Tampa, FL

Climate change activist walks across Florida, endures multiple arrests and a scorching summer

Justin Garcia

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Nick Vazquez in downtown Tampa holding protest signJustin Garcia

When he began his 800 mile walk to bring attention to climate change, Nick Vazquez never thought that he’d be in the back of a Tampa Police Department squad car, pulling up to a mental health institution.

The twenty three-year-old expected the blisters on his feet, the fatigue from the blazing Florida sun, the lack of care from public officials.

But when he set off on his journey from his home city of Miami in April, Nick wasn’t concerned with the suffering he might endure. He was simply fed up. Over the past two years, the climate justice group he organizes with, Extinction Rebellion, had failed to gain the attention of public officials and decision makers in Florida.

“I had to make that first step, because I just couldn’t take it anymore,” he says.

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Nick's route through FloridaNick Velasquez

Nick’s main concern is that his generation will be one of the last, because if climate change continues unabated, the earth may become more and more difficult to inhabit. Experts predict that Nick’s hometown of Miami may be underwater by the end of the century. Just 100 corporations are responsible for 71% of greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change. Nick says he does not intend to let the earth be ruined without a fight.

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Protest signs from climate justice rally in downtown TampaJustin Garcia

After walking hundreds of miles to Tampa, he found himself with the police at Grace Point mental health institution, because the officers thought he should be evaluated. Earlier in the day, after a climate justice rally in downtown Tampa at Curtis Hixon Park, Nick stood in the middle of a nearby road with fellow climate activists. When the police told them to move or they’d be arrested, the others did. Nick stayed in the road.

Nick is convinced the police were trying to get him Baker Acted, which leads to a detainment period of up to 72 hours. The doctors at Grace Point weren’t convinced that he should be held for fighting to save the environment, and released him after evaluation.

Before this detainment in Tampa, he’s been arrested three times for distributing flyers spreading awareness about climate change and its effects at public high schools.

Now that he’s been cleared by mental health professionals, Nick will continue his walk across Florida. He’ll head to Orlando, despite his feet, which are sore and covered in blisters. Then, he’ll walk to Daytona Beach and cross the center of the state to Gainesville and Jacksonville. Along the way, he’ll hold rallies and practice civil disobedience to raise awareness around the climate crisis, he says.

His ultimate destination is Tallahassee, where he plans to deliver his and Extinction Rebellion’s demands to Governor Ron DeSantis and other Florida officials.

The demands are as follows:

Demand One: That Governor Ron DeSantis meet with Nick outside the State Capitol at Tallahassee, to address the fact that climate annihilation will soon take the lives of Florida’s young people.

Demand Two: That Governor Ron DeSantis issue an executive order no later than September 2021, declaring a climate emergency for the State of Florida.

Demand Three: That Governor Ron DeSantis issue an executive emergency order no later than September 2021, mandating that all State agencies adopt, within thirty (30) days, rules, regulations, policies, procedures and practices that ensure all state activities immediately comply with the following demands:

  1. Tell the Truth.

Florida elected officials and all Florida State, County and City employees must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.

2. Act Now.

Florida elected officials and all Florida State, county and city employees must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.

3. Be Led by Citizens’ Assemblies.

Florida elected officials and all Florida State, county and city employees must create and be led by the decisions of Citizens’ Assemblies on climate and ecological justice.

4. Secure a Liveable Future for All.

Florida elected officials and all Florida State, county, and city employees must work for global net zero and planetary repair by 2030 on the basis of equity and mutual survival interest for all communities, countries and generations.

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Protest poster from climate rally in downtown TampaJustin Garcia

With these demands, Nick hopes to break through to the decision makers in Florida, and to secure a future for his generation and the next. He expects that he’ll suffer more hardships along the way, including the heat, which he calls "hellish". But for him, the problem is much bigger than what he may endure on his walk.

“I am undertaking this journey to ask one haunting question: are we the last generation?” Nick says. “Have we condemned our children and grandchildren to a slow, agonizing death just so a few obscenely rich assholes can get even richer?”

Learn more about Nick’s route and journey here: https://xramerica.org/walk-with-nick/

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I write stories about Florida politics, environmental issues, interesting people and music. I strive to shine a light on issues that are still in the dark, as well as help to give voice to the voiceless.

Tampa, FL
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