The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party

This is the first of a three part series regarding the Green New Deal. I will argue in the course of this series the method by which the Green Party should articulate a Green New Deal proposal that is radically different and distinct from that proposed by the Democratic Party, even its Progressive Caucus. Green voters and activists nationwide are encouraged to engage with to connect with activists and organizers emphasizing integrity, intersectional feminist eco-socialism, anti-imperialism, and independence from the Democratic Party. I make no claim that these views are representative of anyone but myself and welcome a vigorous but principled debate around alternative principles and methods of articulation. For one such alternative articulation, listen to this recent episode of Clearing the Fog podcast featuring an interview with Howie Hawkins. On Thursday, January 17 at 8 pm EST there will be a National Conference Call featuring Hawkins elaborating on the Green New Deal. You can register here.

[W.E.B.] Du Bois’s notion of double consciousness reflects a dialectical relationship, a unity and struggle of opposite forces in one dark body. We literally have the worldviews of two civilizations in conflict and struggle within the black mind. This double consciousness is a manifestation of a clash of civilizations, a contradiction that will be resolved by the decline of European hegemony and the transformation of human civilization. The working out of the dialectic within the consciousness of the black individual is a struggle between the hegemon of the modern world, the other (the African past), and the human future. Pregnant within the conflict in each black person is the future beyond European hegemony, an historical movement from the Age of Europe to the Age of Humanity.

– Dr. Anthony Monteiro (2011) ‘The Epistemic Crisis of African American Studies: A Du Boisian Resolution’, Socialism and Democracy, 25:1

As we enter 2019, wherein the preparations for the next presidential election will begin, it proves worthwhile to elaborate upon two basic questions:

1) What are the features of the Green New Deal promoted by the Green Party?; and

2) What differentiates it from what the Democrats propose?

The first distinction is in terms of what Greens must advocate for in general terms also. The Green Party argues that it is:

+ Intersectionally feminist;

+ Anti-colonial;

+ Anti-imperial;

+ Grounded in an affirmation of the nature of America as a settler-colonist society wherein the country was built upon the twin genocides of the Indigenous and Africans brought to this hemisphere in captivity as chattel bond slaves, which therefore requires a program of reparation and restorative justice.

While these are important principles to advocate for, they remain simply slogans without economic policy propositions to present a concrete illustration of what the Green Party is advocating for. Slogans remain slogans unless they are elaborated upon by concrete material demands using those particular lenses of analysis so to provide an example of the eco-socialist praxis promoted in the Green Party’s 2016 platform document. Reparations and restorative justice for these genocides cannot be addressed solely with a jobs program. However, it does provide some preliminary coordinates. Furthermore, recall the words of Combahee River Collective, “If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression,” meaning that the liberation of Black and Indigenous is the kernel of emancipation for all.

Furthermore, we need to be conscious of the explicitly racialized nature of the Roosevelt New Deal. In order to maintain his political coalition, Roosevelt intentionally crafted the balance of power in that coalition to favor the fascist southern Dixiecrats. He added measures to all of his New Deal programs to maintain the allegiance of southern politicians and voters. For instance, the National Labor Relations Act, which legalized the right to unionize and created the National Labor Relations Board to adjudicate labor disputes, intentionally excluded the majority of Black and Brown workers by barring domestic (butlers, maids, cooks, nannies, etc.) and agricultural workers from the right to form a union.

Consider also the point raised by the classic SDS pamphlet White Blindspot co-authored by Noel Ignatiev and Theodore Allen:

…“Fair employment through full employment” is another way of saying that job discrimination against Negroes will be maintained as long as it is possible to do so… Raising the demand for a larger slice of the pie for the working class does not in itself alter the apportionment of the slice within the working class. In fact, the ruling class has always utilized every concession won from it to increase the gap between white and black, thus turning even a victory of the working class into a cause of greater division. The shorter work week, with the promise of more jobs for those last hired, does not challenge the pattern of who shall be last hired [namely Blacks], and therefore does not alter the inequality of white and black workers.

If we look back on the history of the 1963 March on Washington and strip away the multiple coats of saccharine lacquer that have transformed that memory of history into something totally divorced from its original intent and execution, one is forced to realize the true nature of the March. As a project of Black union leader and Socialist A. Phillip Randolph, it had been formulated originally during World War II as a protest against the racism of the Roosevelt administration’s job programs both during the New Deal period and also during the war years, when the entirety of American industry was transformed into a centrally-planned economy with strict rationing and quotas mandated by the federal government. And despite the mandate of the war transforming the economic landscape into something unseen before or since, the white supremacist nature of the project excluded Black and Brown workers so significantly that Randolph was compelled to organize a massive protest march that notably did not materialize during wartime because of prioritizing “national unity” over combatting white supremacy within the governing coalition.

