So, what are YOU doing about the climate crisis?
Since Sept. 27, Nicholas Vazquez has been languishing in jail without bail for the crime of pouring black and red syrup (symbolizing oil and blood) on the steps of the Florida Capitol after hours and for walking across the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, both in protest of Florida government inaction on the climate emergency.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement charges in Tallahassee are “criminal mischief,” a misdemeanor, and in Manatee County the Highway Patrol charges are “Pedestrian on limited access highway” plus “Resisting, obstructing or opposing an officer without violence” (sitting down), also misdemeanors.
In June Vazquez and Donald Zepeda began a 700-mile trek, crisscrossing Florida on foot from Miami to Tallahassee to draw attention to the climate crisis. Their acts of civil disobedience were part of an Extinction Rebellion campaign to catalyze public and government action on climate change.
Both Nick and Donald were repeatedly arrested at various points along their journey for committing assorted minor peaceful infractions.
In one video recorded across from the Florida Capitol, Donald describes Nick’s Tallahassee incarceration while standing at the sidewalk monument to the “The Foot Soldiers” of the civil rights movement. These civil disobedience heroes of the 1960s are truly Donald and Nick’s only Florida peers in what is today’s most pressing social justice movement.
With one hand, our state government pays tribute to the courage of prior generation activists, while with its other hand it jails today’s peaceful protesters.
In jailing Nick, our state leaders are making a deliberate point of physically and psychologically obstructing citizen demands that government act to protect today’s young Floridians.
The state’s response to the climate emergency is largely limited to resiliency projects. For the most part, these are hopeless efforts to fortify our coastlines against sea-level rise, as if pouring more concrete walls and piling up more dirt to raise our roads could hold back the waters even long enough to pay off the massive loans required to finance the projects.
Coastal fortification without development policy changes will simply encourage even more construction in vulnerable coastal zones, creating even more future stranded assets. What is really needed is for Florida to adopt the full range of transformations in energy and development, changes that will not only slow climate change but will also yield benefits to water quality, wildlife, and quality of life.
Some Florida communities, notably the City of Orlando, are implementing carbon emissions reductions projects. In fact, their program coordinator met Nick when his march took him to that city. Other groups are also placing climate at the top of their priority list along with water quality — notably Kissimmee Waterkeeper and Collier County Waterkeeper. But all communities and organizations must take similar steps if we expect Florida to finally follow its youth, after having failed to lead.
It is entirely likely that when the United Nations conference on climate change convenes in Glasgow, Scotland, starting with the Conference of Youth on Oct. 28, Nick Vazquez will still be in jail. That reality will illustrate Florida’s feeble response to the desperate call by global young people who are demanding bold, well-directed action.
We do not need energetic, motivated young people like Nick in jail. We need them working on solutions to the technical and social challenges of climate change in the context of a fully mobilized economy and society. But until our society is truly mobilized, the best use of their time may very well be organizing civil disobedience campaigns.
Nick and Donald have been invited to speak at the Campus Climate Corps Conference on Oct. 31, the first day diplomats meet at the UN climate conference in Scotland. Florida college students will broadcast live from the UN gathering.
Let’s hope that Nick will be freed from jail in time to speak about his peaceful activism on a day so critical to their future and that of all young people of this world.
John C. Capece, Ph.D. is Director of Campus Climate Corps and serves as the Kissimmee Waterkeeper, working to protect and preserve the waters and watersheds from Orlando to Okeechobee.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.