‘New Deeds for New’: Young Activists and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Demand a Green New Deal

by on November 19, 2018 · 0 comments

in Under the Perfect Sun

Nothing in the wake of the midterm elections made me quite as happy as the sight of the newly elected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joining young climate activists who were protesting outside of Nancy Pelosi’s office in Washington, D.C.

The protesters, who were part of the Sunrise Movement, put their demands bluntly: “They offer us a death sentence. We demand a Green New Deal.”

As Common Dreams reported:

Youth climate activists with the Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats were arrested on Capitol Hill Tuesday for staging a sit-in at the Washington, D.C. office of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)—who is expected to serve as the next speaker of the House—to demand that congressional Democrats back a “Green New Deal.”

Long a demand by the climate justice movement—and popularized in the latest election cycle by incoming progressive Democrats like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Antonio Delgado of New York, Deb Haaland of New Mexico, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota—a Green New Deal would pair actions to address the global climate crisis with policies to create jobs and a more just economy.

Despite Pelosi’s tweet applauding the protesters and calling for a “committee” to address the climate crisis, the young activists were not satisfied, noting that the presumed next Speaker of the House was “bringing a squirt gun to a wildfire.”  Echoing the protesters’ concerns, Ocasio-Cortez called on Pelosi to insist that any committee have a mandate to draft a Green New Deal plan by 2020, and that she bans any member who has accepted fossil fuel industry money from the committee.

With a chorus of “realists” already advising the Democrats to not be “too progressive” or confrontational with Trump and to find “common ground” if possible, it was refreshing to see Ocasio-Cortez’s stark rejection of such advice from her elders.  It put me in mind of how Henry David Thoreau once responded to the accepted wisdom of his day:

What old people say you cannot do, you try and find that you can.  Old deeds for old people, and new deeds for new. Old people did not know enough once, perchance, to fetch fresh fuel to keep the fire a-going; new people put a little dry wood under a pot, and are whirled round the globe with the speed of birds, in a way to kill old people, as the phrase is.  Age is no better, hardly so well, qualified for an instructor as youth, for it has not profited so much as it has lost.

Indeed, it is not hard to see how much the inaction of the old is forcing us to lose as California furiously burns (yet again) and the race toward ecocide continues unchecked.  So good for the young people at the U.S. Capitol and their fellow travelers in England where, as George Monbiot tells us in the Guardian a similar action took place with a group called Extinction Rebellion holding a press conference calling for “UK carbon emissions to be reduced to net zero by 2025.”

As Monbiot notes, when reporters asked whether the group’s goals were “realistic,” one young woman responded fiercely, “What is it that you are asking me as a 20-year old to face and to accept about my future and my life . . . This is an emergency.  We are facing extinction. When you ask questions like that, what is it you want me to feel?”

And the “realists” have no answer because with only a decade to go before we reach the point of no return, only radical solutions can address the climate crisis, no matter what the standard political reality dictates.  Hence, Monbiot again observes:

Those to whom we look for solutions trundle on as if nothing has changed. As if the accumulating evidence has no purchase on their minds. Decades of institutional failure ensures that only “unrealistic” proposals – the repurposing of economic life, with immediate effect – now have a realistic chance of stopping the planetary death spiral. And only those who stand outside the failed institutions can lead this effort.

Thoreau was right–age is surely no better, hardly so well qualified as youth, to answer the most important questions about the future of their world.

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