Last month, the Sierra Club joined forces for the second year running with local partner group GrowNYC to "team up for a cleanup" at the annual National Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City. That's Sierra Club President Aaron Mair, above in green shirt, with some of the Club/GrowNYC contingent.
Sierra Club volunteers from New York and the Club's Puerto Rico Chapter marched and rode in a float they put together with GrowNYC, collecting nearly a quarter-ton of recyclable material along the parade route, which runs up Fifth Avenue from 44th Street to 86th Street.
"We collected almost 500 pounds of recyclables that would have otherwise ended up in landfills -- that's 54 percent more than we collected last year!" exulted Leslie Fields, director of the Sierra Club's Environmental Justice and Community Partnerships Program.
"We cheered 'Recicla, Boricua!' ('Recycle, Puerto Ricans!') at total strangers and they thanked us," Fields said. "Police officers handed us empty bottles they'd stashed in their pockets. We were surrounded by dancers and incredible music, cheered by parade attendees who were in awe of our float full of recyclables, and proud that we were helping clean up their event and their city. We picked up 489 pounds of recyclables and a whole lot of good will."
Fields gives a special shout-out to Puerto Rico Sierra Club environmental justice organizer Adriana Gonzalez, who traveled to New York from San Juan, and Dean Hubbard, director of the Club's Labor Program, and fellow Washington, D.C.-based staffer Anne Kenney, who helped Gonzalez with the advance organizing and made the trip up to New York to participate in the event.
"The day was remarkable, mainly because of my actions with parade attendees," said Kenney. "I received many appreciative and supportive words for all the dirty work we were doing that day. Adults and children alike eagerly searched the ground around them and passed me empty plastic bottles, probably just as pumped up as we were to help keep some of the trash out of New York landfills."
Hubbard enjoyed the opportunity to volunteer, and the event gave him a chance to talk jointly with Mair and Jared Sessums, public housing recycling outreach coordinator for GrowNYC, about opportunities to create good jobs for front-line community members who want to help protect the environment and address climate disruption.
Mair said the event crystalized for him what being a member of the Sierra Club is all about: enjoying the planet, being mindful of one's footprint, and having fun doing it. "The commitment by the Sierra Club and GrowNYC to clean up at the parade is at once innovative and an old-school campaign to remind people to pick up after themselves. The simple action of these young activists picking up cans and plastic and paper triggered a beautiful chain reaction all along the parade route; it made people think about the bottle of pop in their hand or the wrapper they'd dropped in front of them."
"When people attend a celebratory event like a parade, it's easy to just enjoy the festivities and not be conscious of the waste that's being generated," Mair said. "These young activists inspired us to be conscious of how we use and enjoy a space -- I was inspired to be with them. It was an awesome Sierra Club moment: celebrating our nation's diverse heritage and demonstrating by example that we need to be mindful even as we celebrate."
The National Puerto Rican Day Parade, first held in 1958, now attracts nearly two million spectators, making it not only one of the largest parades in New York, but one of the largest outdoor events in the U.S.
Photos courtesy of GrowNYC.