Sunrise Movement’s Gulf Coast Trek Highlights Need for a Civilian Climate Corps

·5 min read

I have borne witness to some of the most extreme and devastating climate disasters that have wreaked havoc on our country. When I was very young, Hurricane Katrina hit my community in New Orleans. My mom packed our family’s belongings into her minivan, saying she felt the severity of the coming storm deep in her bones and that we needed to flee. So, like thousands of others, we left. Mom abandoned her stable job, our home, our entire world. We had the trajectory of a broken compass, the needle sticking straight ahead, with no destination other than making it through the storm. I will never forget the pictures I later saw of my old house submerged under water.

After fleeing New Orleans, my family ended up in Houston — but safety never lasts for my generation, especially in the Gulf South. Twelve years after Katrina turned our lives upside down, Hurricane Harvey burst through our doors. And a few years after that, Texas froze over, and I felt true cold and hunger for the first time.

I am only 17 years old, and I have lived through the kind of climate disasters that I know are not going to stop. I often wonder what the next 17 years will bring. Who’s going to help us? Will I have to relocate again?

The climate disasters I’ve survived are no anomaly — they are the result of greedy fossil fuel executives and the inaction of career politicians who have neglected the climate crisis for years. With every passing year, we will see more extreme weather, more displaced families, more death and destruction. The inaction and neglect by the rich and powerful has lit a fuse beneath young people like myself, and we are now rising from the ashes and fighting back.

After every storm I’ve been through, I’ve seen my community step up and get to work rebuilding. We’ve opened our homes to those without power during the recent freeze. We’ve shared water, food, and resources after our homes were flooded. We’ve rebuilt our cities to the best of our abilities after they were destroyed by floodwaters. We have become powerful masters of our survival, but this is not normal. This is not the job of young, frightened children or of parents who work hard every day for little pay, low benefits, and a society that sees them as expendable. It should be the job of a Civilian Climate Corps (CCC) — a promise President Joe Biden can deliver on. Step one towards a Green New Deal is passing a CCC.

Right now, along with the organizers from Sunrise Movement, I am marching 400 miles from my old home, New Orleans, to the city where I now live, Houston. We are envisioning bold action, we are envisioning a Green New Deal, and we are thinking about what it’d be like if our government delivered on its promises in a just post-COVID world.

Why? Because we’re scared. And because we’re angry. We’re angry that Biden and Congress have not done more to combat the imminent threat of climate change. We are angry that we are being neglected at a time when many of us are under- or unemployed. We are marching because right now, we have an economy that places profits over the well-being of Black and brown communities. We are marching through the sweltering summer heat because we need good jobs and real solutions to save our planet. We are rising up like the individual flames of a generation on fire.

Down in the Gulf South, our reality is measured in months, not years. Already, the next hurricane season is on the horizon. Our reality is our fear of drinking from the tap because we know the water in many of our towns and cities is not clean. Our reality is seeing generations of our families battle cancer and asthma because our elected officials let polluters invade our communities. Our reality is seeing Black and brown people risk their lives as essential health-care and food service workers during a pandemic, or lose their employment entirely. Our reality is that we are on the verge of being displaced yet again and becoming climate refugees in our own country.

We are marching this summer to call for bigger and bolder action that rebuilds our infrastructure sustainably, action that actually takes on the climate crisis and can create millions of jobs.

President Biden has an opportunity to tackle both of these challenges through a Civilian Climate Corps. This is real, this is tangible, and it is exactly what we need.

A Civilian Climate Corps would be groundbreaking, and we already have the blueprint and legislation to create one. In April, Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) introduced the Civilian Climate Corps for Jobs and Justice Act in Congress. Their legislation would put more than 1.5 million Americans to work in well-paying union jobs who can help literally save our country from collapse by building up our sustainable infrastructure. It would put communities like mine to work, and give us hope.

<cite class="credit">Rachael Warriner</cite>
Rachael Warriner

This summer, as we march from New Orleans to Houston, we are calling on Biden and Congress to follow in the footsteps of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in this watershed moment in American history. We are calling on Biden to finally take bold action, to give young people jobs, and to include the Gulf South and the Black, brown, and working-class people that live here in his plan.

Young people were critical to Biden’s victory. We showed up and put in the work to elect him. It is in large part because of us that Democrats also control Congress. It is because of us that Biden centered a strong climate platform. But if Congress and Biden fail to create a CCC, they will have failed us. We will hold their feet to the fire until they act, or we’ll vote them out. This is why we are fighting. This is why we are marching.

Want more from Teen Vogue? Check this out: 17 Young People on the Moment the Climate Crisis Became Real to Them

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Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue

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