“Sunrise” youth in DC demand quick Dem action to save planet
Youth descend on DC to lobby incoming Dems like Rep. Jim McGovern (left). | Sunrise Movement

WASHINGTON—New York City’s sole subway line to Sunset Park in Brooklyn “still does not function properly,” high school student Aracely Jimenez says – thanks to Hurricane Sandy six years ago and global warming. And that threat, which is now even worse, brought her and more than 1,000 other high school and middle school students from as far away as Seattle to Congress on December 10.

The students, who organized themselves into a grass-roots movement for a “Green New Deal,” descended on lawmakers’ offices to demand that incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and her leadership team enact that legislation forcing the private sector to create well-paying green jobs, erect green buildings and cut the emissions that create global warming.

The first step in doing so, the students declared, is the creation of a special committee – not beholden to the corporate class — to write climate change control legislation, starting in January, and put that measure atop the congressional agenda.

“And we know that with our power and in our movement, we can also make action on climate change and the Green New Deal a top priority in the 2020 presidential race,” Jimenez added.

Climate change is real for students like Jimenez, whose neighborhood “is still struggling” from the impact of the superstorm – a storm scientists say was worsened by global warming and climate change, in turn caused by increased carbon emissions into the Earth’s atmosphere.

And unless humans act to cut such emissions sharply within a decade or so, several recent scientific reports say, the Earth will be irreparably damaged. More people will be victims of higher floods, huger hurricanes, more-extensive wildfires, longer and more extensive droughts, greater food shortages and worsening respiratory illnesses, among other harms.

That includes Sunset Park. “We in New York, which is supposed to be progressive, can be a leader” in combating climate change, “but we aren’t,” Jimenez said in an interview during the protest outside Pelosi’s congressional office. “We need a Green New Deal.”

Instead, what New York, like many other coastal cities worldwide, is getting, is gentrified development of former factories along its Brooklyn waterfront by developers who don’t go green, either in buildings or in jobs. And the subway still struggles along, she added.

So it’s up to Congress to take the lead, the students said, before making their point in the corridor outside Pelosi’s office through peaceful civil disobedience. By pre-arrangement with the U.S. Capitol Police, some 150 chanting and singing high schoolers, holding signs reading “Do Your Job” and “We Need A Green New Deal,” sat down at her door and were peacefully arrested.

There were smaller demonstrations at the offices of Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., who will be House Majority Leader in the next Congress, and Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass.

“We get the storms, the floods, and the droughts, and at the same time a few fossil fuel billionaires are making the choice for us, affecting us, our future kids and our communities,” declared Jillian Hansen, leader of the sit-downers. “So I want to say to Nancy Pelosi: You have a choice, to stand with us or against us.”

The students wound up their chants and singing by appropriating the old organized labor anthem: “Which side are you on?”

Pelosi has taken no stand so far on creating the special climate change panel, which would take an end run around current lawmakers and committees who deal with climate change legislation.

The special panel is also a top demand of the incoming huge class of House Democrats, who ran on progressive platforms that included dealing with climate change, raising the minimum wage and reforming U.S. politics. Their sweep put Pelosi, presumably, back in the Speaker’s chair, after eight years of Republican rule by climate change deniers.

The students’ response, according to their SunriseMovement.org website: If Pelosi and her leadership team don’t achieve that climate change control goal, they should step aside for those who will.

Pelosi has problems in carrying out the cause. The big one: Those senior lawmakers, especially on the key House Energy and Commerce Committee, who received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions over the years from fossil-fuel interests. They want to protect their legislative turf and their big givers.

And though the students didn’t say so, since they preferred to lobby lawmakers who could act, their biggest enemy is at the other end of D.C.’s Pennsylvania Avenue: Donald Trump. The president’s been trashing federal rules to curb climate change as fast as he could find them. And going in the other direction.

Just days before the protest, Trump’s EPA proposed a new rule which would let coal-fired electric power plants increase their carbon emissions. And his Interior Department proposed opening more public lands to oil and natural gas drilling via fracking, an environmentally problematic method.

In addition, the day before the Capitol Hill protest, at an international meeting on climate change in Katowice, Poland, the Trump administration was one of only four nations, all big oil producers, that refused to sign a relatively mild declaration pledging joint international action to cut carbon emissions.

The other three refusals came from three autocracies: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Russia.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.