Winning the Green New Deal: Why We Must, How We Can
Reviewed by Phila Hoopes
June 1, 2022
Edited by Varshini Prakash and Guido Girgenti. Simon & Schuster, 2020. 384 pages. $18/paperback; $13.99/eBook.
Revolutionary as the Green New Deal may have appeared a few years ago, the truth is that it was only the newest iteration of a vision that had been growing since the Green Party first advanced it in 2006. A year later, Thomas Friedman wrote of it in the New York Times and in greater detail in his 2008 book Hot, Flat, and Crowded. From there, the British Green New Deal group took it up, and the United Nations Environment Programme began to promote it internationally. The idea reappeared periodically in the United States as Green Party candidates Howie Hawkins and Jill Stein ran on its platform in 2010, 2012, and 2016.
Then in February 2019, newly sworn-in Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez launched House Resolution 109 to create a committee on the Green New Deal, just as the Sunrise Movement youth climate action group and other organizations were lobbying House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to support her initiative.
As described by the Sunrise Movement, the Green New Deal is “a congressional resolution to mobilize every aspect of American society to 100% clean and renewable energy, guarantee living-wage jobs for anyone who needs one, and a just transition for both workers and frontline communities—all in the next ten years.”
Despite broad support among the U.S. public, elected officials, environmental and social nonprofits, and the House of Representatives, follow-up proposals for the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis did not contain the language or the fact-finding powers urged by Green New Deal advocates. On March 20, 2019, the Green New Deal resolution was defeated in a forced early Senate vote, without discussion or testimony.
A year later, the Sunrise Movement published Winning the Green New Deal: Why We Must, How We Can. It’s a compilation of passionate, informative, and exhaustively footnoted essays by more than 20 proponents of the Green New Deal (GND), including political author and activist Naomi Klein; environmentalist Bill McKibben; and Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz; GND policy architect Rhiana Gunn-Wright; Sunrise Movement executive director and co-founder Varshini Prakash; and Guido Girgenti, Sunrise Movement founding board member and Justice Democrats media director.
Beginning with a deep dive into “The Crisis They Won’t Let Us Solve”—the planet’s rising temperature, the misdirection by the fossil fuel corporations responsible, and the dual impacts of “market fundamentalism” and racism—the book examines in depth the “Green New Deal Visions and Policies,” including the benefits for particularly vulnerable populations, such as workers; the Gulf South; and Indigenous reservations threatened by pipelines, such as Keystone XL and Dakota Access. It concludes with a call to action: “Organizing to Win the Green New Deal,” invoking “People Power and Political Power” through organizing; voting; demonstrations and labor strikes; and union across the divides of race, gender and sexual orientation, religion, class, and political affiliation.
Interspersed among its chapters are vivid personal experiences of the Paradise fire, of the decline of the seafood-based economy in southern Florida after Deepwater Horizon, and of an immigrant from Iran witnessing the decline of U.S. democracy. These are all heart-wrenching testaments to how much we all stand to lose.
The “Acknowledgments” section is an awe-inspiring testament to group process and collaboration with tributes to the movement, its volunteers and organizational allies; the book team and the support given to the writers, not only in editing but also coaching and perspective; and the mentors, ancestors, and allies undergirding the whole endeavor.
Winning the Green New Deal is just one part of the Sunrise Movement’s five-phase strategy to win the Green New Deal, according to the Sunrise Movement website (sunrisemovement.org). Those phases were:
- Launch the movement (2017).
- Make climate change matter in the midterm elections (2018).
- Make the entire country feel the urgency of the crisis (2019).
- Win governing power by bringing it home through the 2020 general election.
- Engage in mass noncooperation to interrupt business as usual and win a GND (2021).
The movement can point to victories since the first defeat of the Green New Deal. For example, President Biden rejoined the Paris Climate Accords, which reflected Green New Deal goals, and progressive legislators have been taking positive action. With Republican resistance leading to the watering down or scrapping of GND-inspired elements of the Build Back Better plan, much remains to be done.
Leading up to Earth Day 2021, Representative Ocasio-Cortez, Senator Ed Markey, and other Democratic lawmakers reintroduced H.R. 332, “Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal.” In the latest update from October 19, 2021, it had been referred to the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties. And there it languishes, as President Biden struggles to breathe life back into the moribund Build Back Better initiative.
And the Sunrise Movement’s five-phase strategy? Well, starting in December 2021, the organization issued a call on its website for supporters to participate in hub workshops for content testing: those meetings were ongoing through February and March. Sunrise Facebook posts are promoting election reform and pro-GND legislative candidates for the midterms.
Is Winning the Green New Deal a historical relic, or is it still relevant? It was intended to serve as a foundation stone, a jumping-off point, and it succeeds. It gives perspective; tells powerful, moving stories; and offers the impetus to get involved.
Yes, the Green New Deal is embattled in the United States, though it seems to be moving forward steadily in the rest of the world. But the Sunrise Movement and their allies are regrouping for a new groundswell, and with their tenacious organizing behind it, I would say (and hope and pray) the Green New Deal is far from dead.
Phila Hoopes is a freelance copywriter for regenerative business, a permaculture practitioner, and spiritual edgewalker. She lives in Baltimore, Md., where she is a member of Homewood Meeting.