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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.

Another Silent Spring: Strategies for the Climate Struggle

By Paul Fleckenstein - Tempest, March 15, 2022

After the worst year yet of climate disruption, 2021 closed with another failure of international negotiations at COP26 and the slow death of President Biden’s meager legislative climate agenda.

North America faced heightened levels of drought, heat, fire, flooding, wind, climate-enhanced migration, and crop failures. Yet the climate movement’s support and campaigning for Biden and Democratic Party achieved little. Expectations are even lower for the next three years.

To respond to this impasse the climate movement, particularly the predominant organizations in the U.S., needs to reorient away from the over-emphasis on electoral politics, and toward protest and struggle as the priority strategy.

Fortunately, there are some glimpses at how to expand this potential, but the central question remains, what socialists and the Left, in general, can do now to best catalyze more disruptive, sustained, and mass-based climate action.

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.

Fossil Fuel Phaseout–From Below

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 2022

Protecting the climate requires rapidly reducing the extraction of fossil fuels. That’s a crucial part of the Green New Deal. While the federal government has done little so far to reduce fossil fuel production, people and governments all over the country are taking steps on their own to cut down the extraction of coal, oil, and gas.

Introduction

The U.S. needs to cut around 60% of its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030 to reach zero net emissions by 2050.[1] The world will need to decrease fossil fuel production by roughly 6% per year between 2022 and 2030 to reach the Paris goal of 1.5°C. Countries are instead planning and projecting an average annual increase of 2%, which by 2030 will result in more than double the production consistent with the 1.5°C limit.[2]

In the previous two commentaries in this series we have shown how initiatives from cities, states, and civil society organizations are expanding climate-safe energy production and reducing energy use through energy efficiency and conservation. These are essential aspects of reducing climate-destroying greenhouse gas emissions, but in themselves they will not halt the burning of fossil fuels. That requires action on the “supply side” – freezing new fossil fuel infrastructure and accelerating the closing of existing production facilities. That is often referred to as a “phaseout” or “managed decline” of fossil fuels.

Such a phaseout of fossil fuel production is necessary to meet the goals of the Green New Deal and President Joe Biden’s climate proposals. The original 2018 Green New Deal resolution submitted by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called for a national 10-year mobilization to achieve 100% of national power generation from renewable sources. Biden’s Build Back Better plan sought 100% carbon-free electricity by 2035 and net zero GHG emissions by 2050. These goals cannot be met without reducing the amount of fossil fuel that is actually extracted from the earth.[3]

While the US government and corporations are failing to effectively reduce the mining and drilling of fossil fuels, hundreds of efforts at a sub-national level are already cutting their extraction. 50 US cities are already powered entirely by clean and renewable sources of energy. 180 US cities are committed to 100% clean energy.[4] According to a report by the Indigenous Environmental Network and Oil Change International, Indigenous resistance has stopped or delayed greenhouse gas pollution equivalent to at least one-quarter of annual U.S. and Canadian emissions.[5] Such reductions are an essential part of a widespread but little-recognized movement we have dubbed the “Green New Deal from Below.”[6]

Court Blocks Giant Gulf Fossil Fuel Lease Sale

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability - March 2022

In November 2022 the Biden Administration prepared to sell oil and gas permits for 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico – the largest such sale in US history. Now a federal court has halted the sale because of the failure to adequately assess the impact on climate change.

The court ruled that the Biden Administration must consider the emissions and climate impacts in the leasing program. This ruling will stop not only Lease Sale 257 but future leasing decisions as well.

A sign-on letter urges President Joe Biden and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland not to appeal the decision.

The DOI should now accept the court’s ruling on Lease Sale 257 to vacate the sale and correct the Trump administration’s flawed climate impact assessments that falsely conclude that the resulting emissions from offshore drilling would have no impact on the climate crisis. The DOI should not continue to defend unlawful drilling for oil and gas in public waters in appellate court given the impacts on our climate, clear violations of federal environmental standards, and public commitments made by President Biden to end the practice. https://www.labor4sustainability.org/strike/climate-safe-energy-production-from-below/

The Fossil Fuel Industry Is a Jobs-Killer

By Wenonah Hauter - In These Times, February 14, 2022

For years now, any discussion about climate action or the need to move off fossil fuels has run headlong into a familiar quandary: The industries fueling the climate crisis create good jobs, often in areas of the country where finding work that can support a family is incredibly difficult. 

This leaves activists gesturing towards well-intentioned goals like a ​“just transition,” a promise that likely rings hollow for workers and many labor unions because it’s hard to see where this has actually happened — even though, by every measure, we need to create some real policies that turn this vision into reality. While there are encouraging examples of labor unions throwing their support behind robust climate plans, it has proven difficult for the climate movement to find its way out of the jobs versus environment framing. 

But that is especially true when we refuse to question the original premise. The truth is that the fossil fuel industry wildly inflates its employment record, and the recent data show they are producing more fuel with fewer workers. Instead of avoiding this reality, perhaps it is time to tackle it head on. Dirty energy corporations are not creating jobs as much as they are cutting them these days, and that provides an opening to envision the kinds of employment — in areas like orphaned well clean up and energy efficiency — that will provide employment for the thousands of workers the industry is no longer employing. 

