Youth climate activists descend on Florida Capitol to push for environment-friendly legislation

Youth activists cheer and hold rally signs while standing on the steps of the Florida Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024.
Kat Tran/WUFT News
Youth activists cheer and hold rally signs while standing on the steps of the Florida Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024.

More than 200 young climate activists navigated long corridors and packed elevators at the state Capitol Wednesday to meet with their elected representatives.

More than 200 young climate activists navigated long corridors and packed elevators at the state Capitol Wednesday to meet with their elected representatives.

The climate change campaign, called Reclaim Florida’s Future for All, kicked off with a press conference and a rally.

“We hope to get you hyped for the great work we have today. Together we will win,” said Giancarlo Rodriguez, 21, the Sunrise Movement Orlando co-founder and coordinator and University of Florida political science and urban planning student.

Reclaim Florida’s Future for All attendees listen during training at Castinger Learning Center on Jan. 23, 2024 before Wednesday’s lobbying event.
Kat Tran/WUFT News
Reclaim Florida’s Future for All attendees listen during training at Castinger Learning Center on Jan. 23, 2024 before Wednesday’s lobbying event.

At a training event on Tuesday, attendees were assigned to groups numbered from one to 46.

They were grouped together based on their district’s elected official they would be meeting, said Peyton Hoey, 24, digital communications associate manager with the CLEO Institute, a climate advocacy organization supporting the lobbying event.

Madame Renita Holmes, 62, motivates the crowd before assembling on the steps of the Florida Capitol on Jan. 24, 2024.
Kat Tran/WUFT News
Madame Renita Holmes, 62, motivates the crowd before assembling on the steps of the Florida Capitol on Jan. 24, 2024.

On Wednesday, many groups said they felt their expectations had been met, even though many of them were only able to meet representatives’ aides.

“People have been very receptive and interested in learning, especially with the Renewable Gas Bill (HB 683),” said Asher Sochaczewski, 19, a Stetson University environment studies student.

Sochaczewski met with Rep. Fabián Basabe (R-106) and Rep. Hillary Cassel’s (D-101) aide, Noah Bennett.

Basabe said he supported the Mangrove Replanting and Restoration bill (HB 1581), but said he has to look into the Heat Illness Prevention bill (HB 945) more closely.

“Unfortunately, he hasn’t made a decision on the Renewable Natural Gas bill (HB 683) yet. He said it is because the sponsor of the bill is in his party and he will have to ask him for more information on the bill,” Sochaczewski said.

Rep. Adam Botana (D-80) listens to Cameron Driggers, 19, a UF business administration major and the executive director of Youth Action Fund, and Anjali Natarajan, 20, UF biomedical engineering student inside Botana's office at the Florida Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024.
Kat Tran/WUFT News
Rep. Adam Botana (D-80) listens to Cameron Driggers, 19, a UF business administration major and the executive director of Youth Action Fund, and Anjali Natarajan, 20, UF biomedical engineering student inside Botana’s office at the Florida Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024.

Ashley Sanguino, 21, a UF political science major, met with Rep. Adam Botana (R-80) and informed him about the need for safety regulations and forms of accountability for outdoor workers.

Sanguino said Rep. Botana replied “Do you feel social media for people under 16 needs to be regulated?”

Youth activists delivered constituent letters, with a description of the three bills, to representatives’ offices if they were not available to speak.

“The biggest struggle with lobbying for really good bills is they don’t always get prioritized in the legislature,” Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-42), said.

Anamika Naidu, 19, a UF political science major, shares her perspective about the Mangrove Replanting and Restoration bill (HB 1581) with Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-42) in her office at the Florida Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024.
Kat Tran/WUFT News
Anamika Naidu, 19, a UF political science major, shares her perspective about the Mangrove Replanting and Restoration bill (HB 1581) with Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-42) in her office at the Florida Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024.

She said she supports both the Mangrove Restoration and the Heat Illness Prevention bill.

“Mangroves are important to our ecosystem as they’re the most natural barrier to things like erosion, and they have been impacted by development,” she said.

She also said the heat protection bill is an environmental racism issue because outdoor workers tend to be people of color and from low-income backgrounds.

Youth activists hold rally signs on the steps of the Florida Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024.
Kat Tran/WUFT News
Youth activists hold rally signs on the steps of the Florida Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024.

“There have been horror stories over the years with our farm workers. If you don’t have water breaks, shade, or the ability to use the restroom — there’s no incentive to take a break,” Eskamani said.

She was referring to farmworkers in Apopka who have died and experienced severe medical problems like kidney failure as a result of physical exhaustion and no restroom breaks.

About the Renewable Natural Gas bill (HB 683), Eskamani said she felt disappointed because utility, energy and fossil fuel companies often fund whoever is in the majority.

Giancarlo Rodriguez, 21, cofounder and coordinator of Sunrise Movement Orlando, speaks to the youth activist rally as they cheer on the steps of the Florida Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024.
Kat Tran/WUFT News
Giancarlo Rodriguez, 21, cofounder and coordinator of Sunrise Movement Orlando, speaks to the youth activist rally as they cheer on the steps of the Florida Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024.

She said she believes this is how they control the agenda.

“It’s like a 3-1 ratio. They’ll give Democrats $10,000, and give Republicans $30,000,” Eskamani said.

She noted campaign finance reports were no longer published monthly after elections. Now, they are published quarterly, which she believes strips away transparency.

“We’re not going to know who donated before the session started,” she said.

Eskamani said she believes this proposal creates an environment where cities cannot afford to support utilities anymore and are going to be forced to sell them to private utility companies like FPL, which she emphasized customers cannot choose on their own accord.

Members of the different Sunrise Movements in Florida stand together on the steps of the Florida Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024.
Kat Tran/WUFT News
Members of the different Sunrise Movements in Florida stand together on the steps of the Florida Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024.

“It’s just campaign, finance and money politics. It’s incredibly problematic,” Eskamani said.

Madame Renita Holmes, a lifelong environmental activist born and raised in Miami-Dade County, said she was at the event with The CLEO Institute, a climate advocacy organization supporting the youth activist event.

When she worked for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, she would clean moisture from uninsulated windows and moist drywall, which posed health hazards.

Holmes said she was constantly getting sick and was beginning to realize that “(climate change) wasn’t just about the sea levels rising anymore.”

The effects of climate change have seeped into the inner cities, as low-income communities continue to be pushed into low-quality environments, she said.

“It’s about flooding, bad insurance and not having safe, healthy and sanitary places because people aren’t utilizing the right products, the right drywall and the asphalt,” she said.

 

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