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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

The Green New Deal: From Below or from Above?

How the Green New Deal from Below Integrates Diverse Constituencies

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, February 2, 2024

Green New Deal initiatives at local, state, regional, and civil society levels around the country have drawn together diverse, sometimes isolated, or even conflicted constituencies around common programs for climate, jobs, and justice. How have they done so?

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The Militancy of the UAW Strike Forced Joe Biden to Take a Side and Walk the Picket Line

By Nick French - Jacobin, September 26, 2023

Today President Joe Biden traveled to Detroit to join members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) on the picket line in their strike against the Big Three automakers. The move was Biden’s strongest signal of support yet, after a number of more equivocal statements about the ongoing contract dispute. He is the first sitting US president in history to walk a picket line.

Biden’s transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, declared that Biden went to Detroit because he is “deeply pro-worker.” One might doubt Buttigieg’s assessment, given that — despite Biden’s admirably pro-labor National Labor Relations Board — the president intervened to stop railworkers from striking over eminently reasonable demands less than a year ago and has so far been content to fund a transition to electric vehicles (EVs) with little regard for workers. (Buttigieg himself went on to qualify his statement: the president, he says, wants “the auto sector to succeed as well” and is “pushing the parties to get to a win-win deal that does right by workers.”)

In any case, to look at Biden’s decision as simply reflecting his personal commitments is to miss the bigger picture. Biden is looking toward reelection, Michigan is a crucial swing state, and the president and his team almost certainly feel a trip to the UAW picket line will be a boon to his electoral odds. And considering union favorability is at an all-time high and a majority of Americans support the UAW walkout, they’d be right to think so.

Labor Rise at End Fossil Fuels Demo

By Ted Franklin - Labor Rise, September 18, 2023


Labor Network for Sustainability contingent at Sacramento, California climate emergency demonstration. Credit: Ted Franklin CC-BY-NC-4.0

Labor Rise members helped organize a contingent of rank-and-file union members to join hundreds of other demonstrations in the End Fossil Fuels march and rally in Sacramento, California, on Sunday, September 17, 2023. We marched under the banner of Labor Network for Sustainability, a national organization building Labor/Climate movement solidarity. The Sacramento action was one of many in the United States during the international week of action to end fossil fuels. In New York City, where the United Nations gathered for meetings on climate, 75,000 people marched.

In Sacramento, where hundreds gathered, Labor Rise member Martha Hawthorne spoke on behalf of Labor Network for Sustainability:

Not Too Late: Changing the Climate Story from Despair to Possibility

Railroad Workers United: “We Would Never Concede Our Right to Strike”

By Ron Kaminkow - Jacobin, April 15, 2023

Congressional progressives, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have defended their railroad strike vote by pointing to rank-and-file support. Here, Railroad Workers United clarifies the group has always unequivocally opposed denying railworkers their right to strike.

On April 11, 2023, Jacobin published a transcript of an interview by editor at large David Sirota with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In the context of a general discussion about differences between the “progressive” wing of the Democratic Party and the Biden administration, the subject of the vote to break the strike of the railroad workers came up.

In defending her votes — one to approve seven days of sick leave for railworkers and one to support the president’s bill to block the strike — Ocasio-Cortez states that she was acting on the wishes of Railroad Workers United (RWU) and other groups of railroad workers. She states in the interview, “When you look after the vote, folks like RWU were saying, ‘This is what we asked them to do.” Later she says, “Because, for example, with the rail vote, the only partners that I had leading up to that were railworkers. And if that’s what they asked us to do, then that’s what we did.”

But Ocasio-Cortez is clouding the reality of the situation by referring to “the vote,” when in fact there were two separate and distinctive votes. One bill proposed seven days of paid sick time, while the other bill blocked railworkers from striking; these bills were completely independent of one another.

Here’s How We Escape Climate Apocalypse

The Green New Deal: The Current State of Play

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, February 2023

For the past year I have been researching and writing about initiatives around the country to implement the core ideas of the Green New Deal at a community, state, and local level – what I call the “Green New Deal from Below.” I have discovered hundreds of projects, policies, programs, and new laws that embody the principles of the Green New Deal at a sub-national level. But as I begin to tell people about what I am finding, I often get a response that I could paraphrase as “The Green New Deal – isn’t that just last-decade’s fad?” That is often followed with the question, “What’s left of the Green New Deal?” That’s the question I address in this Commentary.

