TALLAHASSEE — More than 200 passionate young climate activists gathered at the Florida Capitol on January 24, 2024, as part of the Reclaim Florida’s Future for All campaign. The initiative, organized by groups like the Sunrise Movement Orlando and supported by the CLEO Institute, aimed to engage elected representatives in discussions about pressing environmental issues. The activists navigated the Capitol’s corridors to meet with their elected officials, voicing their concerns and advocating for eco-friendly legislation.
The campaign began with a press conference and a rally, where Giancarlo Rodriguez, 21, co-founder of Sunrise Movement Orlando and a University of Florida political science and urban planning student, expressed optimism about the impact they could make. The activists were strategically grouped based on their respective districts, and Peyton Hoey, a digital communications associate manager with the CLEO Institute, facilitated the lobbying event.
Despite many activists meeting only with representatives’ aides, they expressed satisfaction, especially regarding the Renewable Gas Bill (HB 683). Asher Sochaczewski, a 19-year-old Stetson University environmental studies student, discussed the bill with Rep. Fabián Basabe (R-106) and Rep. Hillary Cassel’s (D-101) aide, Noah Bennett. Basabe’s stance on the Renewable Natural Gas bill remained undecided, citing the need for more information from the bill’s sponsor within his party.
Ashley Sanguino, a 21-year-old UF political science major, engaged with Rep. Adam Botana (R-80) on the importance of safety regulations for outdoor workers. Interestingly, Botana diverted the conversation to social media regulation for individuals under 16, showcasing the diverse range of topics discussed during these meetings.
Constituent letters, outlining three critical bills, were delivered to representatives’ offices by youth activists, emphasizing the significance of their agenda. The lobbying effort faced challenges, with Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-42) acknowledging that high-priority bills often struggle for attention in the legislature.
Eskamani voiced her support for the Mangrove Replanting and Restoration Bill (HB 1581) and the Heat Illness Prevention Bill (HB 945). She emphasized the importance of mangroves as a natural barrier against erosion and highlighted the environmental racism associated with the heat protection bill. Eskamani pointed out that outdoor workers, often people of color from low-income backgrounds, face severe health risks due to inadequate breaks, shade, and restroom facilities.
The disappointment in Eskamani’s voice was palpable when discussing the Renewable Natural Gas bill (HB 683). She expressed concern about the influence of utility, energy, and fossil fuel companies in shaping legislative agendas. Eskamani pointed to a troubling financial dynamic, where Democrats receive less funding compared to Republicans, creating an imbalanced system.
The issue of campaign finance transparency surfaced, with Eskamani noting the shift from monthly to quarterly reports, reducing visibility into donations before the legislative session begins. Eskamani raised the alarm about the potential consequence: cities may become unable to support utilities, leading to forced sales to private companies, and limiting consumer choice.
Madame Renita Holmes, a lifelong environmental activist with The CLEO Institute, shared insights into the broader impact of climate change. Formerly with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Holmes highlighted the health hazards posed by climate change in inner cities. Beyond rising sea levels, climate change has infiltrated low-income communities, contributing to subpar living conditions, inadequate insurance, and overall environmental degradation.
Holmes emphasized the importance of using the right products, such as drywall and asphalt, to create safe, healthy, and sanitary living spaces. Her experiences underscored the urgency of addressing climate change not just as a global issue but as a direct threat to communities, especially those already marginalized.
In conclusion, the youth-led Reclaim Florida’s Future for All campaign demonstrated a passionate drive for environmental advocacy. Activists engaged in meaningful discussions with elected representatives, highlighting the urgency of legislation addressing climate change and its disproportionate impact on vulnerable communities.
The challenges and disappointments faced during the lobbying event shed light on the complexities of shaping eco-friendly policies in the face of political and financial influences. As the activism continues, the hope remains that these impassioned voices will catalyze meaningful change in Florida’s legislative landscape.