Sign saying Green New Deal with people behind it and young woman with glasses speaking

All the cool politicians are backing it; President Trump is mocking it: it’s the Green New Deal. The Democratic Socialists (DSA) spring issue of Democratic Left is totally dedicated to reporting on the Green New Deal. Perhaps DSA’s most famous member currently is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), or as Time magazine calls her on its cover, “The Phenom.”

It was AOC more than any other elected official who brought the Green New Deal into vogue. First, a week after the 2018 midterm election, the Sunrise Movement held a sit-in over climate change at Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. Representative Ocasio-Cortez stopped in to chat up and support he demonstrators. Soon after, she went beyond that as she introduced House Resolution 109 – the Green New Deal – in the newly seated 116th U.S. Congress. Senator Markey (D-MA) introduced similar legislation with Senate Resolution 59. Their legislation reveals that the Green New Deal in essence is a jobs stimulus program centered around solving the problems of climate chaos and economic inequality.

The idea of emulating the 1930s New Deal to promote environmentalism is an old idea repackaged in a new form. In 1960s Ohio, Lake Erie was proclaimed “dead” and the Cuyahoga River frequently caught on fire. Then there was Earth Day, debuting in 1970. With the birth of the modern environmentalist movement came the rise of Green Parties in most industrial democracies. The United States was the exception.

Still, local activists early on promoted eco-socialist programs and industrial policies. In the 1980s, the Detroit Alliance for a Rational Economy (DARE), a Marxist-influenced progressive organization, drew up elaborate plans to re-open the automobile factories to mass produce not internal combustion engines, but battery-driven cars and solar panels.

The term Red-Green Alliance proliferated in the 90s. It is associated with Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt’s denouncement of a Socialist and Green Party coalition as the “Red-Green Alliance.” More than a dozen of European parliamentary systems had functioning electoral united fronts. In Germany, Chancellor Schroder presided over such an alliance in running the country from 1998 to 2005.

One of the first adopters of the phrase “Green New Deal” was New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. An advocate of creating an economic stimulus policy that would simultaneously provide jobs and systematically move the power grid away from fossil fuels, Friedman wrote a few articles in early 2007 specifically endorsing a Green New Deal.

The next summer, a seminal report was put forth by a group calling itself the Green New Deal Group. The Group’s goal was to deal with the then triple crisis involving a credit crunch, climate change and over-priced oil. A Green New Deal was their solution. Almost immediately the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) embraced the Group’s report. Appalachian historian Jeff Biggers referred to a New Green Deal as a solution to mountaintop removal that he believed was destroying Appalachian culture. Achim Steiner of UNEP introduced a global Green New Deal Initiative in October 2008 with an objective to create green industry jobs to combat reverse climate change.

Howie Hawkins, the 2010 New York Green Party gubernatorial candidate, ran on a Green New Deal platform. Jill Stein’s 2012 Green Party presidential campaign centered around a detailed Green New Deal program. Four years later, the Party embraced the mantle of eco-socialism. The New Republic would write in 2019 how “The Democrats stole the Green Party’s best idea.”

But, major parties stealing from third parties is nothing new in U.S. history. Ironically, Roosevelt’s New Deal was borrowed from the 1908 Socialist Party platform of Eugene Victor Debs.

Not all Democrats want to steal or even borrow the Green New Deal as policy. Senator Dianne Feinstein is openly opposed to it. Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown does not endorse it.

The list of Green New Deal supporters is long and illustrious, including former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis supports AOC’s legislation and former Vice President Al Gore finds it a convenient truth. Democratic presidential hopefuls on board are Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Andrew Yang and Marianne Williamson. Senator Brown, who explored a presidential run, recently dropped out –  perhaps because he was out of touch with the rank and file activists in his Party supporting the Green New Deal. 

Republican Senators sought to divide Democrats by staging an early vote on SR 59 without any discussion or expert witnesses. The Green New Deal lost 57-0. Democratic Senators, in protest of the stringent rules against discussion and expert witnesses, simply voted “Present.”

Key components of Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s bill are the following:

  • A jobs program paying living wages with benefits
  • The establishment of the right for people to have clean air and water
  • Higher education tuition and training for green technology jobs
  • A goal of 100% conversion to clean renewable energy
  • Environmentally friendly infrastructure upgrades
  • High-speed rail and mass transit
  • Upgrading buildings to make them green and energy efficient
  • Affordable access to electricity
  • Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 40-60 percent by 2030
  • Quality health care

Recently, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez passionately argued that the Green New Deal and people’s fundamental right to renewable energy and a clean environment are not “elitist” demands, but essential to provide basic human rights and dignity. In Detroit, AOC’s DSA comrades protested at this year’s auto show and held signs saying “Make Detroit the engine of the Green New Deal.”

Green New Deal advocates see it as crucial for saving the planet. They believe that corporate capitalism cannot reform itself and there must be a new green dream – one that is committed to equality. Other supporters point out that the federal government’s Works Project Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps of the New Deal put millions of people to work and solved the unemployment problem of the Great Depression. High-tech green jobs could lead to the long-time socialist demand of the right of every person to work.

Democratic Socialists, including Sen. Sanders and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, have done the people on our planet a great service by opening up the political debate on the Green New Deal – even if they had to borrow it from the Greens. Perhaps a new Red-Green Alliance will get the legislation passed.