Phoenix Latino Youth Take Part in Global Protest, Demand Climate Action

About 100 members of the Phoenix Latino community, most of them high school students, descended on the state Capitol as part of a national day of climate action.

They came armed with a simple message for Arizona's elected officials: Climate change is real, it's killing our community, and you need to do something about it now.

"We're here to tell [Governor] Doug Ducey to help the planet, to help Mother Earth," one speaker said into a bullhorn, eliciting great applause. 

During what was otherwise a quiet Wednesday afternoon by the Capitol, they marched with signs and banners, beating drums and chanting anti-climate-change slogans into bullhorns. After making a loop around the building complex, they gathered by the rose garden, where they were joined by non-Latino community members, representatives from the Sierra Club, Elders for a Sustainable Future, and public figures like state Senator Martin Quezada.

"Climate change, clean air, clean water are Latino issues, some of the most important Latino issues," Quezada told the crowd. "I have your back. I'm going to be here fighting back for clean climate, clean air, clean water."

One reason climate change is an important issue for Latinos is that a high percentage of Hispanic children suffer from asthma.

The crowd reacted to Quezada's remarks with another round of chants: "We're firin' up, can't take it no more!"
Sandy Bahr, director of the Arizona Sierra Club, told the youth in the crowd that their presence renewed her faith in the ability of people to make change.

"It made me feel so optimistic and excited when I could hear your voices several blocks away, coming to the capital to tell Governor Ducey to act on climate change," she said, unable to contain a wide smile.

Wednesday's late-afternoon rally was one of more than 200 events scheduled around the world to celebrate the People's Climate Movement. Hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children shut down streets and paraded through their cities. The demonstrations were supported by the Sierra Club, Green Peace, 350.org, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and dozens of other environmental groups.

Even President Obama chimed in, releasing this video in a White House tweet: But what made the Phoenix rally special, explained Pedro Lopez, director of Chispa — a Latino-based clean-energy group in Phoenix — is the number of young and engaged Latino youth who participated.

"We know that Latino families are disproportionately affected by climate change," he said. "For instance, Latino children are 40 percent more likely to die from an asthma attack than non-Latino children."

His data comes from an Environmental Defense Fund study, which also found that one in 10 Latino children under the age of 18 suffer from respiratory illness. 

These statistics follow the international pattern highlighted by Pope Francis in his recent visit to the United States — climate change hurts the affluent, but it's catastrophic for the global poor.
Chispa, Lopez says, is working to engage the local Latino community in environmental issues, and has about 500 active volunteers in the area, many of them youth.

"We know Governor Ducey is not supporting this issue," he says, "and we know it's an important one for Latinos." Many recent studies have shown that Latinos in the U.S. care about climate change and want elected officials to act on it more than whites.

In a poll conducted last year, 54 percent of Latinos in the U.S. rated global warming as extremely or very important to them personally, while only 37 percent of whites did. And 63 percent of Latinos reported that they feel the federal government should tackle global warming, whereas only 49 percent of whites felt the same way. Throughout the rally, those in attendance vowed to continue pressing elected leaders in Arizona to adopt the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Energy Plan — currently, Arizona is one of a handful of states considering a lawsuit against the federal government for infringing on states' rights.

In one of the last comments of the day, another young Chispa leader brought the bullhorn to his mouth, and in a message that seemed both for the young crowd and for the elected officials working behind the closed doors of the capital buildings, said loudly:

"This may be the first time some of us have come to Capitol, but this won't be the last time for this issue." 

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Miriam is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Miriam Wasser