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Climate activists bring New Deal to Strand

Green New Deal rally in Dorchester

Brian Wright O’Connor
Climate activists bring New Deal to Strand
U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley speaks in favor of the Green New Deal during a rally at the Strand Theatre in Upham’s Corner. PHOTO: ELLA MCDONALD

By the time U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley hobbled onto the worn floorboards of the historic Strand Theater, the capacity crowd of climate-change evangelists was already chanting, cheering and rising to their feet, fired up by the promise of a green revolution.

The first-term congresswoman, recovering from a fall, didn’t disappoint. Pressley turned it up a notch, calling climate change “the most persistent threat to our nation” and vowing to champion a “Green New Deal” to save the planet and usher in a new era of racial and economic justice.

Sunrise Movement Executive Director Varshini Prakash and U.S. Sen. Ed Markey. PHOTO: ELLA MCDONALD

Sunrise Movement Executive Director Varshini Prakash and U.S. Sen. Ed Markey. PHOTO: ELLA MCDONALD

“I took it literally when you sent me to Washington to kick butt!” thundered the lawmaker to her home-district Dorchester audience. “But I tore my MCL. My legs have been compromised but my voice hasn’t been affected!”

Speaking before a backdrop of posters bearing the slogans and distinctive black-and-yellow logo of the grassroots Sunrise Movement, Pressley lambasted critics who have scoffed at the progressive coalition backing the Green New Deal, the ambitious resolution filed in Congress by Pressley’s upstart freshman colleague, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and veteran U.S. Sen. Ed Markey.

“Some of my colleagues across the aisle have chastised us as the few elite who care about this issue. But this is hardly a movement led by the 1 percent who hop on planes to Davos,” said Pressley, sweeping her arms as if to include the gritty Uphams Corner neighborhood anchored by Columbia Road and Dudley Street. “This is a movement of the 99 percent!”

The mostly millennial and multi-racial crowd of students, union activists, local residents and environmentalists responded with a roar, echoing the energy of a political wave that helped shape the 2018 House takeover by Democrats and that will likely continue through the 2020 electoral cycle.

The Sunrise Movement, headed by Bay State native Varshini Prakash, a 25-year-old UMass Amherst graduate, launched its national tour in Boston as part of a long-range campaign to uproot fossil-fuel influence in Washington and achieve a net-zero carbon emissions economy within 10 years while guaranteeing living wages, family and medical leave, universal health care and retirement security. 

The nonprofit highlights the disparate impact of pollution from highways, refineries, coal extraction and natural gas fracking on the poor, especially on communities of color. It also frames the Green New Deal as an engine of job creation, with millions of workers needed to install solar panels, build wind farms, and provide energy upgrades to homes and commercial buildings in order to transform the nation’s energy economy.

Pastor Mariamma White-Hammond. PHOTO: ELLA MCDONALD

Pastor Mariamma White-Hammond. PHOTO: ELLA MCDONALD

The success of 2018 candidates running on an aggressive platform of addressing climate change led to the Green New Deal resolution and the efforts of groups like the Sunrise Movement to put organizational muscle behind it. A post-election sit-in at incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, organized by the Sunrise Movement and attended by Ocasio-Cortez, signaled that no office-holder would be spared their attention.

After the Democratic Socialist lawmaker from the Bronx joined with Massachusetts’ Markey to formally file the resolution in February, Pressley became an original co-signer of the Green New Deal, which backers promise to use as a litmus test for all House, Senate and presidential candidates in 2020. Seven of the announced Democratic White House hopefuls have signed up as sponsors along with prominent members like civil rights icon U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat.

The 100-plus co-sponsors stand in stark contrast to President Donald Trump, who pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord, canceled the landmark Clean Power Plan by the EPA to limit fossil power plant emissions and has called global warming “a hoax.”

Markey, appearing on the Strand stage shortly after Pressley limped off, praised his Bay State colleague for already having “reached one-word status, like Beyoncé” and sounded similar themes linking the crusade against climate change to policies promoting job growth and racial justice.

“The planet is running a fever. There is no emergency room for the planet,” said the long-time environmentalist. “We have to put in place preventive care to protect from the worst impacts of global climate change.”

“When we talk about a Green New Deal,” he added, “we are talking about jobs and justice. We are talking about the greatest blue-collar jobs program in a generation. We are talking about repairing the historic oppression of frontline and vulnerable communities, which have borne the worst burdens of our fossil fuel economy.”

From electric vehicles and wind farms to battery storage and energy efficiency upgrades, the shift from a fossil-fuel economy will require huge investments of capital and political will, said Markey, whose partnership with Ocasio-Cortez has increased his own political capital with younger and more liberal voters as he faces re-election in 2020.

“This is the national security, public health and moral issue of our time,” said Markey. “The Green New Deal will signal that business as usual is over.”

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