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Climate activists cuffed at Downtown protest over Public Renewables Act

NYPD officers remove the chains from a climate activist with a metal chain saw during a Public Power Bill protest. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

City council candidates and the Public Power Coalition, which is led by the Democratic Socialists of America and local environmental justice organizations, held a rally and march on June 2 in City Hall Park in Manhattan, demanding the NY State Assembly pass the Build Public Renewables Act before the end of the legislative session on June 10. They also demanded an end to climate corruption.

If passed, the legislation would require the New York Power Authority (NYPA), the nation’s largest public energy provider, to lead a mass buildout of 100 percent renewable energy powering at least 75 percent of the state and create tens of thousands of green union jobs in the process, according to advocates.

Additionally, the publicly owned and operated energy supplier, which currently provides up to 25% of New York state’s electricity, would have to ensure that all publicly owned buildings run on 100% clean power by 2025. 

Chained climate activsts block traffic on Broadway demanding passage of the Public Power Bill at a protest on June 2. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Protesters in City Hall Park held up posters featuring NY State Democratic powerhouses Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Assembly Energy Committee Chairs Kevin Parker and Michael Cusick, showing the amount of campaign contribution the politicians have received from fossil fuel companies and accusing them of being the “pocket” of polluters as detailed in a timeline provided by Power Public Coalition.

Lee Ziesche with Sane Energy, the community engagement coordinator of Sane Energy, a member of the “No North Brooklyn Pipeline Coalition” and the “Public Power New York Coalition,” urged the NY State Legislature to pass the bill.

“We don’t have another decade to keep fighting fracked gas,” Ziesche pleaded. “We need to start building renewables at scale right now.”

She had some strong words for the Democratic leadership in Albany and said, “You know, they’re the ones that put the word leadership into the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. They are always trying to say that their climate leaders. Well, words are not enough. We want action, and the action is passing this bill and stopping new fossil fuels from being built and building renewable timeframe we need it.”

Climate activst demand passage of the Public Power Bill at a protest on June 2. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Brandon West, a candidate for City Council in Brooklyn’s 39th District, said that it was essential to get the ball rolling on renewable energy bills in light of the impending climate catastrophe.

West explained his position, “At a certain point, you have to push back on that structure, and the way to do it is to have a public utility so that we can do what’s in the best interest of people, and not what’s in the best interest of folks who want to make money off of basic human rights.”

His fellow candidate Adolfo Abreu, running for City Council in District 14 in the Bronx, pointed out that his district had the worst air pollution -children in the Bronx are eight times more likely to be hospitalized with Asthma symptoms. Besides the environmental pollution, which impacts black and brown communities at greater levels than white communities, Abreu said it also comes down to socio-economics.

“I think it’s important that we have clean and renewable energy that makes it affordable for our community. So that, especially in districts like mine, people don’t have to choose between paying rent, or paying the hospital bill, or having to pay the lights just so that they can stay in their homes,” Abreu underlined.

Following the rally in City Hall Park, the coalition of about 200 protestors bearing signs and chanting “Liar, liar privatizer” marched along Centre Street towards Broadway, where a group of seven climate activists, who were chained together through PVC pipes -referred to as a “Sleeping Dragon” maneuver-  had already blocked traffic to one of Lower Manhattan’s major throughways.

DSA member Gustavo Gordillo, one of the climate activists who participated in the sit-in action, pointed out that Democratic leadership in Albany was stalling the Build Public Renewables Act.  He said climate activists had experienced nothing but indifference and resistance from elected officials like Stewart Cousins, Heastie, and Assemblymembers Amy Paulin and Cusick. 

Climate activsts block Broadway demanding the passage of the Public Power Bill at a protest on June 2. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

“We cannot go another legislative session without passing major climate legislation,” Gordillo said. “The climate crisis is a social crisis that we’re confronting that will affect the working class and communities of color first. We need to use every resource at our disposal to bring about a green economic recovery that can make communities whole again, that can achieve racial justice and economic equality, and democracy.”

City Council candidate Tiffany Cabán from Astoria, Queens said that her district had some of the worst air quality and asthma rates in New York City.

Cabán, who was narrowly defeated by Melinda Katz in the race for Queens District Attorney in 2019, stressed that climate justice is racial justice.

She said, “We know that many of our polluting peaker plants are in the same communities that are over-policed, over criminalized, under-resourced, and are predominantly black, brown, working-class, and low income. Enough is enough.”

Assemblymember Emily Gallagher, who is fighting the North Brooklyn fracked gas pipeline and an LNG plant in her district, addressed the protesters blocking Broadway and said that two years ago, the CLCPA was celebrated as a landmark climate legislation.

“But,” Gallagher said, “unfunded mandates do not get the job done. What gets the job done is removing capitalism from our power sources. The only way that we will be able to save the Earth, and that is just a fact, we absolutely need to get money and politics out of our power grid.”

Climate activists also argue that the Build Public Renewables Act would be instrumental in making sure that New York State met the goals of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA). CLCPA, a landmark climate legislation, went into effect in January 2020 and calls for net-zero emissions by 2050 and 100 percent renewable electricity by 2040. 

In the meantime, the NYPD Strategic Response Group was preparing to remove the PVC pipes and chains from the sit-in protesters with high-powered buzz saw. At the same time, a loudspeaker voice warned the remaining protestors that they were unlawfully in the roadway obstructing vehicular traffic. All protesters obliged the order to leave the roadway and utilize the available sidewalk.

It took NYPD officers about 15 minutes to cut through the pipes and metal chains while the protesters covered their faces with towels to protect themselves from the sparks emitting from the saw. They were immediately arrested and taken to a local precinct.

NYPD officers remove the chains from a climate activist with a metal chain saw during a Public Power Bill protest. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

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