The Green New Dealers are going local.
Sunrise Movement, the youth-focused climate justice nonprofit whose protests late last year helped spawn the Green New Deal, is planning to expand its upcoming 14-stop tour of the United States into a nationwide campaign with roughly 100 town hall meetings organized by its swelling ranks of local chapters, the group told HuffPost.
The events are aimed at drumming up support for the Green New Deal by explaining the local benefits of a sweeping national industrial plan to zero out greenhouse gas emissions and reduce poverty. The tour will include 10 big-ticket stops in cities including Boston; Des Moines, Iowa; and Paradise, California, which became ground zero for the state’s deadliest wildfire in history last year.
Members of Congress, activists and scientists are expected to speak at the events. A Sunrise Movement spokesman declined to confirm whether Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the authors of a joint resolution on the Green New Deal, would attend.
“We put the Green New Deal on the map by taking action in Washington, D.C.,” Varshini Prakash, Sunrise Movement’s executive director, said in a statement. “But we know the fight will be won or lost in the hearts and minds of the American people and the resolve we show to making the Green New Deal a reality. That’s what this tour is about.”
The tour marks one of Sunrise Movement’s most ambitious enterprises to date. Founded in April 2017, the group cut its teeth canvassing for left-wing candidates in the 2018 midterm elections. It stormed into mainstream politics last November with a series of protests in then-incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, and has kept the heat up since. Last month, a cadre of teenage Sunrise Movement activists’ confrontation with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) sparked a firestorm and prompted a fresh debate over the so-called “generational debt” incurred by years of burning fossil fuels.
Tuesday’s announcement comes a month after Ocasio-Cortez and Markey unveiled their resolution outlining the terms of what should be in a future Green New Deal legislation, including a push for generating as much renewable electricity as possible, revamping the farming sector and empowering minority communities suffering from pollution.
The resolution launched with an impressive 64 co-sponsors. Now, it has 100 ― 89 in the House of Representatives and 11 in the Senate.
But they’re all Democrats. Republicans, whose platform position on climate change was, until now, to question the science itself, found new footing on the issue in vehemently opposing the Green New Deal. The shift came as one poll in December found 64 percent of Republicans, including 57 percent of self-identified conservative Republicans, supported the core tenets of a Green New Deal.
To pass economic reforms as major as what’s proposed in the Green New Deal, Democrats will need a base of support far broader than anything ever assembled in pursuit of climate policy. So far, that’s a ways off.
We know the fight will be won or lost in the hearts and minds of the American people and the resolve we show to making the Green New Deal a reality. That’s what this tour is about.Varshini Prakash, Sunrise Movement executive director
The powerful building trades unions, which rely on the pipeline and coal train industries as reliable sources of high-wage jobs, oppose efforts to rapidly phase out fossil fuels. In February, the Laborers’ International Union of North America called the proposal “a bad deal” that “threatens to destroy workers’ livelihoods.”
The Green New Deal is facing criticism from the agricultural industry, too. Earlier this month, the National Farmers Union rejected a proposal to even start negotiating on what a Green New Deal could look like at its annual convention in Bellevue, Washington.
But Sunrise Movement is banking on its growing network of satellite groups to help make inroads with critics. The group has added more than 100 new local chapters since November, when it staged its protests in Pelosi’s office. That includes one chapter in Wyoming, the nation’s top coal-producing state, two in Nebraska, a hotbed of pipeline fights, and another two in deep-red Utah. Since November, Sunrise Movement has raised over $1 million.
“For decades, fossil fuel billionaires like the Koch Brothers have used the same playbook to fight any meaningful action on climate: deceive the public through elaborate PR campaigns and pull strings with the politicians they’ve bankrolled,” said Dyanna Jaye, Sunrise Movement’s organizing director.
“Now they’re scared about the Green New Deal’s momentum and are using that same playbook to try to stop us,” Jaye added. “We’re going directly to the American people to lay out how the Green New Deal would improve the lives of every person in this country, save for a handful of billionaire oil and gas CEOs.”
We’re launching Road to the Green New Deal, 9 massive tour stops and over 100 town halls all across America. Our goals:
- Give every single American an opportunity to hear from their neighbors about how the Green New Deal will improve their lives.
- Counter the lies coming from the Koch Brothers and their allies.
- Grow our movement to transform the 2020 election into a referendum on climate action.
At each tour stop, hundreds to thousands of attendees are treated to a multimedia experience and an emotional journey.
We’ll share stories about how the crises of climate change and inequality are threatening the people and places we call home. We’ll hear from political leaders about how the Green New Deal would protect communities across the country from the worsening impacts of climate change while boosting our economy. Then we’ll lay out the plan to make the 2020 election a referendum on the Green New Deal, so we can make the Green New Deal law in 2021.
