Riis Beach is a summer haven for many queer people — especially queer people of color. I can hear my community loud with joy, dancing in rhythm to salsa and bachata in front of sand cushioned stereos and open coolers. I want to be HERE, no matter where I am. I take the memory of this joy with me into winter when I long for sun and salt: Black and brown queers with our faces to the sun and our softness for each other. I take this memory to places where I don’t feel as welcomed or safe.

This week a 400-yard by 2-foot band of tar balls washed up on Riis Beach in connection with an oil leak onboard the Dublin Express, which holds 300,000 gallons of fuel and had a 15 inch hole. Riis Beach is a place in struggle due to climate chaos in New York City; and if the Williams Pipeline gets approved I worry I will lose a place of sentimental value to me and an entire community.

But, Riis Beach isn’t the only place of personal meaning for New Yorkers threatened by climate chaos. Two weeks ago at an Art Build hosted at May Day Space I helped to collect 30 hand sketched images in preparation for our #GreenNewDeal4NY Accountability Forum in New York City.

On March 20th we packed the 800-person room with local New Yorkers passionate about climate in New York. Projected on the walls was “Places in Struggle” a community project that began in New York City, based on geotagged images self-selected by participants responding to the prompt, “think of a local site of personal importance, that is or will be in struggle because of climate chaos.”

We asked participants to consider places they visit often, places of childhood memory or family oral history. I chose Riis Beach. Then, we asked participants to find photographs of the place using a geotag on a publicly accessible site such as Instagram. Some participants chose photographs from a personal collection, though most created their pieces using a publicly accessible image found using a geotag. Each participant then used their phone as a light box to trace their chosen image on tracing paper. What emerged are small, intimate drawings; windows into places of struggle in New York City.

The Green New Deal Forum was a successful night, and not just because the room was packed, and elected officials were pressed on important issues (such as divestment and the Williams fracked gas pipeline), but because people were engaged through art. When you walk into a space and see community sourced memories on the wall you are immediately engaged with your emotions. By allowing people to express personal connections, it makes the work ever-increasingly relevant to them. This is how I know art is an effective tool for change in our movements: it creates personal meaning, it is a tool for political activation and is a way to increase participation.


How to get involved

We will have climate community forums across New York State this spring. At each forum we will bring the project “Places in Struggle” to collect and archive windows into places in struggle across the state.

Our next climate forum is in New Paltz on April 17 and the Art Build where Places in Struggle will take places is on April 12 at the SUNY New Paltz Multipurpose room.

RSVP to the New Paltz Climate Forum

Upcoming forums will be held in: the Albany Capital Area,  Long Island, the Southern Tier and the Buffalo Area. If you want to get involved in an upcoming forum or Places in Struggle project near you, email Cata Romo at cata.romo@350.org for more information.