Mott Haven throng marches for environment

Mott Haven protesters at Sept. 21 People's Climate March near Central Park.

Mott Haven protesters at Sept. 21 People’s Climate March near Central Park.

Demonstrators denounce de Blasio’s indecision on FreshDirect

Protesting sky-high asthma rates, air pollution and the lack of parks and gardens, about 100 demonstrators representing Mott Haven made their voices heard at the People’s Climate March through midtown Manhattan last Sunday.

While many of the estimated 400,000 marchers protested global issues such as carbon emissions and dependence on fossil fuels, the South Bronx group set its sights on online grocery delivery company FreshDirect, which hopes to move its operations to the Port Morris waterfront. They chanted “South Bronx demands respect” while carrying signs denouncing the company’s proposed move from Queens.

The city’s plan to help the food delivery giant build a new warehouse near the Harlem River has raised worries that its diesel-fueled delivery trucks will worsen traffic and the area’s existing air pollution problem. The company has said it would convert to an all-electric fleet within five years.

The local contingent also drew attention to Mott Haven’s vulnerability to flooding and violent hurricanes. Before the march, the group gathered in front of La Finca del Sur Community Garden at the foot of the Grand Concourse, where Mott Haven resident Ray Figueroa, who is president of the city’s coalition of community gardens, stirred the crowd.

“The government uses poverty and employment as an excuse to discriminate against poor people,” he told them.

Omar Freilla, coordinator of Green Worker Cooperatives, a local organization that helps up-and-coming entrepreneurs create environmentally friendly businesses, evoked the environmental degradation that has long been one of the neighborhood’s unintended legacies.

“The South Bronx has been a dumping ground for every kind of industry that nobody wants,” Freilla said. A member of grass roots environmental coalition South Bronx Unite, Melissa Barber, argued city government trashes the ecologically vulnerable and impoverished South Bronx because it does not fear political consequences from the city’s poorest.

“Because of who we are, our voice is not heard,” she said. Mayor Bill de Blasio was a frequent target of the demonstrators. They pressured the mayor to block Fresh Direct’s move, bearing a sign depicting an indecisive de Blasio as Humpty Dumpty—sitting on a fence.

Protesters walked their recreation of a FreshDirect truck at the march.

Protesters walked their recreation of a FreshDirect truck at the march.

Neyla Orozco, a 39-year-old mother, said she has lost all faith in politics as a result of resdents’ two-and-a-half year struggle with city officials to keep FreshDirect out of Port Morris.

“The politicians don’t want to introduce real reform,” she said, arguing that the money the city has promised the online grocer in tax exemptions and subsidies should instead be used to support local initiatives.

“How can we fulfill our basic needs when these businesses pay their employees eight dollars an hour while destroying the environment?” Protesters demanded public access to the Harlem River waterfront for recreational use.

“Right now, the whole waterfront is blocked off because the city and the state keep giving it to industries that are polluting our land,” said Ruben Austria, 40, a social worker who has lived in Mott Haven for 15 years and runs an alternative to incarceration program in the neighborhood. He cited his soon-to-be born child as one of his main motivations for participating in the march.

Access to the waterfront and breathable air for future generations was what drove many who decided to make the early-morning trek on Sunday. Mott Haven retiree Gordona L’Dera was encouraged by the turnout, and expected local support of environmental causes to grow.

“We have finally started to gather together and say ‘no more,’” she said.