“I’ve always dealt with climate change issues and the aftermath of climate change, but now that it’s in Puerto Rico it makes everything that I work hard for 10 times more important,” said Angel Morales, a 16-year-old community organizer for the United Puerto Ricans’ Organization of Sunset Park (UPROSE).
The organization partnered with the Climate Justice Alliance and the larger Puerto Rican community to establish October 11 as a National Day of Action and host a rally in Union Square Park to command Congress to create a federal aid package to help Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Maria. “This is my people under attack–this is my people not being able to survive,” Morales said.
Morales and other protesters and speakers called for the repeal of the Jones Act, which requires that goods transported between two United States ports are shipped by vessels built in the U.S. and controlled by Americans and thus limits Puerto Rico’s ability to receive the necessary provisions.
“Right now our people are hungry,” Morales said. “They have no water, no medication. They’re lacking all of the basic necessities of life right now. So our number one concern is sending stuff out there so that they can survive.”
“My 60-year-old grandfather who is legally blind is still, all these days later, MIA,” Morales said while telling her story onstage at the rally. “I remember watching the news reports as they were coming in and thinking, ‘There is no way this is really happening.'”
Continuing as raindrops wilted her speech, she said, “You see what they don’t know is that when it matters most, we come together and everyone magically becomes family,” she said. “As horrible as this is, we will get through this together.”
Protestors and passing park goers listened under dripping umbrellas as Morales concluded her speech with a call to action. “That’s why tonight we are here to demand a just recovery and build resilience in Puerto Rico,” she said. “We need all of our people to make it through this climate crisis and set up measures so that we are prepared for the next disaster that hits. Today and everyday, we stand with Puerto Rico.”
Shielded from drizzles by a yellow umbrella displaying “CLIMATE JUSTICE” painted in large red letters, Morales released high-pitched cries in support of the rally. The congregation raised flags, banners and fists all across Union Square Park and loudly chanted, “Puerto Rico is under attack. Stand up. Fight back.”
“Of course I’m Puerto Rican, so all of my family’s out there in Puerto Rico. I still haven’t been able to get in contact with a lot of my family out there, so that definitely affects me personally but not in a bad way as you may think. This makes me even more determined. It makes me even more persistent, more strong. I’m doing everything in my power stateside so that my people in the island, they can get what they need.”
After the protest, Morales connected with a rally participant about their common struggles with being in New York while their families remain in Puerto Rico. When the participant finished voicing her concerns, Morales simply said, “Don’t worry–we got this.”
Morales stood quietly as journalists interviewed a demonstrator.
“We’re not just gonna fix what was broken. We’re gonna start something new from the ground up. We’re gonna make sure that we’re not kicked out of our homes like in other disasters where, after disaster hits, somehow people come in that had no business there in the first place and our people get kicked out. We don’t want that in Puerto Rico. We will not let that happen in Puerto Rico.”