Activists rally outside CNN’s climate crisis town hall

Protesters gathered near the foot of the Vessel structure to highlight issues around climate change.  Eagle  photo by Victoria Merlino.

Protesters gathered near the foot of the Vessel structure to highlight issues around climate change. Eagle photo by Victoria Merlino.

By Victoria Merlino

At the foot of the Vessel installation in Hudson Yards, more than 50 people rallied for stronger environmental protections on Wednesday, sending a message to the Democractic presidential candidates set to take the stage at CNN’s climate crisis town hall that evening.

Activists criticized the selection of Hudson Yards as the site of the event last week because the new skyscraper complex is owned by billionaire Stephen Ross’ development firm The Related Companies. Ross faced criticism in August for hosting a $100,000-a-plate fundraiser for President Donald Trump, leading to some liberals to boycott Ross’ Equinox gym. CNN’s offices are located in 30 Hudson Yards. 

Other demonstrators and politicians said the town hall should have taken place in Queens or Brooklyn because the outer boroughs have been hit harder by the severe weather caused by climate change. Chief among these critics has been Astoria Councilmember Costa Constantinides, the chair of the City Council’s Environmental Protection Committee. 

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“We look at this building behind us as everything wrong with climate justice,” Constantinides told the crowd at the protest. “We went to CNN before this town hall and said, ‘Come to Queens.’ Come to the neighborhoods that were ravaged by [Hurricane] Sandy. Come to the borough where families are still not recovered seven years later. Who live in the flood plains. Who are unsure if rising seas will break their homes.”

Constantinides turned his focus to specific policy proposals.

“If you’re a Democrat, and you don’t support the Green New Deal, you shouldn’t be on that stage,” he told the crowd. 

Speakers demanded renewable energy, a ban on fracking and pipelines, and the protection of public land from the Democratic candidates who would describe how they would address the climate crisis at the town hall. 

“Get up, get down, leave fossil fuels in the ground,” the crowd chanted as Food and Water Watch’s Laura Shindell asked for the nation’s next president focus on environmental issues. 

“We need to protect the planet. We need to protect all of the families, all of the working people. And if we don’t act now, we’re going to be in very serious trouble in very short order,” retired Brooklyn College professor Nancy Romer told the Eagle. Romer attended the rally with other members of CUNY’s staff union, the Professional Staff Congress. 

In addition to members of the PSC, other supporters included members of New York Communities for Change, People’s Climate Movement New York, Sunrise Movement NYC, 350 Action, the New York Nurses Association, the health care union 1199SEIU, and more. 

“We’re told that we don’t have the money to fix these problems. We’re told that we don’t have the resources to fix these problems. But we have the money to build this big ugly pinecone looking thing,” said Democratic Socialists of America organizer Sarah Lyons, referring to the Vessel. “But we don’t have the money to fix climate change?” 

Organizers said another climate rally would occur on Sept. 20 in Manhattan’s Foley Square at 12 p.m. Dubbed a “climate strike,” the rally asks students to walk out of their classes to advocate against climate change.