Sunrise Movement Challenges House Democratic Leadership On ‘Green New Deal’
Fresh off the Democratic capture of the U.S. House of Representatives, green groups with ties to wealthy anti-fossil fuel foundations are working to position climate change as a top priority despite very little traction for the issue on the campaign trail.
Members of Bill McKibben’s 350.org-backed youth activist group Sunrise Movement have challenged Democratic leaders to take up plans for a “Green New Deal,” confronting top members of the House Democratic leadership in recent days.
Those efforts are being met with stiff resistance within the party and leading to a growing split over what to do on climate change. Polling revealed earlier in the year showed that climate change policies and environmental concerns had little effect on 2016 voting habits.
Nevertheless, in the waning days of 2018, activists tied to deep-pocketed foundations are hoping to reverse the narrative and make the issue a cornerstone of the new Congress with their inside-the-Beltway play.
That includes demonstrating in the office of U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), the next chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, on behalf of the proposal by Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). Earlier this week, dozens of protesters were arrested following a similar demonstration in House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office.
Pelosi is calling for a House select committee on global warming, but activists are decrying the “toothless” move, as the committee would have no authority on legislation. At least four factions within the newly-elected Democratic majority are vying for power and leadership on the climate policy question, according to E&E News.
Before the election, the Democratic National Committee welcomed donations from the fossil fuel industry after reversing a decision to ban donations from the industry.
Cortez, who outlined the “Green New Deal” plan on her website, and Sunrise Movement activists believe that calling for 100 percent renewables, “deep decarbonization” through emissions reductions in manufacturing, agricultural, and other industries, and a national jobs program now will give them a leg up ahead of 2021, when they hope that remaining barriers to their plan will be eliminated by 2020 election results.
Not everyone is on board with the plans pushed by Cortez and Sunrise, even if they agree on the outcomes, said Paul Bledsoe, an energy fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, and a Clinton administration official.
“Democrats are united in decarbonizing our economy and addressing climate change in stark contrast to Republicans. But House leaders have to be strategic in how they approach climate change,” he said. “Impossible-to-reach targets will only disappoint.”
According to Politico, Sunrise Movement activists organized the demonstration. Varshini Prakash, a veteran of the divestment movement and founder of the Sunrise Movement, said that work must be done.
“We don’t anticipate being able to ram any legislation through this election cycle considering Trump is in the presidency and the Senate is controlled by the climate-denying GOP, but we really need to lay out the groundwork now,” said Prakash. “If we delay another two years to draft the plans and start to build the political will and public consensus around the solutions, we will be well behind our timeline and that’s a death sentence for our generation.
Prakash is a product of the divestment movement with ties to groups receiving grants from 350.org and Open Society Foundations. A review of records shows the U.S. Climate Action Network (USCAN) lists Sunrise as a member of its network, as well as 350.org, Ceres, Climate Hawks Vote, Environmental Defense Fund, Greenpeace, League of Conservation Voters and others.
The Sunrise Movement is registered as a 501(c)4, and launched with the goal of influencing the 2018 midterm elections, heavily emphasizing climate policies, and uniting volunteers and staff from the divestment movement and protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
“Back in 2015, a bunch of us were working in different parts of the climate movement. Some of us were leading campus-based fossil fuel divestment campaigns working to stigmatize the fossil fuel industry and revoke its social license to act. Others were figuring out how to build political power in red and purple states. And another set of us were working on place-based extraction or pollution fights,” Sunrise’s Prakash told the online magazine Waging Nonviolence in 2017. “What we all had in common is that we found ourselves asking one question again and again: Are we enough? Are we building the movement we need to stop the climate crisis? Are we getting active participation by the millions? Are we winning? Clearly, the answer was no. So, a group of us coalesced around a singular objective: to build a mass popular movement capable of ending Big Oil’s assault on our climate, economy and democracy.”
Sunrise is backing a push against all oil and gas projects and policies, and for candidates and officeholders to reject money from the industry, which is one of the reasons they targeted Pallone, who said he would review the group’s request for pledging not to take money.
The group’s aims go further than simply funding pledges or aspirational goals like a “new deal” on green projects.
“A transition to a 100% renewable energy economy, an immediate halt on all new fossil fuel projects, the break-up of the large energy monopolies and a transition to local, democratic control over our energy system,” the group writes. By vowing to only support candidates who “refuse to take any money from the oil, gas and coal industry,” the group hopes to push elected officials away—to divest—from any connection to the industry.