Sometimes it feels as if Sarah Palin won the last two presidential elections. We’re not quite living in “Drill Baby Drill” America, but by co-opting the other Republican energy slogan, a meaningless plan literally called “All-of-the-Above”, President Obama has opened up vast new areas to offshore drilling and pushed hydrofracking for oil and gas onshore. Even as the president says that “we are closer to energy independence than we’ve ever been before”, sometimes it seems like the US is becoming a repressive petrostate.
And then some days, like the day after the midterm elections, it feels like a complete victory for Palinite politics. The Republicans took back the US Senate, and the only Democrats who won major races were those like Andrew Cuomo, who defeated my Green Party campaign for governor of New York with a $45m campaign war chest provided by a few hundred super-rich donors – Democratic and Republican ones.
But there were real victories this week for progressive alternatives on clean energy, economic security and social justice. The extremist blood bath may have painted the country more red, but there were more than a few important – and extremely promising – tea leaves of green. It was even enough to suggest a new, independent, hard-left turn in American politics is still very much possible.
Fracking bans just passed in cities from California to Ohio and even in Denton, Texas – the town at the heart of America’s oil-and-gas boom. In Richmond, California, progressives beat back a multi-million dollar campaign funded by Chevron to defeat Green and allied candidates. Voters in Alaska, Oregon and Washington DC joined Washington State and Colorado in legalizing marijuana, adding to the growing momentum to call off the failed “war on drugs” that has given the US the highest incarceration rate in the world.
Republicans like Mitch McConnell have already warned that “we will be voting on things the administration is not fond of” – citing a sure-to-be-caustic conservative energy agenda of which the Keystone XL pipeline is “only part”. But true progressives will be using our local political leverage in a continuing campaign for a Green New Deal. We are putting back on the public agenda the economic promises that President Franklin Roosevelt called for back in 1944 but which the Democrats have long since abandoned. Those rights provide the foundations for what FDR called “the true individual freedom [that] cannot exist without economic security and independence” – rights like a useful job, a living wage for doing it, plus affordable housing, healthcare and education.
The US needs to revive a New Deal-style public jobs program to put unused labor to work, meeting unmet community needs – like the repair of a crumbling infrastructure for water, sewage, roads and bridges. But the centerpiece of the Green New Deal – to ban fracking and build a 100% renewable energy system by 2030 – is itself a program for full employment. A peer-reviewed study by Cornell and Stanford researchers found that the 15-year clean energy buildout would create 4.5m middle-income jobs in construction and manufacturing – in New York state alone.
As Greens educate, demonstrate and lobby during the next legislative session here in New York, we will be preparing to run more progressive candidates across the country. And if Cuomo opens New York to hydrofracking, as we expect he will, we’ll demand that legislatures everywhere keep pushing fracking bans and running new and bolder clean-energy candidates against legislators in 2016.
With Democrats repealing the New Deal and Republicans more or less repealing the Enlightenment with their anti-science stands on climate change and teaching evolution, the independent left is certain to mount a third-party presidential campaign beginning next year. I recently joined Kshama Sawant, the independent socialist elected to the Seattle city council last year, in calling for meetings across the country to begin laying the foundation for a strong left challenge to both parties of big business in 2016.
It may be disruptive – but disruption is exactly what progressive America is asking for right now.
Public opinion polls show that a majority of Americans support social, economic and energy policies that veer left if not all the way green. The well-documented problem of American politics is that these progressive values do not get turned into progressive policies. It will take a party independent of corporate money and influence to change that. Or else we will be stuck with the Palinites.
This column originally ran in the Guardian.