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Event Report

Polar Bear Ferry Ride

Manhattan, NY

November 3, 2007

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By:Daniel Allen

We are activists from Students Organizing Students (S.O.S.), a social action club at CUNY Hunter College in Manhattan. As part of our Step It Up 2007 action to promote awareness about climate change, we rode the Staten Island Ferry dressed as polar bears. Staten Island is often considered to be New York's "forgotten borough" because it is geographically and in some regards politically isolated from the rest of the city. We decided that the people of Staten Island would be an ideal audience to target for spreading information about the need for environmental leaders. Our tactics centered around using humor as an effective method for grabbing attention. We handed out informative but cartoonish leaflets with tips on how to be more environmentally friendly. We specifically tailored all of our information to Staten Islanders, their culture, and their familiar places. For example, we recommended that Staten Islanders recycle "the funnies" in The Advance, their local newspaper, rather than toss them in the trash. Our costumes included white t-shirts, white pants, ears, paws, and black noses – props that helped us get into character. We assumed the roles of polar bears searching for a new home because our natural habitat had melted. Polar bears are symbols of climate change because they are the species most vulnerable to immanent extinction directly related to global warming. With costumes donned and armed with leaflets, we circulated the ferry until we were asked to leave by the police. We were told we needed a permit, although our previous research did not show any such permit to exist. In a moment of improvisation, we relocated to the Staten Island Mall, where we continued to hand out leaflets and engage shoppers. We were also ejected from the Staten Island Mall. At the end of the day, despite steady drizzle and at least once being mistaken as rodents, we succeeded in spreading information about climate change among Staten Islanders. We even have a short video to prove it.

Step It Up Polar Bears on Staten Island
Hunter College student activists get ready to board the Staten Island ferry, dressed as polar bears.