September 14, 2011

Fresh Air at Tea Party Debate, Florida Students Rally to Protect the Clean Air Act

Monday night, students from St. Petersburg College and the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and Tampa campuses rallied at the GOP/Tea Party Debate in Tampa, Florida. Our message to the attendees is one of national concern, protecting the Clean Air Act. We stood at the entrance to the debate with signs reading “People, NOT Polluters,” and “Protect the Clean Air Act,” and wearing masks on our faces with “Our future?” written on them.

Along side us, were other groups rallying for jobs, Social Security, and against the war. There were young people at the rally, but we were the only youth-led, organized group, which really inspired me. We stood by the gate chanting to Tea Partiers entering the venue to attend the debates.

During actions, everyone has their role, mine was to be the media liaison. I walked up to the reporters, introduced myself, and handed them a copy of our media release. It was really intimidating to walk up to reporters with professional cameras and recording equipment. After the reporter skimmed the media release, I got an interview – eight interviews, actually, ranging from CNN and the New York Times to local TV and radio stations.

Being in front of the camera with a crew of student protesters chanting for clean air, I felt extremely empowered. I knew this rally would be a big step for our group and that it is the first of many actions that we will need to take if we want to safeguard our future from the dangers of dirty energy.

I was asked to say a few words into the megaphone to everyone at the rally, which was attended by about 75 community activists. It was my first time yelling into a megaphone. It was my first time being the voice to address a rally and everyone was looking at me, ready to hear the only youth speaker of the evening. I took a deep breath and went for it. Seeing people’s eyes light up as I spoke about the importance of the EPA, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. They cheered as I demanded clean energy action from the candidates, and when I called for clean, American jobs the cheering got louder and more enthusiastic.

Throughout the rally, the other folks who were there with Awake the State gave us lots of compliments and praise about our message and the importance of young people getting involved in national issues. I am proud that I was there with my peers representing American youth and the youth climate movement.

Though the Tea Party candidates are still not the leaders on protecting our air and climate, I am not discouraged. Just by our presence, we showed the candidates and their supporters the power of energized and informed youth. We are strong together. We are dedicated to our cause. Even though we only got one media hit, I bet those reporters are looking up the Florida YES Coalition at this very moment. And the next time they see us coming, we’ll already have our foot in the door. We are organized and we are not afraid to take a stand.

This is what we need to do to make this movement go anywhere. We need to be showing up at these events, we need to be organized and have great visuals, and we need to stand strong to get our message out. Thank you for taking the time to read this post. It’s important that we stick together. We gain momentum when we launch campaigns on our campuses, communities and states. When we connect with other states we can unify as a county. There’s nothing scarier to those who are opposing us than our power, unity, and strength - our power to organize!