Green New Deal – the Backstory

The Green New Deal is a visionary program to protect the earth’s climate while creating good jobs, reducing injustice, and eliminating poverty. Its core principle is to use the necessity for climate protection as a basis for realizing full employment and social justice. It became an overnight sensation with a 2018 occupation of Nancy Pelosi’s office by the youth climate movement Sunrise supporting a congressional resolution by newly elected Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez calling for a Green New Deal. A poll released December 14, 2018 by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication found that 40% of registered voters “strongly support” and 41% “somewhat support” the general concepts behind a Green New Deal.[1]

Soon after the occupation of Pelosi’s office, a wide swath of public interest organizations endorsed the Green New Deal, which also instantly became a prime whipping boy for the Right. Its core ideas were embodied in legislation by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Edwin Markey, which divided the Democratic Party into pro- and anti-Green New Deal factions. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden convened a Unity Task Force that included Bernie Sanders, AOC, and the head of Sunrise, which came up with a plan incorporating many elements of the Green New Deal but eschewing the name. Biden called his program Build Back Better, and after the 2020 elections this became the nomenclature of Democratic Party and allied climate, jobs, and justice programs. A broad coalition of organizations called the Green New Deal Network, for example, developed and promoted an extensive legislative program, described on its website as “in line with the Green New Deal vision,” which it dubbed the THRIVE Agenda.[2] Supported by more than 100 members of Congress and 280 organizations, the THRIVE Act was introduced in Congress in the fall of 2020.

Understanding Sunrise, Part 2: Organizing Methods

By Dyanna Jaye and William Lawrence - Convergence, March 24, 2022

Sunrise melded mass protest, electoral work, and distributed organizing to great effect, but 2020 upended its plans and forced a reassessment.

Sunrise Movement grew from a labor of love by 12 young people, including the two of us, into the most prominent climate justice organization in the country. We put the Green New Deal on the map, strengthened the Left insurgency in the Democratic Party, and helped drive youth turnout to defeat Trump in 2020. Climate change became a political priority for the Democratic Party, and Sunrise directly influenced Biden’s Build Back Better agenda.

In the last year, though, despite a few impactful protests demanding ambition and urgency from Congress, Sunrise members and observers alike have noted a loss of strategic clarity and organizing power compared to 2017 through 2020. And it’s not just Sunrise: the entire Left has struggled to make the jump from punching upwards in the Trump era to winning material reforms in the Biden era.

In this essay, we’ll pull back the layers of Sunrise’s organizing model: how we actually recruited young people and united them in a structure for collective action. We’ll first discuss the major influences on Sunrise’s organizing and run through how it all played out in practice, the good and the bad.

We share a diagnosis that a central shortcoming in Sunrise’s organizing model was the absence of a sustained method of mass organizing at a local level, which left us nowhere to go once we could no longer rely on the fast-but-shallow growth of distributed organizing methods. We’re proud of the movement’s accomplishments while humble about its shortcomings. We offer our reflection in the practice of learning together in public; we hope our transparency can empower the next generation of movement builders—in Sunrise and across movements—to lead transformative organizing for the next era.

Understanding Sunrise, Part 1: Strategy

By William Lawrence - Convergence, March 14, 2022

Sunrise Movement made climate change a key political issue, but new conditions require new theory and strategy.

The state of Sunrise Movement, one of the more successful and visible U.S. Left organizations to emerge in the last five years, reflects trends in the broader Left. We hit a high-water mark with Sen. Bernie Sanders’ February 2020 victory in the Nevada caucus. Shortly after, the revenge of the Democratic establishment and the COVID pandemic halted all momentum and put Sunrise into a rear-guard attempt to salvage what could be won in a Biden administration. The underwhelming first year of that administration has left us floundering.

Today, a private and public reckoning is well underway. A new generation of leaders is taking account of Sunrise’s successes and failures, and working to design the next life of the movement. Early Sunrise leaders—of which I am one—are in the process of moving on, and handing over leadership of this youth organization to a more youthful cohort.

As a leader in Sunrise’s development from its founding in 2017 through early 2021, I feel obliged to offer an evaluation of our strategy and methods. My aim is to offer a detailed account of Sunrise’s aims and influences, in order that the next generation of strategist-organizers both inside and outside Sunrise may learn from what we did well, while overcoming our limitations.

You can consider just about every word of this essay as a self-critique and a practice of learning in public. As ever, I write with deep appreciation for all the climate justice fighters who find a place to place their hope amidst the looming dread of this crisis.

Part 1 of this essay, which you are reading now, focuses on Sunrise’s strategy, including our demands, rhetoric, and relation to the US party system. Part 2 will look at Sunrise’s methods of organizing.

I hope these essays not only illuminate our specific choices and why we made them, but demonstrate how the theoretical concepts on which we build our organizations actually shape their development. Sunrise’s successes owe much to the theories underpinning our strategy and methods, and our failures reveal much about where these theories fall short. I hope my reflections on these recent experiences may aid in developing better theory to face the challenges of the 21st century.

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