Twenty years later, Martin Luther King, Jr. took up the banner and brought forward a successful march that again protested the racialized exclusion of Black workers from a full employment economy during a Democratic Party presidency which was maintaining many elements of the New Deal agenda. Indeed, a year later, when Lyndon B. Johnson won the presidency but lost the South to Barry Goldwater because of his passage of the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts, America witnessed the collapse of the New Deal coalition and went on to see the problematic implementation of the Great Society legislation. Johnson’s refusal to run for a second term in 1968 had multiple reasons, including the genocidal Vietnam War, but part of his collapse in popularity stemmed from the loss of a New Deal coalition to support the Great Society. The Dixiecrats that year instead elected Republican Richard Nixon as a self-described “law-and-order” candidate who began the racist War on Drugs.

I for one have no interest as a Green in proposing a color-blind economic program that seeks to replicate the logic of a racist program that was only enacted on the basis of Jim Crow apartheid’s security and maintenance for another generation.

At this juncture, the Democratic Party, even its Progressive caucus, is not proposing such a framework for their version of a Green New Deal (hereafter DGND). While some would argue that Greens should make a tactical alliance with the reformist elements in the Democratic Party (cf. Is the Green New Deal a Revolutionary Reform? by Richard Moser, 12/21/18, CounterPunch), I beg to differ with that proposition and instead argue that such an alliance would effectively and totally negate the implementation of a viable Green New Deal that makes a real impact on our climate catastrophe. The Democratic Party’s neoliberal formulation of identity politics, featuring politicians who hail from a variety of demographics while promoting war and austerity, is incapable at this juncture of creating a truly transformative jobs and works program. The proposition to the contrary is simply erroneous and easily disproved.

By contrast, our Green New Deal, grounded squarely in the Four Pillars and the Ten Key Values of the Green Party of the United States, is intended to create truly revolutionary change and alter the social landscape for the better in a permanent fashion. To do this, I argue it must emphasize political orientations it already espouses in other contexts.

The first distinction to indicate in my view is the centrality of the Indigenous and African American worker in the Green New Deal. There are three reasons for this that merit serious elaboration.

The first is in regards to restorative justice and reparations for the continuing and persistent crimes of genocide and chattel slavery. It is incumbent upon the American government to proactively affirm its responsibility for these crimes and make meaningful restitution for them in terms of lasting social and economic justice. Furthermore, we are already seeing these communities on the front-lines experience the repercussions of the climate crisis, whether it was the historic Black community in New Orleans that was displaced by Hurricane Katrina or the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe that was called the “first US climate refugees” (cf. First US climate refugees get $48 million to move by Madison Margolin, 5/3/16, Christian Science Monitor) Our Green New Deal must be attenuated to their needs rather than those of the 1%, which seems to be the inclination of the DGND.

The second pertains to demographics. We know from population data derived from censuses that the majority of the Black population is located in urban centers nationwide, such as New York, Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia, Houston, and Atlanta. Indigenous are found predominantly in Anchorage, Oklahoma City, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and New York City. These urban centers are important locations for deployment of renewable energy infrastructure. America is slowly but surely being re-oriented towards urban as opposed to suburban landscapes, accelerating the pace of gentrification nationwide. A jobs program centered on Black and Brown workers may be a useful systemic way to fight back against historic Black community displacement.

The third is a synthesis of these two. It is incumbent upon sustainability-focused public policy to implement renewable energy infrastructure in the major urban centers and place emphasis upon affirmative action hiring practices, including in particular, as a constituent element of a wider reparations package, the elimination of any hiring practices that prevent the formerly incarcerated from being given meaningful employment in the various Building and Trades unions as well as other sections of the labor market. A jobs and public works program is incapable of making a significant reparation with regards to the twin genocides that birthed the United States; however, such a program can provide the preliminary coordinates for such efforts.

Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report says in an interview:

You won’t see any frontal assault on the mass Black incarceration state from those aspects of Black American political activity that revolve around the Democratic Party. What we’ll see is a lot of hooplah about ‘prison reform’, tinkering on the edges. That does not directly address the absolutely undemocratic nature of policing as it exists in the United States, a policing system that is at its core designed to contain and terrorize and subjugate at every possible level the Black American population. That is the purpose of the mass Black incarceration state, although it has economic aspects in terms of making profits from prisons. But the central purpose is to contain and terrorize Black folks. And with that kind of mission, the tinkering around with reform measures, although useful but avoiding the central demand of Black community control of the police who patrol the Black community, will be ineffective in dismantling that whole structure.

As such, the Green Party can and should utilize this shortcoming within the Democratic Party policy agenda to their advantage and link the articulation of a Green New Deal with the radical emancipatory liberation struggle of the working class that is prison abolition and Black community control of the police.

At this current moment, we know that the majority of Black workers are employed by the public sector and that Black women make up the largest membership demographic of the AFL-CIO. As such, the Green New Deal proposed by the GPUS should aim to fulfill the promise to create a “Marshall Plan for the Cities” that has been a longtime aspiration in Black political discourse. The Green Party proposes a paradigm that will be focused on public infrastructure and works projects, something that is therefore able to be synoptic with the Marshall Plan for the Cities framework.

Ford explains that the Marshall Plan for the Cities, first proposed by Rep. John Conyers, “Became a perennial Black Democrat rallying cry and others in Black civil society. We heard it every year, in fact it got kind of boring and hollow. It was basically an economic and social policy that was directed at the folks in the cities (and that meant Black folks) who had been bypassed by all of these redevelopment schemes of the American post-World War II world, which seemed to be developing everything in the nation except Black people. That’s the way it looked to Black people in the cities which they inherited from white folks after white flight and those cities were immediately de-invested. And so that was the rallying cry every political cycle.”

“What was noteworthy was that, with the advent of the first US Black President, even the possibilityof one during the 2008 campaign, we stopped hearing about a Marshall Plan for the Cities. In fact, we didn’t hear anything from Black Democrats who were afraid, frankly, to make any demands on this incoming and then incumbent Black president because those demands, the mere utterance of them, might tend to embarrass or put too much pressure on this Black president. We saw the neutralization of Black Democratic politics and Black politics in general with the coming of Obama a great silence, great realhollowness of Black politics,” Ford continues.

In James Forman, Jr.’s recent Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America, one aspect of the Marshall Plan for the Cities policy proposal was a combining of the promised urban revitalization policy package with racist Tough on Crime legislation. “That book, Locking Up Our Own, is indispensable and I found it so interesting and, in fact, it made me do some soul searching myself because much of the book is centered on Washington DC in the ’70s and ’80s and that is where I was based and I knew most of the actors who he talked about,” continues Ford. “I was somewhat embarrassed that I had not seen these ‘Lock Up Our Own’ precursors to the full-blown mass Black incarceration state, that is some of these proposals coming straight out of the Black community! I didn’t remember history that way and I’m still questioning what kind of reporter I was back then,” says Ford.

“But it is interesting that the Congressional Black Caucus’s ‘Marshall Plan for Black America’ has a Division B, which is focused on criminal justice and policing reform,” Ford continues.

“We can’t expect anything but a replay of what James Forman, Jr. was recounting from the ’70s and ’80s in terms of Black Democratic proposals in the criminal justice arena. We know what the recent history of the Congressional Black Caucus has been in that regard. In 2014, when there was a chance, a bill came up in the House that would have abolished the infamous Pentagon 1033 program, which funneled millions and it turned into billions of dollars worth of weapons and gear, full battle gear and weaponry, into the cities. Thatis the militarization of the police,” he says.

“In 2014, 80%, 4 out of every 5 Congressional Black Caucus members voted not to shut down the 1033 program but to continue it,” he continues. “This year, we saw a bill come before the House that 75% of the Congressional Black Caucus voted for that made police into a protected class! Now here we have the police, the group in US society that has the most institutionalized, legalized impunity now becoming a protected class as if they are somehow a class that is endangered.”

“So we know the political character is of the Congressional Black Caucus today regarding policing and mass Black incarceration and that’s part of their bill for a Marshall Plan for Black America. So I am sure James Forman is taking note of the latest iteration of that political tendency.”

Andrew Stewart is a documentary film maker and reporter who lives outside Providence.  His film, AARON BRIGGS AND THE HMS GASPEE, about the historical role of Brown University in the slave trade, is available for purchase on Amazon Instant Video or on DVD.