“When you look at the levels of entrenched inequality, an intergenerational approach is necessary,” said Bautista who says he has been fighting unequal garbage distribution in the city for 22 years.
Confronting the clout of moneyed, politically empowered and typically corporate opponents, many A.C.T.I.O.N. activists emphasized they have an emotional connection to their campaign that continue to motivate them.
Savannah McDaniel, a sophomore at the Collegiate Institute of Math and Science in the Bronx, said she joined another of A.C.T.I.O.N.’s campaigns, “Revisioning Rehabilitation,” because NYPD officers harassed several of her family and friends. “It’s not just that [A.C.T.I.O.N.] looks good on a resume,” said the 15 year-old, “but the people here are amazing and they want to get things done.”
Initially called “Jail Reform,” the project addressed the disproportionate number of African-Americans incarcerated by the city each year. But the students wanted to examine the broader social and legal systems that make Hispanic and black men more prone to police suspicion, said A.C.T.I.O.N. director Sharon De La Cruz.
Most of us are profiled and don’t know our rights,” said one activist who handed out guides on how best respond to police questioning.
Throughout months of researching and networking, A.C.T.I.O.N. activists explored Hunts Point in new ways. Along with gardening around the community center, members in the “Environmental Stewardship” campaign canoed across the Bronx River to plant in Riverside Park.
What’s missing is intergenerational participation,” said De La Cruz, who organized the Town Hall. Issues affecting the community can’t be solved without community input, she emphasized.
De La Cruz hoped parents attending the event would be inspired to engage in activism themselves, and the presentations advertised several opportunities such as an upcoming tree care workshop with MillionTreesNYC, a community meeting with the Watershed Alliance to discuss the future of the Sheridan Expressway, and a round table with the Environmental Justice Alliance to address the city potentially adding more garbage handling centers in the area.