How the Green New Deal Came Together

Excerpt of presentation by Andres Bernal, advisor to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, recorded and produced by Melinda Tuhus

The proposed Green New Deal legislation has raised the visibility of the planet’s climate crisis, sparking a spirited debate among many of the nation’s politicians both for and against the measure. Polls find that the legislation garners wide support among Americans across the political spectrum, if its proposals aren’t identified solely with the Democratic Party.
The Green New Deal calls for the U.S. to become carbon neutral by 2030, and addresses income inequality by calling for guaranteed, universal health care and a job for anyone who wants one. Jobs would be created in the sustainable renewable energy sector and provide support for fossil fuel workers to transition to other good-paying jobs. Many other jobs would be created in child care, senior care, assisting the ill and disabled, and sustainable employment in the arts.
Andres Bernal, advisor to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, proposed the guaranteed jobs component. Bernal is a lecturer in urban studies at Queens College. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey included the Green New Deal proposal in the non-binding resolution introduced in both houses of Congress. The youth-led Sunrise Movement has been promoting the Green New Deal for months and is now in the midst of a nationwide campaign tour.  Bernal spoke about the Green New Deal and how the pieces came together in a talk given at Yale University on April 29.

ANDRES BERNAL: Alexandria was already talking about mobilizing as if we’re going to war, but rather than going out to kill people, we were going to save ourselves from this disastrous situation we’d put ourselves into. And that was getting really, really popular. People were responding to this. It wasn’t a campaign that was necessarily committed to an orthodox ideology or anything like that. Often she would say, “This isn’t necessarily about left and right; this is about top versus bottom.” And that really resonated with people in the community who weren’t necessarily informed or educated on politics and that sort of thing. It was an incredible grassroots movement; she did an amazing job, but also it was a testament to the people around her, that the people in the community did an amazing job as well.

So, she pulled that off. And as she won the primary, I started to get more involved in like, okay, what kind of things can we continue to propose and offer. And at that time, something I had become very interested in, which I started to learn about after the Bernie Sanders primary and the 2016 election and that whole kind of fiasco, was that I thought that we needed to reinvigorate our public imaginations, because there was something that was missing from what we thought was possible. That’s when I learned about this idea called the federal jobs guarantee. The more I started to learn about this idea the more I started to realize that there’s a lot of work that needs to be done that isn’t the same as your typical office job, but it’s in communities: it’s rebuilding communities. It’s reconnecting. it’s re-establishing trust, education, tutoring, child care, caring for one another, creating urban gardens, restoring ecologies and communities.

I got real, real interested in that and so at one meeting with Alexandria I said, “I think you should check out this idea. I really, really think it would be good for your entire vision.” So, she came with me to a conference and ended up putting the (Green New Deal) jobs guarantee on her platform. The jobs guarantee ended up being the most popular policy on her platform. The moment she put it on, it became more popular than Medicare for All. So that’s kind of like the role that I had, as well as having different conversations about breaking away from certain orthodoxies that many on the center-left and left have been trapped in, particularly around fiscal policy and how our government actually works and pays for things, because we seem to be trapped in this idea – that is inherently a very conservative idea – that our federal government that has a total monopoly over the U.S. dollar needs to find revenue from places in order to do anything; thinking about how much do we have to tax where, and where do we lower money where, and everything is dollar for dollar and stuff like that.

Read related article: “Green New Deal Could Unite Nation to Promote Renewable Energy & Advance Economic, Racial Justice”

So, to really move away from that and start thinking about what’s more real, and what resources do we have at our disposal to be able to do things. Where is the labor? What can people do? What technology do we have? What knowledge do we have? What actual physical and biophysical resources exist to be able to accomplish the goals that we have? And once we start focusing on that, we can envision a sustainable agenda moving forward.

And so, for me, I think this has been a very powerful movement because environmental policy in the U.S. since the 1970s has really been about regulating an economy that is inherently toxic, that inherently produces all kinds of externalities and negative things, and try to make it as livable as possible, perhaps, through regulations and whatnot, but never really kind of a bold agenda that understands that with technology and with individual consumption alone, we’re not going to be able to address the real issues that are at the core of a fossil fuel, extractive, capitalist economy.

So, we want to accomplish this by creating millions of jobs. Millions of jobs that build out an entire infrastructure of what a renewable economy would need. Everything from high speed rail to the kind of solar-wind-geothermal-hydroelectric – all these other ways of building energy, ways of storing energy, the research and development infrastructure that’s necessary to come up with the new ideas to be able to do this, and in order to do that we have to center the conversation around political ecology, which is say that our entire economy and social ecosystem is connected and is part of nature too; it’s not disconnected.

That for me represents this bigger initiative – and Alexandria like to talk about this, too – to rediscover the public imagination. What can we think is possible? What can we do? What should our agenda be? So, we want to make sure that this (Green New Deal) transition to a different kind of ecosystem and economy also has justice at the forefront.

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