Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, activists map out next steps in ‘Green New Deal’ bid

By Gregory Krieg, CNN

New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and allied progressive groups are ramping up their push for a Green New Deal.

The initiative came to national prominence after Ocasio-Cortez joined young activists from the Sunrise Movement at a protest in then-Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office during orientation for incoming House freshman last year.

Ocasio-Cortez, the Justice Democrats, a progressive group that recruited the Bronx-born New Yorker to run, and Sunrise are now poised to throw their organizing muscle behind the ambitious suite of policy proposals, which would move the country toward 100% renewable energy through a series of economic reforms, including a jobs guarantee and heavy public investment in low or no-carbon infrastructure like light rail for commuters.

Movement leaders do not agree on a price tag. Estimates run in the hundreds of billions of dollars, or more. But they argue a combination of tax hikes on the super wealthy — Ocasio-Cortez has floated a 70% rate on income over $10 million — and cuts to fossil fuel industry subsidies and military spending, in addition to the stimulative effects of the new public spending would offset any cost.

As part of the new outreach, organizers will train volunteers — online and in-person at a series of events this spring — to more effectively confront elected officials and ask for their support. The “Road to a GND Tour” was drawn up as a traveling pressure campaign designed to secure the support of political leaders, from mayors and city council members to federal lawmakers, around the country.

The idea of a Green New Deal has, in just a few months, become a central piece of Ocasio-Cortez’s agenda and attracted the attention of ambitious national Democrats.

“I am thrilled to see so many of the potential 2020 presidential candidates embracing the idea of a Green New Deal,” Ocasio-Cortez told CNN. “The oil and gas lobbyists won’t back down without a fight and that’s why we need to support groups like Sunrise Movement in their efforts to keep the pressure up. When the scientific consensus says that you have 12 years to avoid climate catastrophe, it’s time to get to work.”

Those efforts are also now slated to include a large scale demonstration outside one of the first Democratic presidential primary debates, where Sunrise organizers are hoping that thousands of young activists will gather to demand the candidates onstage back the program. So far, Sens. Bernie Sanders, Jeff Merkley, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker have — to varying degrees — offered their support.

Ocasio-Cortez’s efforts on Capitol Hill have so far met with mixed reactions from even liberal lawmakers. Her request to establish a committee specifically focused on developing and advancing a Green New Deal mostly fell flat with Democratic leadership, which has instead empaneled a Select Committee on the Climate Crisis to be chaired by Florida Rep. Kathy Castor.

Castor came under fire from climate activists and some progressive Democrats after telling E&E News in December that she would not deny seats on the panel to members who had accepted donations from the fossil fuel industry, calling it a “First Amendment” issue. She has since backed off that position and pledged, in a subsequent interview with Sludge, to forswear those contributions herself. But the committee is not expected to have subpoena power, a sticking point with progressives who want the authority to compel energy executives to appear under oath.

“Democratic leaders had an opportunity to embrace young people’s energy and back the Green New Deal, but they failed us once again,” Sunrise co-founder Varshini Prakash said in a statement. “In 2019, we’re going to talk to the millions of young people scared about climate change and get them organizing to demand that every congressional and presidential candidate back the Green New Deal.”

Sunrise, along with Ocasio-Cortez and the Justice Democrats, are concerned that the committee itself is not committed to addressing climate change issues over the 12-year timeline addressed in the detailed and dire October report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“I don’t want to see my own district under water and I know that Leader Pelosi doesn’t either and I know that what we need to show her is we’re here to back her up in pushing for 100% renewable energy,” Ocasio-Cortez told CNN during the November sit-in at Pelosi’s office. “This is to show that we are here to back up bold action and that, you know she will be supported in that.”

In response, they are also threatening to launch or back more aggressive primary challenges in 2020 to Democratic members who oppose or stay silent on the Green New Deal.

“We’re going to recruit Democratic primary challengers for House races in 2020 who will fight with us,” said Alexandra Rojas, executive director of the Justice Democrats, “and we’ll keep putting pressure on Democrats in Congress and those running for President in 2020 to support the Green New Deal.”

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