Some of the most common jobs estimates are produced by the American Petroleum Institute (API), the powerful oil and gas trade association. Over the years, API has released reports claiming that the domestic fracking industry creates somewhere between 2.5 million to 11 million jobs, both directly and indirectly. These numbers — or versions of them — are floated in political debates and in the media, but they are significantly out of step with other estimates, including the federal government’s labor reports. Food & Water Watch, an organization I founded, created a more accurate model that relies on direct jobs and relevant support activities, including pipeline construction and product transportation. The total comes to just over 500,000 in 2020, or about 0.4 percent of all jobs in the country. 

How to explain the massive gap between industry propaganda and reality? The API figures include a range of employment categories; in addition to direct industry employment, they add indirect jobs (those within a supply chain) and induced jobs (those that are supposedly ​‘supported’ by direct and indirect jobs). These categories make up the vast majority of their total. Convenience store workers, for example — working where gas happens to be sold — make up almost 35 percent of the industry’s supposed employment record.

The Real Crisis Threatening Ukraine isn’t a Russian Invasion or US backed NATO Imperialism. It’s Capitalism

By Javier Sethness - The Commoner, January 27, 2022

published on The Commoner, 27 January 2022

This exclusive interview with Assembly, a magazine based in Ukraine, provides a fresh, on-the-ground perspective on the Russo-Ukrainian conflict. Writers from Assembly have published articles with The Commoner before, which you can find here. You may otherwise find their website here.

Comrades, thank you for agreeing to this interview. We very much enjoyed your recent article in The Commoner, ‘The Time Has Come?’, about ongoing socio-economic resistance in Ukraine.

Today, the world looks on in horror as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military is amassing over a hundred-thousand troops on Ukraine’s eastern border. These forces are reportedly composed of sixty battalion tactical groups (BTG’s), including Spetznatz special forces, hundreds of tanks, and dozens of ballistic-missile units—not to mention either the Black Sea Fleet or aerial forces. Although Ukraine gained formal independence from the collapsing Soviet Union in 1991, Putin has repeatedly expressed nostalgia for Tsarist and Soviet imperialism, while Maria Zakharova, spokesperson for the Russian Ministry for Foreign Affairs, has long belittled the idea of Ukrainian sovereignty.

Currently, the UK is selling light anti-tank weapons to Ukraine, while the US has supplied billions of dollars in military aid to the country since 2014, when the Russian military occupied and annexed Crimea. Some media sources suggest that Putin has not yet decided whether to order the invasion, which could spark the most destructive conflict in Europe since World War II, even if Ukraine is not a part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). Now, following a breakdown in negotiations, President Joe Biden is reportedly considering sending thousands of NATO troops to the Baltic countries.

Beyond the Green New Deal: A Discussion with Monica Atkins of the Climate Justice Alliance

Coal Miners Weren’t Happy When Joe Manchin Derailed Build Back Better

By Austyn Gaffney - Sierra, January 19, 2022

The United Mine Workers of America issued a statement criticizing the senator for withdrawing his support from the legislation:

When West Virginia senator Joe Manchin III, a well-known coal baron, withdrew support from the Build Back Better agenda, the Biden administration’s landmark climate and social safety net bill, an influential coal-mining union was quick to respond.

The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), a labor union formed in 1890 to organize coal miners seeking safe working conditions and fair pay, released a statement by international president Cecil E. Roberts on December 20 characterizing the union’s relationship with Manchin as “long and friendly” but expressing disappointment that the bill didn’t pass. (On the same day, the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of American labor unions, released a similar statement.)

“We urge Senator Manchin to revisit his opposition to the legislation and work with his colleagues to pass something that will help keep coal miners working,” Roberts wrote, “and have a meaningful impact on our members, their families, and their communities.”

Given the UMWA’s history with Manchin—he has been an honorary member since 2020—it was a notable reminder of just how much is at stake for miners and their communities as the president’s signature measure hangs in the balance. The Build Back Better legislation includes important items for the UMWA, like incentives to build manufacturing facilities in post-coal communities, financial penalties for employers who deny workers their rights to unionize, and an extension of the black lung trust fund, a levy paid by coal companies that provides a small monthly payment to miners with pneumoconiosis, a disease caused by coal dust and silica inhalation. 

12 Guilty Fogeys: Big Oil’s $86 billion offshore tax bonanza

By staff - Friends of the Earth, Bailout Watch, and Oxfam, September 2021

Few letter-soup acronyms in Washington bureaucratese are so aptly pronounced as GILTI and FOGEI, two esoteric provisions in the tax code worth tens of billions of dollars to Big Oil’s multinational majors.

Under the Trump Administration’s radical 2017 tax law, companies that extract oil and gas overseas enjoy special exemptions within the Global Intangible Low-Tax (GILTI) regime covering Foreign Oil and Gas Extraction Income (FOGEI).

It is a fitting accident of nomenclature: FOGEI’s GILTI carveout helps prop up the fossil firms most culpable for the climate crisis — to the tune of $84 billion. An additional international tax loophole enjoyed by Big Oil is worth at least another $1.4 billion, for a grand total of over $86 billion in offshore tax giveaways.

Read the text (PDF).

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