Disclaimer: The reporter is involved with The Sunrise Movement

Nearly a decade later, she still remembers everything about that night: the smell of gasoline, red and blue police lights flashing through the curtains and fear as police gathered outside her window.

Most of all, she remembers how her slippers got soggy as she and her family fled from their home in the pouring rain.

Desiree Armas was only 10 when she was forced to temporarily evacuate her home in Elizabeth due to leakage from the gas company next door. But it wasn’t until recently that she began to view her family’s experience through the lens of the environmental crisis, and its devastating effects on communities of color.

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Desiree Armas, a member of the Sunrise Movement, tells her story. (Courtesy of Jersey City Sunrise Movement) 

“It took me 10 years...to become aware of how climate change has come all the way to where I live,” Armas said. “It’s unjust that low-income black and brown folks simply have to deal with how life is being given to us.”

Today, Armas is a sophomore majoring in environmental studies. She is also one of the founding members of the Jersey City hub of the Sunrise Movement, which was launched this year by Saint Peter’s University students.

The Sunrise Movement is a national youth-led movement that seeks to push political action on climate change. The coalition is most famous for the viral videos of young activists confronting Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senator Dianne Feinstein, imploring them to pledge their support for the Green New Deal.

The Green New Deal resolution, which was introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, is a proposed stimulus program that aims to address both climate change and economic inequality.

Critics of the Green New Deal believe that it is too idealistic, that it would not be able to pass in a Republican-controlled Senate and that it would be too expensive.

But for Pyetra Camargo, a Saint Peter’s junior who serves as one of the leaders of the Jersey City Sunrise hub, the decision to take action to combat climate change is common sense. For her, it’s about protecting the place where she lives, not just for herself, but for future generations.

“I don’t think [the Green New Deal] is a radical idea,” said Camargo. “It’s about switching from an economy that’s largely based on fossil fuels to an economy that’s environmentally friendly. This is something that would be better for us all.”

Since the Jersey City Sunrise hub was launched this year, members have collaborated with local activists to organize a meeting with a staff member of Congressman Donald Payne, Jr., who represents Newark.

For many members of the Jersey City Sunrise hub, climate change is personal -- and the meeting served as a platform for them to share their stories.

“Climate change is affecting my generation in ways that we never considered before,” Armas said. “Most of the student body is people of color...they have witnessed firsthand some of the devastating effects of the lack of proper infrastructure.”

One member of the hub, a nurse, expressed concern for children’s health in wake of rising levels of lead in Hudson County’s water supply. Another member, a student of Native American descent, spoke about the pain of watching her culture disappear due to the depletion of the environment.

The movement hopes to meet with Congressman Payne in the future to convince him to publically back the Green New Deal. They are also in the process of planning a town hall event at Saint Peter’s where Hudson County residents can have conversations about climate change with local representatives.

Though the Jersey City Sunrise hub is comprised mostly of Saint Peter’s students and meets in the King Kairos Social Justice house, the hub is not an officially registered student organization, in order to ensure its members possess complete autonomy.

“Something needs to be done about climate change today,” Camargo said. “I know a lot of people say this is too ambitious, but what’s the alternative? It’s our future.”

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