Speakers will include political leaders who are championing the effort for the Green New Deal in Congress, movement leaders mobilizing thousands to join the fight, and local community leaders who are leading the way to the transition to a society that works for all of us and protects the air we breathe, water we drink, and places we call home.
Towns around the country are hosting their own large scale gatherings alongside the tour stops to share stories from within the community and bring the Green New Deal home.
We’ll gather in libraries, university campuses, churches, union halls, and living rooms to learn about the ambition and promise of a Green New Deal. We’ll hear from political and community leaders, and discuss the pathway to make the Green New Deal become reality. We’ll elevate the stories of people and communities who are already feeling the devastation of climate change, who are facing skyrocketing inequality, and whose futures depend on us transforming our economy.
Once you sign up, we’ll send you the a guide and connect with you a coach to get you started. You’ll have access to recruitment materials, webinars, and even a script that you can modify for your event.
- Climate Uprising
- Detroit DSA
- Good Jobs Now
- Gulf Coast Center for Law and Poverty
- Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement
- Justice Democrats
- Kentuckians for the Commonwealth
- SEIU 32BJ
Public opinion has shifted in their favor on the issue. Nearly two-thirds of Americans say that the Republican Party’s position on climate change is “outside the mainstream,”according to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll conducted last month. That represents a nine-point bump since October 2015, when the question was last asked. That poll was conducted in February, when the Democratic-led Green New Deal dominated media coverage. But a majority of Americans said that month that Democratic positions on climate change were “in the mainstream.”
Within the party, rank-and-file Democrats seem to be taking the issue more seriously. Eighty percent of likely Iowa Democratic caucus-goers say that primary candidates should talk “a lot” about climate change—a result that suggests climate change is one of the Democratic Party’s top two issues, according to a CNN/Des Moines Register poll conducted by Selzer and Companythis month. Only health care merited such consensus concern among the group.
That points to a potential upheaval in how important voters consider climate policy. In May 2015, when the same polling firm last posed a similar question to likely Democratic caucus-goers, climate change did not rank among the top five most important issues.
And several recent polls have also identified a huge, nearly 10-point surge in worry about climate change among all Americans. “We’ve not seen anything like that in the 10 years we’ve been conducting the study,” Anthony Leiserowitz, a researcher at Yale, told me in January. Those national surveys found that Americans were motivated by a series of urgent new reports about climate science and an outbreak of extreme weather.
Some Republicans say they’re taking notice. “I think we’re moving from the science of climate to the solutions of addressing climate, and that is a big shift in particular for Republicans,” says Heather Reams, the executive director of Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions, a nonprofit that encourages GOP politicians to support renewable energy.
This shift, if it is occurring, has yet to result in concrete policy proposals. Nor is it shared across the party. Some Senate Republicans have embraced “innovation” as a possible solution to climate change, but the Trump administration last week proposed zeroing out the budget for two major Department of Energy innovation programs. The programs will survive, however, in part because they have the support of Lamar Alexander, a powerful Republican from Tennessee who chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development.
In the House, Republicans are far more skeptical of climate action. Representative Rob Bishop, a conservative lawmaker from Utah, has said the Green New Deal is nearly “tantamount to genocide.” The House GOP has offered very few climate policies of its own. An exception: Two Republicans—Representative Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Representative Francis Rooney of Florida—last year co-sponsored a bipartisan bill to tax carbon emissions without increasing the federal budget.
It’s still unclear whether the spike in public concern will translate to any lasting GOP shift. The Green New Deal, in all its ambition and haziness, has reframed the climate conversation around solutions, where Democrats have more to say right now; if moderate Democrats fell back to insisting on the acceptance of climate science alone, Republicans might be happy to meet them there.
In any case, the views of the country’s most powerful Republican, President Donald Trump, seem extremely unlikely to change. So it’s left to his would-be 2020 opponents to heighten the contrast. At least eight candidates have made climate change a top issue, according to The New York Times. And announcing his candidacy for president last week, the former Representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas said that “interconnected crises in our economy, our democracy, and our climate have never been greater.” (He has yet to offer a concrete proposal on the issue.)
Whether this focus on climate change produces new policy ideas remains to be seen. Yet even so, environmental groups and their allies are feeling whiplash at how far the conversation has come since 2016. Says Alex Trembath, the deputy director of the Breakthrough Institute, an environmental research center based in Oakland: “If you had asked me a year ago if we would’ve been talking this much about climate change now, I would’ve said, ‘Absolutely not.’”