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The Green New Deal Died in Congress…It Didn’t Have To

Without the support of farmers and unions, the Green New Deal (GND) will remain a list of talking points for politicians. The democrats made a serious error releasing their 14-page non-binding House Resolution 109 without those groups taking a lead in its role out.

One of the more comprehensive and balanced reviews of the GND’ broad and worthy goals, is from John de Graaf in his The Promise of the Green New Deal published in Front Porch Republic. Among the many points he makes is the critical need to bring aboard farmers, who are one of the Republican Party’s  core constituencies.

Like de Graaf, Raj Patel and Jim Goodman in their piece A Green New Deal for Agriculture in Jacobin magazine, see President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal serving as a model of how a coalition including farmers and rural voters is needed to move progressive legislation forward. In particular, it can break the power of the current conservative cultural block that defines the climate debate.

Unions are the other main ally that would be in pushing for the GND since they have the most to gain or lose from government policies impacting their work environment. Union members have been a core democratic constituency, but one that the republicans have slowly been siphoning away. Trump’s wins in the industrial states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin reflect that continued encroachment.

These writers are following the first rule of defeating an entrenched opposition, you must crack their forces before attempting a frontal assault. As Raj Patel and Jim Goodman put it, GND advocates must  “unpick the alliances that the current bloc works to maintain, to find the fault lines that can pry that bloc apart.” Unfortunately, congressional democrats  failed to follow that rule and it seems that democratic presidential candidates are doing so as well. Washington State Governor Inslee, running as the climate change presidential candidate, missed an opportunity to reach out to rural voters when he launched his first campaign video and did not have either farmers or labor spokespeople talking about the importance of climate change.

Political allies need to be at the table when designing and announcing new programs or visionary statements. If they are not sitting at the table, they could be tossing tomatoes at these efforts  or just remain silent. This was evident from the main organizations representing these two constituents in responding to the launch of the GND; at best it was muted and at times hostile.

Leaders of the American Farm Bureau criticized the proposal as misguided and uninformed when the GND was released and soon afterwards, the National Farmers Union, a more liberal group representing large farm organizations, said the Green New Deal did not recognize “the essential contribution of rural America.”

Meanwhile the conservative leaning Laborers’ International Union of North America, or LIUNA, denounced the Green New Deal the day it was introduced; there has been only one major union, the large east coast based 32BJ SEIU, that has strongly backed the Green New Deal. Meanwhile most labor organizations have stayed quiet or been skeptically critical.

Initiating this grand new venture with two key groups sitting by the way side at best, is not a way to build a successful movement for change. What is most discouraging, is that it did not have to be this way. The gap between the perception of GND’s potentially negative impact and the resolution’s wording supporting both famer and union objectives, could have been bridged if these groups had participated in some fashion with writing the resolution.

The GND’s language recognizes the needs of both rural and urban workers and assures them that the transition to a sustainable economy that does not destroy our physical environment has their best interests in mind.

For farmers, it states, that the government will work collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector as much as is technologically feasible, by supporting family farming and investing in sustainable farming and land use practices that increase soil health.

For labor in general, the government would back “create millions of good, high-wage jobs and ensure prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States.” and create “high-quality union jobs that pay prevailing wages, hires local workers, offers training and advancement opportunities, and guarantees wage and benefit parity for workers affected by the transition.” Who could disagree with such lofty goals, unless you don’t support sustainable farming or providing union jobs?

So how could such a positive program be so rejected or ignored? The answer is not so much as to what was in the GND resolution, so much as a lack of strategy in reaching out to a broader slice of the public through enlisting the active involvement of those constituencies who are targeted by the republicans to oppose it: rural voters and blue-collar workers.

The Congressional democrats cannot wait for another vote to pass a newer version of the GND. One will not pass with the current make up of Congress. Any legislative victories will have to come after the elections in 2020 which will determine the future of the Senate and the Presidency. Until then ,the democrats must focus more on organizing public sentiment than even getting green candidates elected, because without strong grassroot support for the principles outlines in the GND, those green candidates will not be winning in swing districts and the republicans will retain control of the Senate.

The way forward is for Congressional democrats to hold a series of coordinated public forums in each region of the nation to discuss and to even debate GND’s message. Without creating an opportunity for an open discussion in all parts of the nation, rural and urban areas, those critiquing the GND as a fantasy or as irresponsible will continue to make headway.

When the vast majority of Democratic Senators voted Present , with even a few voting No, rather than Yes to the GND resolution, it was clear that they did so because of a fear of voter backlash. They legitimately accused  the Republicans of not holding open committee meetings with experts brought in, but that is an insider’s complaint. The public doesn’t care about such procedures. Farmers and urban workers want to know how their lives are going  to be affected.

It is incumbent that democrats recognize that need, not through just giving speeches or posting position papers on the internet, but through going into communities, along with allies from the farming and labor communities to directly address the concerns of those who voted for Trump out of a fear that their livelihood would be negatively impacted if we did something to improve our environment. Those who believe that climate change is a real threat to the welfare of our nation’s health and economy, must present a simple message: we cannot turn back the clock, but we can take charge of our future.

 

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