On the morning of November 13, 2018, more than 200 youth protesters with Sunrise, a movement “building an army of young people to stop climate change,” stormed House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office, “urging Democrats to act more decisively on climate change.”
“Recent developments show the Democratic Party leadership has no intention of fighting for a real climate plan in the new Congress,” wrote Sunrise in their petition. “With the UN’s recent climate report, the Democratic Party leadership’s position is tantamount to climate denial. The science is undisputed, we have the technology, and the public is overwhelmingly on the side of bold action on climate and jobs — the only thing standing in the way of a livable future is the failure of political leadership.”
The resolution brought forward by the Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats, two youth-led organizations pushing for a “Green New Deal” — “has a number of interesting provisions, but two demands are central: that the committee be given a mandate to develop a Green New Deal that would decarbonize the US economy, and that no members be appointed who accept donations from the fossil fuel industry,” according to Vox.
The protesters gained the support of Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who, just weeks away from being sworn into office, called on Pelosi to create and give teeth to a new select committee on climate change.
“I just want to let you all know how proud I am of each and every single one of you for putting yourselves and your bodies and everything on the line to make sure that we save our planet, our generation and our future,” Ocasio-Cortez said inside Nancy Pelosi’s office. “It’s so incredibly important.”
The problem with that committee, Ocasio-Cortez and the Sunrise activists argue, was that it wasn’t funded well enough and didn’t have the true ability to write legislation. In 2009, Pelosi pushed through cap-and-trade legislation, meant to reduce emissions. But even that package moved largely through the Energy and Commerce Committee — not the select committee Pelosi had created. Markey, who chaired a subcommittee under Energy and Commerce, played a lead role in pushing through the bill, which became known as the Waxman-Markey bill, but it never came to a floor vote in the Senate. Some activists argued that it wasn’t robust enough to meet the threat of climate change, while defenders argued it was the best the chamber could do — and, as it turned out, it was far better than the Senate could do.
Grim and Gray wrote that Drew Hammill, Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff, “responded to the protest by saying that Pelosi is already on board with the proposals of the New Green Deal and the strengthening of the committee.”
Pelosi’s Twitter account released a statement noting that the House Minority Leader is “Deeply inspired by the young activists & advocates leading the way on confronting climate change.”
“The climate crisis threatens the futures of communities nationwide,” the tweet states, “and I strongly support reinstating the select committee to address the crisis.”
While the Democratic establishment used this opportunity to dangle their support for a climate change agenda to their abused progressive base — and rub some youth activism on its tarnished brand — political operatives on the left continued the dubious strategy of attacking progressives who place the issue of climate change in the context of corporate and fossil fuel money in politics.
Take for example how Neera Tanden, President of “Center for American Progress,” a Washington, DC-based liberal think thank, replied to a thread started by Claire Sandberg, a progressive campaign organizer, about Democrats who still accept fossil fuel money:
Tanden’s answer, just two days before the Sunrise protests, is a perfect example of how Democrats support progressive demands in the mainstream, while using their platform and influence to attack those who rightfully put those demands in the context of Big Money in politics.
For reference, on August 10, 2018, the Democratic National Committee passed a resolution effectively backtracking on a ban on fossil fuel company donations. The resolution, which was introduced by DNC Chair Tom Perez, stated that the party will accept donations from “employers’ political action committees,” and was approved by a 30–2 vote just two months “after the committee adopted another resolution prohibiting donations from fossil fuel companies by a unanimous vote,” according to Alexander Kafuman at the Huffington Post.
When presented with this information, Tanden countered that this argument brings back “the insanity of 2016 and it’s really dumb.”
By decoupling our impending climate devastation from the profit motive that is directly causing it, Tanden and those like her do exactly what propagandists on the right do — she obfuscates the issue by using the straw man argument that “the donation rules and the Paris Climate Deal are not the same thing.”
While conservative pundits like Candace Owens and Ben Shapiro use anti-climate change propaganda that one would expect to find on Fox News or Breitbart, Tanden has the luxury of flaunting Democrats’ half-assed work in order to attack those on the left of the Democratic establishment who point liberals’ lack of specific proposals regarding climate change.
Obviously, Tanden has the right to support the view that political donations don’t determine political outcomes regarding climate change, or that the two are not connected. However, questioning Democrats’ fossil fuel donations has little to do with “the insanity of 2016.” According to PEW 2018 study, nearly two-thirds of Americans say “new laws would be effective in reducing the role of money in politics.”
Then there’s the extensive research in academic political science that has revealed “how a majority of voters are literally disenfranchised, in that their own representatives pay no attention to their wishes but listen to the voices of the donor class,” as Noam Chomsky often reminds us.
“Thomas Ferguson’s work is particularly revealing, going far back and including the 2016 election,” says Chomsky in a recent Truthout interview. “And that is a bare beginning. Legislation is commonly shaped, even written, by corporate lobbyists, while representatives who sign it have their eyes on funding for the next election.”
When Tanden disregards the reality of how Big Money affects the common voter, she essentially manipulates a large amount of people into questioning their own sanity, which is the definition of gaslighting.
