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Turning Up the Heat to “Reclaim the Planet”

Brian Bisson, vice president of the State Vocational Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 4200-A, and his 19-year-old daughter, Lexy, brought hundreds of t-shirts she designed to inspire teachers and students. He spoke to Ken Nash and Mimi Rosenberg, hosts of the WBAI National Public Radio (NPR) program “Building Bridges: Your Community and Labor Report,” who were doing a live broadcast from the march and explained why they were there. 
 
Click here to hear highlights from the Building Bridges broadcast from the march.
 
This summer, SVFT worked with the Blue Green Alliance to develop lesson plans for their teachers in Connecticut’s technical high school system “so our students can truly understand what is happening to the world around them.” The t-shirt is part of that lesson, said Bisson, and it’s designed on the AFT’s Reclaiming the Promise theme. The message on the front says “Reduce – Reuse – Recycle – Reconnect – Re-imagine – Rebuild,” and the back says “Reclaim the Planet.” 
 
“It is about making sure the relationship we have with the earth is sustainable,” Brian said.
 
Click here to learn more about the Blue Green Alliance.
 
Brian and his daughter were among thousands from Connecticut who came to witness and take part in the historic march, which attracted three times the number of participants predicted. More than 1,400 organizations helped put together the massive event, including AFT Connecticut and several local affiliates in the Tri-State Area.
 
Click here for photos from a press conference earlier this month in New Haven announcing mobilization efforts in Connecticut.
 
Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress of the City University of New York (CUNY) and an AFT vice president, addressed a pre-march labor rally, saying it’s clearly time for labor to step forward. “Capitalism cannot change the problem it has created,” she said. 
 
“This is a monumental issue for labor,” said Frederick Kowal, president of the United University Professions at the State University of New York (SUNY) and an AFT vice president, who also spoke at the rally. His members came from all over the state, jumping on buses provided by environmental groups like the Sierra Club. “This march is about taking steps to heal earth for our students, our patients and the next generation of citizens.”
 
Also present at the rally was a “superstorm” named Sandy. Speaker after speaker described the shock, loss and heartbreak of a natural disaster that forced many to confront the implications of climate change. They also talked about union members rallying to support fellow union brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors in the aftermath. AFT Vice President and New York State Public Employee Federation (PEF) President Susan Kent noted that public employees, from healthcare workers to social workers, from engineers to cleanup crews, are first responders in a natural disaster.
 
AFT members from Raritan Valley Community College in New Jersey brought along students. Brandyn Heppard, a philosophy professor who is teaching “Current Moral & Social Issues” this semester, said his students have been making the connection “that climate justice is social justice is economic justice, and it all intersects with human rights. The poor are marginalized, and their voices are not heard when people of power and privilege make decisions unilaterally.” 
 
In addition to faculty from the Rutgers Council of AAUP Chapters, an AFT affiliate, Rutgers University was another of the more than 300 colleges and universities that sent students to the rally, according to the environmental group 350.org. 
 
Touted as the largest environmental march ever, it ended at the United Nations, where on Monday, 120 leaders held a one-day summit on climate change. Next year, they’ll be tackling negotiating an international agreement.
 
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