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

This is the third 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 at here.

The Green Party should seek, within the policy initiatives of the Green New Deal, to strengthen worker rights. As Whitney Webb writes in Corporations See a Different Kind of “Green” in Ocasio-Cortez’s “Green New Deal,” the Democratic Green New Deal (hereafter DGND) actually contains within its policy proposals further neoliberal assaults on worker rights and austerity measures, both of which have fostered the growth of white nationalism historically in American politics.

Along with Improved Single Payer Medicare for All, the Green Party states they would also pass the Employee Free Choice Act, otherwise known as “card check,” which makes union organization easier. They should furthermore repeal the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 while amending the 1926 Railway Labor Act so to return the right to strike to railway and airline workers. The Green Party goal is to guarantee a living wage job for every American willing and able to work. To do this, the national party would establish a full employment program that will create 25 million jobs by implementing a nationally funded, locally controlled employment initiative. This would also include measures to create fair trade treaties and strengthen workplace safety laws. Job training would be in combination with a guaranteed tuition-free public college education and granting of student debt forgiveness. They would reform tax codes and laws to assure fair taxation, distributed in proportion to one’s ability to pay. And finally, we would provide all Americans with decent, accessible, affordable, and sustainable housing and democratically run, publicly owned, not-for-profit utilities

Another distinction is the role of anti-imperialism within the coordinates of the Green New Deal. The DGND makes no reference to de-linking the American dollar’s value from the Saudi Arabian oil barrel’s price on the international exchange market. Unless a serious effort is made to disconnect the link between the dollar and Saudi oil, otherwise stated as eliminating the petrodollar, it is fundamentally against the best interests of the American government to engage in any sort of project that would reduce the worldwide value of Saudi oil. American capitalism since the termination of the Bretton Woods system during the Nixon administration has been one that only can be maintained by the perpetuation of a fossil fuels-based economic system. Sustainable energy policy from Democratic Party that does not take on this issue will not take on what actually drives climate change.

Furthermore, owing to the precarious nature of the House of Saud’s grip on that country’s government, American foreign policy towards Saudi Arabia has always been extremely militarist and imperialist. From the start of the Cold War, when Saudi Arabia and Israel were positioned in the region as two poles that would oppose secular Arab nationalism, to contemporary times, with the ongoing genocidal war on Yemen and the jingoistic bipartisan saber-rattling towards Iran, the House of Saud has exchanged the security of American oil supplies for allowance of the most reactionary type of absolute monarchism on earth. Saudi Wahhabism has been a fundamentalist current promoting anti-Black racism, misogyny, trans/homo/bi-phobia, and feudal judicial practices across the Islamic world. The Saudis have been a key player in American imperial policy across Asia and Africa.

These coordinates can inform the preliminary coordinates for a long-term and coordinated program of international reparations between the Global North and South. For five centuries, the North has maintained white supremacist hegemony at the expense of the South. It is incumbent upon activists at the heart of empire to struggle so to dismantle the imperial project piece by piece in a fashion that is cognizant of the ecological cost of the system. The Pentagon is the world’s largest carbon polluter and is exempt from the major climate treaties. The South currently faces tremendous hardship and losses caused by climate catastrophes that the North created with their over-dependence and over-use of greenhouse gas-based energy systems. A truly just Green New Deal must address itself to the reparations towards the Global South and make its aims international in scope. For in the totality of things, climate catastrophe does not stop at borders and lines drawn on a map, instead its storms are the international onslaught that must unite people of all nations in a coordinated and robust opposition.

Unless the DGND includes an internationalist intersectional feminist principle of anti-imperialism, one which reverses the system of worldwide alliances that emerged at the end of World War II, very little will be changed in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. It is simply a matter of what is in the best interests of the American political economy as it now exists.

A second distinction is the emphasis on the role of self-determination and national liberation. It is the longtime view of the Green Party that the multiple peoples of color within the United States should have their human rights respected as defined by international law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Ajamu Baraka, the 2016 Green Party vice presidential nominee and national organizer with the Black Alliance for Peace, writes:

