Notes from the Field: Tampa Flotilla

 

 

20160710_160856.jpgThis photo was during the cultural component at the beginning of the land-based part of the July 10 program. This photo shows four generations---from a 16 year-old activist to a 92 year old activist.

 

 

 

 

On July 10, 2016, a flotilla of brave teenagers on water bikes, accompanied by four adults, pedaled out onto the chartered waters of the Hillsborough River, which runs slowly through downtown Tampa, Florida.

Relatives with smartphones clicked away; video footage rolled from a nearby kayak. Bagpipe music blared over the waters; handwritten signs on each water bike signaled a message that this flotilla was unique. “There is hope, if we mobilize!” and “There’s no time for carbon gradualism” were among the most poignant messages of these floating “climate warriors.” They, now, had left their slip behind them, heading to meet tomorrow’s headlines.

Let me tell you that while pedaling on that calm water was relatively easy, baking under the 108 degree heat index was another thing! Yet, among the saving graces that Sunday afternoon was the protection each activist on these water bike caravels had on their heads: either a WWII-era, white sailor cap or a bright red Rosie the Riveter head scarf. If the messaging was to be super effective, the mood had to be established early.

Once on dry land, these climate warriors assembled, each brandishing a sign, which would carry the message to any climate denier around that “business as usual” is over. The small welcoming committee greeted them with a Mariachi vocalist and a well-scripted climate-protest medley.

Soon, the street theater rendition of “Civic Duty” followed. It showed how a determined Rosie the Riveter of today could, using a straightforward, respectful challenge to a climate-denying politician, actually get his ear to consider signing the “Pledge to Mobilize.” "I think I'll take this Pledge home, and give it some more thought. Thanks, Rosie," were his parting words.

A “flash mob” followed this dramatic act. With the WWII-era big band hit “In the Mood” setting the pace, then the incomparable “Washington Post March” rallying the troops, the mobilizers showed through their dance routine just how to become empowered spreading the value of “voting for the climate.” 

As the sun followed its course overhead, a brief testimonial by a local, adult advocate for frontline communities impacted by the climate emergency caught our attention. Then, The Climate Mobilization’s state organizer for Florida summarized the many “asks” of this day’s “Tampa Bay Flotilla for Climate Action.” Among the principal demands enumerated before the sweltering crowd were a call on the United States government to immediately begin a social and economic mobilization  to restore a climate that is safe, stable, and supportive of human civilization on the scale of the heroic, American World War II home front mobilization; the demand that our country reduce its net greenhouse gas emissions 100% by 2025; and a demand that our elected leaders LEAD!

By 4:00pm, the sun was baking even the passers-by on the city’s Riverwalk, which had now become the flotilla’s center stage. Remembering that the water bikes had to be returned pronto, these warriors reversed course. To the background of a final Mariachi the mobilizers took to the river again, and headed back, still hoisting their signs, to the beginning point of the action…slip #15. Observers could see that their faces showed no sign of letting up with the enthusiasm generated.

This day had become a “Crossing of the Rubicon”, that historical act of insurrection eons ago. These climate warriors on rented water bikes had exercised their right to stand as witnesses against the cataclysm we call climate change. They had each grown taller in the eyes of those present. For them there would be no turning back; empowerment ran through their veins.

The following day’s local alternative press showered the flotilla’s participants with support. The printed article had harvested the true essence of the flotilla’s reason for being as youthful, multicultural, and multiracial as it had been when it stated a seldom-heard truth: Low income and minority communities will likely be hit first and hardest by climate change.  This insightful reporter had gleaned, through the faces of those July 10 climate warriors the belief that “Although these communities might not be the most visible advocates for climate change, people of color are increasingly joining the climate change debate.” This axiom was proven on the Tampa waterway on July 10, The Climate Mobilization’s designated National Day of Action! The climate warriors and those in attendance were, on this very special day, definitely more diverse than at most previous climate events in Tampa. The word is slowly being heard in all communities that climate change is impacting us all!

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  • published this page in Blog 2016-07-22 12:56:02 -0400