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October 29, 2014

From Hurricane Sandy to the People's Climate March

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Two years ago this week, Myrtle Williams' life changed in a way she had never imagined. The healthcare professional was at work in a nursing home in the Rockaway neighborhood of Queens, New York, when Hurricane Sandy came ashore.

The deadly storm destroyed homes and knocked out power to tens of thousands -- including the nursing home. Yet despite damage to her house, Williams and many of her colleagues chose to stay in the nursing home and take care of the patients.

Now on the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, Williams has much on her mind.

"I'm still thinking about the realization of what all took place," said Williams, a member of 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East. "I still think about how we were all affected, how many lost their lives, how it affected us in the healthcare industry. We were drastically affected by losing those we cared for."

But from her remembrance also comes an urge to take action. Before Sandy she never thought much about climate disruption, but October 2012 permanently changed her point of view.

"We have so far to go to make people realize that just because Sandy's over, that's not the end of this. We can see how the climate is changing around us, "said Williams.

Myrtle WilliamsWilliams joined tens of thousands of her union brothers and sisters and people from all over the U.S. at September's massive People's Climate March in New York City because she was ready to be a voice for climate action.

"It was important to march and make my voice heard, but also to do it for those who can't be heard," she said. "I marched for those who are sick and frail and need someone to care for them. There were so many affected in the nursing home around me and they could not go on their own. Going to the march gave me that feeling that I'm not just doing this for my community, but for a whole group of people who need assistance."

Williams' perspective as a healthcare worker is also valuable in the face of climate disruption. She knows that certain diseases will become more prevalent as the climate changes and has already seen an uptick in respiratory illnesses in her line of work.

She hopes the amazing diversity of groups and people who marched in NYC in September continues to push for climate action in the coming months and years.

"When Sandy hit, it didn't hit just poor people or those who were scraping by, or the middle class - it hit everyone around us. It affected the rich, the poor, the homeless - those who are caregivers, teachers, children -- so many people were affected," said Williams. "So the People's Climate March and movement in turn should include everyone in our society who can make their voice heard. We need to make that message clear that we are all affected.

"The People's Climate March made me more in tune with the fact that, yes, we can do something, whatever small part I play, I want it to be effective. It's not just for my family and the people I care for, but for future generations, for my kids, and their kids.  We need to take drastic action. We as a nation should do what we can to make a change."

-- Heather Moyer, Sierra Club. Top photo by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen. Second photo courtesy of Myrtle Williams.

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