There’s a lot of talk lately about the Green New Deal. The phrase was first used in the US by Howie Hawkins, the Green party candidate for governor in New York state in 2010, 2014 and 2018.
Howie says he stole it from the European Greens who’d been intrigued by the old American New Deal of the 1930s under Franklin Roosevelt. European Greens wanted to regulate the banking sector, something we can't seem to do here. They wanted to raise wages, to shorten working weeks, to stimulate the econony with massive infrastructure upgrades and repair, and to pay for the whole thing with higher taxes on the rich, all of that straight out of the playbook of the 1930s, plus putting the economies of their countries on a path to zero emisions. Their vision included giving away, not selling but giving away the new green technologies enabling such a transition to the global south as reparations. Altogether it was a really ambitious and humane extension upon the old New Deal.
Howie Hawkins stole the slogan and the idea back from the European Greens. Some American Greens said that’s Democrat stuff, Howie, you don’t want that, to which he replied that it ws stuff rank and file Democrats still wanted but that Democratic politicians being who and what they are, had never been willing or able to deliver. There was a wealth of reputable studies asserting that given the political will, it should be possible to get the US economy to zero emissions by 2030, so that became the package upon which Hawkins based his 2010 NY gubernatorial campaign. Economic human rights, guaranteed jobs at living wages, decent housing for all, Medicare for All, curbing military spending, and an absolute ban on fracking, which all the corporate funded environmental organizations in 2010, in the Obama era were saying was “the bridge to the future.”
When Howie Hawkins was polling at 15% in 2014, Democrats put Zephyr Teachout in the governor’s race to bring him back down to 5%, but the fracking ban and some other elements of the Green New Deal were also borrowed by some Democratic politicians. Eventually New York adopted a statewide fracking ban.
Howie Hawkins was part of the team which adapted the Green New Deal proposals to the campaign of Jill Stein, the Green Party’s presidential candidate in 2012 and 2016. Stein was able to get on the ballot in all but three states, and although she was banned from the debates and most corporate media coverage, her campaign did more to popularize the notion of a Green New Deal than anything that happened before. Insurgent Democrat congressional campaigns all over the country were mouthing the words “Green New Deal,” and though nearly all of them who had actual opposition from established Democrats lost except Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and a couple others, the notion in some form or other is now part of the political language.
At the very least, even in the mouths of Democrats the Green New Deal includes Medicare For All, a living wage, raising taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations, and increased spending on infrastructure and education. Most Democrats, even the so-called progressive ones, as we noted last year in Black Agenda Report refuse even to mention the military, or the US overseas empire, as if those things don’t exist. They’re all over the map too on the green part of the Green New Deal as well, with many supporting fracking bans and others not. But that too is to be expected. Democrats are not so much united around policy positions as they are united behind their presidential candidates, or their president, when they have one in the White House or against the president when a Republican occupies that office.
When Greens talk about a Green New Deal they include jobs and affordable housing for everybody, words you scarcely hear out of any Democrats’ mouths. Greens support a national fracking ban and placing the economy on a transition to zero emissions in the short run by leaving the oil, coal and gas deposits in the ground, finding other ways to generate the power we need, and guaranteeing the jobs of people in the transition, also something you don’t hear from Democrats. Greens also support drastic cuts in the military budget, the cessation of support for apartheid Israel, closing the empire of a thousand US military bases around the world and more.
The New York Greens even have a state level climate bill with multiple legislative sponsors which would commit local governments, along with the state’s agricultural, energy, transportation and other sectors to specific goals on the road to zero emissions. If other Green parties on the state level are even minimally serious about pushing a Green New Deal, this is something we should expect to see them emulate and imitate in other states. It's how we raise the bar.
I’m in Georgia, and we expect to have a Georgia Green Climate Bill ready to walk the legislature with this session. We’ll be inviting legislators to sponsor and introduce it, or to borrow or steal provisions from it as they choose. When our party achieves ballot access for 2020 our state legislative candidates will be running on its provisions, including a statewide fracking ban and a bar imported fracked gas, job guarantees for displaced people in the energy sector, and the creation of milestone targets for sectors of our state’s economy on the road to zero emissions by 2030. State level action like this is a vitally important part of building the constituency for and the sense of possibility around a Green New Deal and a just transition.
The Green New Deal and the 116th Congress
The plan for engineering whatever parts of the Green New Deal might have been possible through the Democrat controlled House hinged upon the hopes of some that a sufficient fraction of the House Progressive Caucus might be mobilized to impress Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her leadership team. That didn’t work out. Ocasio-Cortez led a sit-in outisde Pelosi’s office which got lots of press but seems not to have moved the speaker.
Ocasio-Cortez asked for a special committee, a House Select Committee, to draft the Green New Deal legislation, a way of getting around the entrenched committee system of the House, and that members of congress in hock to energy companies not be allowed to serve on the committee. Pelosi refused the ban on members who took oil, gas and nuke money, then decided against creation of the select committee altogether. No surprise there.
The US custom, in the legislatures of all the state and both houses of congress, is that Democrats and Republicans select as their party legislative leaders those members who are most successful in garnering big donations from wealthy individuals and corporations. Those wealthy corporations include the insurance industry, Big Pharma and private hospitals, so we can’t expect corporate Democrats to ever support Medicare For All.
Even Bernie Sanders has felt the need to to deviate from the Medicare For All bill that has been in the Congress more than a decade now, and introduce his own which makes space for private insurers. It’s a marked retreat from his previous advocacy of simply lowering the Medicare age to include everybody, but such is the price for being included in the Democratic party heirarchy, and being permitted to run in Democratic primaries as a presidential candidate.
Our place as Greens, as leftists generally then, is not to whine about how the Democrats stole our Green New Deal slogan and slapped it onto their half-assed efforts to appear responsive to the looming crises around us. What we did is we managed to raise the bar, and we have to find ways to do that constantly and consistently, again and again. If we can’t do that, it’s time for us all to go home and watch Netflix.
For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Bruce Dixon.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report and a state committee member of the GA Green Party. he can be reached via email at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.
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