…I argue that if human rights are to have any incredibility, any “universal” applicability, any value, they must be seized from the barbaric grip of Europeans and de-colonized. The cognitive dysfunctionality of the white supremacist consciousness renders Europeans infected with this malady unable to “see” the contradictory history of liberal thought from the Enlightenment to the contemporary period that continues to stratify human beings and human civilizations and cultures. The assumed superiority of Western cultures and peoples are not even a point of contention. Its material development, the wonders of its science, the variety of its consumer goods are all testimonies to its innate superiority. The problem is that all of this is based on lies. As Franz Fanon reminded us, Europe is a creation of Colonialism… We must embrace and exercise the black radical human rights tradition and its subsequent expression in what I call “People(s)-Centered Human Rights (PCHRs). People(s)-Centered Human Rights (PCHR) are those non-oppressive rights that reflect the highest commitment to universal human dignity and social justice that individuals and collectives define and secure for themselves through social struggle. This is the Black Radical Tradition’s approach to human rights. It is an approach that views human rights as an arena of struggle that, when grounded and informed by the needs and aspirations of the oppressed, becomes part of a unified comprehensive strategy for de-colonization and radical social change. The feature that distinguishes the people-centered framework from all of the prevailing schools of human rights theory and practice is that it is based on an explicit understanding that to realize the full range of the still developing human rights idea requires: 1) an epistemological break with a human rights orthodoxy grounded in Euro-centric liberalism; 2) a reconceptualization of human rights from the standpoint of oppressed groups; 3) a restructuring of prevailing social relationships that perpetuate oppression; and 4) the acquiring of power on the part of the oppressed to bring about that restructuring.

A Green New Deal must create conditions that grant peoples of color self-determination in their communities, recalling the words of the 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.” It must allow for these communities of color to define and develop on their own terms and accord the structures of self-government by which they desire to live and thrive. In practical terms, this means a proactive embrace of police and prison abolition, meaning eliminating from the list of possible construction projects police stations and barracks, jails, prisons, and other elements to the police-prison industrial complex. As part of this logic, it must also end the school-to-prison pipeline by eliminating from federal, state, and municipal budgets funding for police presence in schools, the criminalization of Black/Brown youth, and increased surveillance on students. It must instead re-deploy these budget line-items to pay for increased counseling staff, instruction of teachers in restorative justice practices. Furthermore, teacher training must be reformulated and redesigned so to address white supremacy and racism within the profession and remove that poison from the workplace.

A useful proposition to consider for integration into the Green New Deal is the American Federation of Teachers (AFT)-endorsed Community Schools model. The AFT designates as Seven Principles of Community Schools:

1) Community schools provide more than one type of service to students and the community. Better yet, the services are unique to each school and community, and will most likely change over time as the needs of your student and family population changes. Examples of these services could include:

-Academic services like tutoring, community-based learning and other enrichment activities;

-Medical services like primary, vision, dental and nutritional services;

-Mental health services like counseling and psychiatrists; and

-Adult education classes.

2) Community schools better support and enable a strong, academic curriculum. Strong ties with the community lead to more partnerships and programs outside the classroom, which in turn can be utilized to directly support instruction and empower students to learn. Examples include project-based learning and service learning activities.

3) Partnerships are coordinated and purposeful. The community school infrastructure enables the coordination and integration of programs that enrich and support learning and instruction while meeting the needs of students, families and the community.

4) Community schools share a vision and mission and are results-driven. Everyone involved—community partners, families, school staff and administration—shares responsibility for accountability and continuous improvement. The results are not just focused on academics, but also include the non-school-related outcomes.

5) A site resource coordinator makes sure that all of the service and community providers are working together, focusing on the same set of results to ensure that students are getting the service most attuned to their needs. The coordinators are the glue and the anchor for the community school. They have strong relationships with school staff, parents, administrators and the community.

6) Community schools work with students but also engage families and communities. When families and community members are a part of the process of planning and implementing a community school, they begin to have a deeper investment and ownership in the success of their own children and the school community.

7) Effective community schools are governed at the local level, and decisions are made by consulting with all stakeholders, including teachers and other school staff. Teachers and school staff are often the best acquainted with students and their particular needs, so your input on the local site decision-making team (local governing team, etc.) is invaluable.

This also would require that a Green New Deal eliminate funding of charter schools and efforts that support further school privatization, such as high-stakes testing and Race to the Top programs. We should seek to strengthen and expand the commons in the public domain rather than weaken and eventually privatize them.

In his magnum opus Black Reconstruction in America, W.E.B. Du Bois places as the cornerstone of the text, for ideological, literary, and political reasons, the Black worker, naming the opening chapter after that laborer. Du Bois was not writing just a heterodox Marxian account of a contentious postbellum moment in American history. Through careful framing and formulation, he positions Radical Reconstruction and particularly that aspect led by Black workers as a proletarian revolution equivalent to the events seen in Russia in 1917. The destruction of the revolutionary current was caused by the white nationalist Ku Klux Klan, aided by the reactionary presidency of Andrew Johnson, and wrought another 150 years of terror for workers of all skin pigmentations.

It is my opinion that any system change that the Green Party proposes should therefore follow the Du Boisian schematic and be premised on the Black and Brown workers as those leading the way to liberation, otherwise we are all doomed to not just repeat the dire mistakes of the first New Deal but also create something that simply will be inadequate in addressing climate change.

Andie 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.