Fight for Amazon rain forest comes to Schenley


Hannah Heisler | Senior Staff Photographer

Demonstrators rally on Forbes Avenue on Sunday to raise awareness towards fires in the Brazilian Amazon rain forest.

By Brian Gentry, Senior Staff Writer

On a warm, rainy Sunday — fitting for a protest organized in support of the burning Amazon rain forest — a group of marchers met under Dippy the Dinosaur dressed in the green, blue and yellow of the Brazilian flag.

About 70 people attended Sunday’s “Action for Amazonia” rally, which was organized by Team Pachamama — Pachamama is a Quechua word meaning “Mother Earth” — as well as a variety of other environmental groups in Pittsburgh. Attendees boasted an eclectic mix of clothing and decorations, including shirts advertising the Party for Socialism and Liberation and displays with sticks arranged to spell out “ACTION 4 NATURE.”

The event sought to raise awareness for the raging fires in the Brazilian Amazon rain forest with a rally in front of the Carnegie Library, followed by a march through Schenley Plaza and a potluck meal. Miguel Sagué, a native Taíno — an indigenous group in Cuba — delivered the unifying message that emerged from the noise.

“Act locally, think globally,” Sagué said.

Sagué, a 68-year-old resident of Penn Hills, spoke to the crowd without a loudspeaker and criticized Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who said during his campaign he would not demarcate “a centimeter” of land for indigenous reservations.

“The President of Brazil, which is the country that has the vast majority of the Amazon rain forest in it, ran on a platform that was anti-environment, anti-indigenous,” Sagué said.

He said the rally was important to him because of his indigenous roots.

“The important thing about this for me is that the ancestors of the Taínos came from the Amazon rain forest. That’s where the mother tribe is from,” Sagué said. “This is a very emotional issue for Taínos.”

Among those who attended the rally was Rebecca Sylvernale, who said she appreciated the awareness that the rally raised. Sylvernale, a senior English writing major, studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina and spent time with indigenous cultures in the northern part of the country. She said she wanted people to be aware of how the fires affect these communities.

“I think a lot of people are aware, but I think they’re aware sort of in the back of their minds,” Sylvernale said. “We tend to separate ourselves from the cultures that are actually there and affected by this.”

The Amazon fires, which many claim were started intentionally, have caught the attention of the public and the mainstream media in the last few weeks as a swath of the forest the size of New Jersey burns. Recently, Bolsonaro rejected $20 million in foreign aid from G7 countries due to what he called “very disrespectful” comments from world leaders.

While Sagué provided the unifying message, other speakers urged specific local actions that go beyond just saving the rain forest. Maren Cooke, a local environmental activist, said people should reduce their meat consumption by cutting it out of most meals and energy usage by hand-drying clothes and reducing air conditioning usage. These actions, she said, are individual choices that can directly mitigate climate change.

“Be creative in how you do it,” Cooke said.

Cobe Hart, a volunteer with Team Pachamama, works to convert vacant lots into community gardens in Pittsburgh. Hart said people need to come together to effect real change.

“If we can get together as a community more and share our specialties, our jobs, our focus, if we can collaborate on projects, make music, have more potlucks with healthy food, encourage people to get out there and get on a healthier diet, then we can make all the better of our lives.” Hart said.

Duncan Penizotto, a senior computer engineering major, attended the rally with Sylvernale. His primary goal in attending the rally was to learn more about the fires and to get other people to pay attention and take action.

“[We want] to get together on this dreary Sunday and just try to yell something,” Penizotto said. “Hopefully it’ll resonate somewhere.”