Thursday, October 18, 2018

One year after Maria, Sierra Club joined Puerto Ricans at rally near Mar-a-Lago to honor lives lost and demand justice

On Saturday, September 22, 2018, more than 1,000 people descended on West Palm Beach, #1YearAfterMaria took the lives of almost 3,000 Puerto Ricans and left the island in devastation. Those present included members of the diaspora, displaced families from Puerto Rico (PR), and allies from all over Florida. The event was held as part of #BoricuasRemember week of action in remembrance of the 1 year anniversary since Category 4 Hurricane Maria crossed the center of the island. (Puerto Ricans also refer to themselves as Boricuas and to the island as Borinquen in honor of their indigenous ancestry). The events in Florida were led by Alianza for Progress and Power 4 Puerto Rico Coalition, with support from many allies, including Sierra Club.

Photo credit: Diana Umpierre

The day started with a caravan of dozens of vehicles that departed from Hollywood, FL, drove north along I-95, under police-escort, and eventually by Mar-a-Lago, President’s Trump so-called southern “White House”, where they loudly honked their horns and proudly waved Puerto Rican flags. Cars and trucks were also decorated with symbols of the coqui (a tiny frog native to Puerto Rico) and painted messages such as “Boricuas Vota!” to encourage their fellow US citizens from Puerto Rico to vote. Sierra Club organizing representative Diana Umpierre, of Puerto Rican descent, and her son were among those in the caravan. Her car, photographed while driving in front of Mar-a-Lago, was featured on the Sunday cover of Palm Beach Daily News. (Video of caravan starts at 3:18)

Caravan ("Caravana") ready to cross the bridge towards Mar-a-Lago
Photo credit: Diana Umpierre

The event was followed by a rally near Mar-a-Lago, at Meyer Amphitheatre, with brief statements from Maria survivors, members of the diaspora and elected officials that included US Congressman Darren Soto and FL House Representative Robert Asencio (both of Puerto Rican descent), as well as FL Senator José Javier Rodríguez, US Senator Bill Nelson and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.  The rally featured musical performances by Puerto Rican artists including Frankie Negrón, Lunna, and Danny Rivera Jr (son of the late and legendary singer, songwriter & activist Danny Rivera). The crowd also sang and danced to the sound of tambores, maracas, panderetas and güiros (typical instruments on the island).  Sierra Club handed out close to 50 mini Puerto Rican flags and signs that featured photos taken by Diana Umpierre during her recent trip to areas in PR that are still trying to recover.

As expected, there was also a small contingent of Trump supporters that showed up and were peacefully challenged by attendees (see video). Among those that challenged them was Sierra Club organizing representative Gonzalo Valdes, who went in front of a Trump banner with a Sierra Club-branded sign asking for clean, reliable, renewable energy for Puerto Rico.

Gonzalo Valdes holds a Sierra-branded sign in front of a Trump banner.
Photo credit: Democratic Veterans Caucus of Florida - Palm Beach County

Diana Umpierre also spoke to the crowd about Sierra’s mission and the need for Puerto Rico to have a future based on safe, reliable, clean renewable energy. She talked about her cousin in Caguas, where the eye of hurricane went through, who still has a blue tarp for a roof and the plight of a very low-income community in Naguabo that has received very little help from FEMA and is hoping for windows and doors for the many abandoned homes. She shared how the Trump administration, with its climate denial, hurts Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is still in shambles and has an unreliable, unsafe energy infrastructure they cannot depend on.  They are not ready for another tropical storm, and they were certainly not even ready when Maria came.

Photo credit: David McDougal

Baby Trump made its Florida debut at the West Palm Beach rally. Needless to say, he was a hit! Baby Trump is a 20-foot-high balloon, inspired by our friends in the UK, characterizing the petulant and juvenile nature of Donald Trump. It is one of six Baby Trumps that are on a tour organized by People’s Motorcade. Trump has been criticized for his condescending treatment of the Puerto Rican people. Just a few days before the 1-year anniversary, Trump went on to Twitter to claim that the nearly 3,000 lives lost was a made-up number to make him look bad for political reasons. To Puerto Ricans that lost loved ones and know of the suffering still going on due to the aftermath left by Maria, his remarks are adding insult to injury. That count of 2,975 deaths was officially adopted by the Puerto Rican government based on a detailed study by George Washington University.

Sierra Club Loxahatchee Group members with Baby Trump
Photo credit: Alyssa Cadwalader

The event ended with a vigil organized by Faith in Florida. Faith leaders led the audience in moments of reflection and prayers for the families of the lives lost and those that are still suffering.

Photo credit: Alianza for Progress

The event was covered by a multitude of news outlets worldwide, including spanish-speaking news media. These included:  teleSUR, Metro Puerto Rico, Global News (Canada), The Journal (Colorado), NewsTube/ Ruptly (Russia), WTHR Channel 13 (Indianapolis), El Nuevo Día, Sun-Sentinel, Palm Beach Daily News, Palm Beach Post, Miami-Herald, El Nuevo Herald, Associated Press (AP) News, Washington Post, Huffington Post, New York Times, US News & World Report, ABC 10, CBS 12 WPEC, WPBF 25 News, FOX 35 WOFL, WPTV Channel 5, NBC 6.

Note:  Story written by Diana Umpierre, Sierra Club Everglades Restoration organizer, with contributions from Gonzalo Valdes, Sierra Club Beyond Coal organizer. Both are of Puerto Rican descent.

Other Event Photos & Videos

Photo credit: Gonzalo Valdes

Members of the Haitian community (Family Action Network Movement, FANM)
Photo credit: David McDougal

Members of the Florida Immigration Coalition, FLIC
Photo credit: David McDougal

Vigil/ prayer service in remembrance of the thousands of lives lost.
Photo credit: Marcos Vilar

Diana Umpierre holds photos she took during her July visit to Puerto Rico, nearly #1YearAfterMaria.
Photo credit: Democratic Veterans Caucus of Florida - Palm Beach County

Photo credit: David McDougal

Photo credit: David McDougal
  
Photo credit: Gonzalo Valdes

Too Many "Se Vende" (For Sale) signs in Puerto Rico, signs of a struggling economy.
Photo credit: Gonzalo Valdes

Tallahassee Mayor Gillum (at microphone) and US Rep. Darren Soto (holding the PR flag) delivered words in support of the Puerto Rican community.
Photo credit: David McDougal

US Senator Bill Nelson and US Rep. Darren Soto
Photo credit: David McDougal

Photo credit: Gonzalo Valdes

Photo credit: Diana Umpierre

Photo credit: Gonzalo Valdes

Photo credit: Gonzalo Valdes

Photo credit: Gonzalo Valdes