Organizing Upgrade is a forum to promote strategic dialogue between left organizers. This article is being published as a response to our publication of Seed the Vote’s political assessment in December 2019.
I mostly read the Seed the Vote Assessment/Strategy paper as a left analysis. As such, I didn’t have any disagreements with it. But it does show how tricky it is to balance the need to woo moderate Democrats and still push a progressive agenda.
If I put my climate activist hat on, I think that same balancing act is still pressing. For example, do we support candidates who take fossil fuel donations? I think the answer, at least in the November election, is ‘yes’. We can usually pressure and fight it out with moderate Democrats, while Republicans are (mostly) hopeless.
Also, viewing the paper through a climate lens, I appreciated the mentions of the fossil fuel industry and the need to support climate action.
I think the climate movement began with pretty much a single focus on climate, that is, not a stress on “communities of color, social justice organizations, and labor.” But today, I think there is a fairly strong (not total) agreement that the climate movement needs to support all these issues/groups to win. And Trump’s climate denialism makes him 100% the enemy of climate action, so everyone is on board with beating him.
Race, class and climate
Many in the climate movement do take a broad view of building unity around race, class and climate (or climate, jobs and justice as the RISE march slogan put it in 2018). I’ve been working with various progressive groups to formulate what a California Green New Deal bill might look like. In these discussions we have been talking about three pillars of the bill: racial justice, overcoming inequality, and climate justice. I have to lobby to keep the climate part of the bill as strong as science demands it to be.
I have learned that just putting out the science of climate change has not been enough to build a movement strong enough to topple the fossil fuel industry. People (such as my friends whose activism is rooted mainly in low-income and people of color communities) say, “I agree with you, but what we really need are jobs; or to stop police violence.” So that’s why I support the Green New Deal’s broadening of the climate goals to include health care, housing, and overall social justice — that’s the only way we can build a movement strong enough to win. We need a program that demands family-sustaining jobs to solve the climate crisis and can serve as the basis for a strong and holistic progressive movement.
Immigration and this country’s responsibility
Still, the world is burning 10 billion tons of carbon every year, which makes 37 billion tons of CO2, and fossil fuel use hasn’t even leveled off. So we are destined for climate chaos with hundreds of millions of deaths and displaced people.
One thing I can’t quit figure out, though, is why the rest of the world is suddenly enamored of nationalist Trump types. Perhaps Bolsonaro is backed by Amazon deforestation interests in the same way Trump is backed by big oil? And with all the climate migrants, I guess there is lots of food for anti-immigrant politics in any country.
Which brings up immigration, which is clearly an issue that Trump is counting on. And we sure can’t count on the Dems to be on the right side of this one. It has occurred to me that it may not be possible to solve the climate crisis without some sort of international body overseeing immigration. Where is everyone from Bangladesh going to go?! And the Mekong Delta, Florida, coastal cities everywhere. The U.S. produces 27% of the greenhouse gases that have caused the problem, it should take 27% of the billion displaced people: 270 million! We’ve got plenty of room — I’m serious, have you driven across this county — it’s empty! Of course, we wouldn’t all have single family homes with a yard and a swing in the back. But it’s hard for me to envision the politics that could make this happen short of a world war or economic collapse.
Which brings us to the issues of militarism and war. This is another one where we can’t count on the Democrats. It sure would be nice to have that budget to build solar panels, wind turbines, electric vehicles, insulated buildings, and heat pumps along with creating millions of good jobs. The climate movement has been too quiet about defunding the military.
I think it is urgent to work for the Seed the Vote goal to be achieved, “We want to come out of November 2020 not only having defeated Trump and the GOP but having built a stronger left.” And I would add, having a federal government willing to take serious climate action.