This is why I’d advise progressives who want to maintain some grip on reality to stop following Tanden and other liberal think tank social media personalities, including paid trolls, who use their platforms to paint progressive demands as unattainable, while backing the Democratic Establishment at all costs.
Obscuring the link between “climate change” and “money in politics,” while questioning climate activists’ hate for Trump, is just one of many ways the Democratic Party’s coterie of media and think tanks normalize liberals’ lack of action on climate change, and ignore the actual demands of the Sunrise Movement.
More than a week after their initial encounter, Sunrise activists and Pelosi’s twitter account are still exchanging haikus about how and if their demands will be implemented:
Democrats and Republicans’ response to climate change activism illustrates that the two Parties aren’t that different in terms of how they view climate change. Here’s what Bill Mckibben wrote about Obama’s climate change legacy in a December 2013 article published in Rolling Stone:
If you want to understand how people will remember the Obama climate legacy, a few facts tell the tale: By the time Obama leaves office, the U.S. will pass Saudi Arabia as the planet’s biggest oil producer and Russia as the world’s biggest producer of oil and gas combined. In the same years, even as we’ve begun to burn less coal at home, our coal exports have climbed to record highs. We are, despite slight declines in our domestic emissions, a global-warming machine: At the moment when physics tell us we should be jamming on the carbon brakes, America is revving the engine.
Obama loyalists argue that these are as much as you could expect from a president saddled with the worst Congress in living memory. But that didn’t mean that the president had to make the problem worse, which he’s done with stunning regularity. Consider:
• Just days before the BP explosion, the White House opened much of the offshore U.S. to new oil drilling. (“Oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills,” he said by way of explanation. “They are technologically very advanced.”)
• In 2012, with the greatest Arctic melt on record under way, his administration gave Shell Oil the green light to drill in Alaska’s Beaufort Sea. (“Our pioneering spirit is naturally drawn to this region, for the economic opportunities it presents,” the president said.)
• This past August, as the largest forest fire in the history of the Sierra Nevadas was burning in Yosemite National Park, where John Muir invented modern environmentalism, the Bureau of Land Management decided to auction 316 million tons of taxpayer-owned coal in Wyoming’s Powder River basin. According to the Center for American Progress, the emissions from that sale will equal the carbon produced from 109 million cars.
Even with the data overwhelmingly on their side, Democrats have routinely avoided endorsing a comprehensive plan to combat climate change. That’s exactly what activists from the Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats asked for in November.
The Sunrise protests, and the establishment reactions they provoked, exemplified Democrats’ lack of strategy and initiative when it comes to engaging young people — a divide that was made painfully obvious in 2016. This isn’t likely to change, as organizations such as the Center for American Progress and Media Matters — which aren’t exactly known for engaging progressives in a meaningful way — continue to be funded by the liberal donor class.
Even more depressing is the fact that Center for American Progress oversees Generation Progress — Democrats’ answer to the vast network of right wing pundits who are spreading neoliberalism across U.S. campuses and new media outlets.
Much like Pelosi’s and other establishment Democrats’ Twitter feeds, press releases, and official statements, the phrases “Green New Deal” and “Medicare for All” are nowhere to be found on Generation Progress’s website. Instead, “young people” are encouraged to submit stories about how “dirty water and toxins in the air pose a direct threat to their health, families, and environment.”
Republicans: Same Result (We all Die in Floods), but Different Tranquilizing Methods
In my essay on the topic, “How Neoliberal ‘Millennial’ Organizations Advance Trump’s Agenda on U.S. Campuses,” I wrote about the main enterprises that spread “conservatism” on U.S. campuses— Young America’s Foundation(YAF), financed by the Koch brothers and Amway billionaires, and Turning Point USA (TPUSA), financed by billionaire Foster Friess and the family foundation of Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner.
“Throughout the spring semester TPUSA will bring its Big Government Sucks campaign to over 1,000 college campuses nationwide,” a Rauner Family Foundation newsletter stated in 2016.” “We are reaching hundreds of students per day, and a majority of which have not yet formed their political views. These students are being targeted by the liberal media, higher education, and culture on a daily basis; our job is to fight that.”
In the essay, I argue that “TPUSA and YAF operatives publicly support the stances of their right wing financiers. Their speakers’ support for fracking and deregulation, denying of climate change, and aggressive anti-left rhetoric make them the new faces of the same old neoliberal, corporate-sponsored story. In fact, their talking points rarely differ from those of Ted Cruz, George Bush, or Trump.”
While TPUSA and YAF stand proudly on the wrong side of history when it comes to climate change, their coordinated work on U.S. campuses and infiltration into new media illustrate their advantage over Democrat Party elites who choose to communicate with their young supporters through tweets.
Even more alarming is Pelosi’s desire to “find common ground” with Trump — a statement that should worry anyone who cares about the future of our planet and the progressive movement with Pelosi still in charge.
Republicans and Democrats engage young people in two distinct ways. Republicans build an elaborate facade of engagement, fueled by a trumped up threat of “free speech on campus,” while pushing their pro-corporate agenda in colleges all across the U.S., while Democrats gaslight their progressive wing through social media influencers and sponsored placements in mainstream liberal outlets.
As more of us realize that “the only thing standing in the way of a livable future is the failure of political leadership,” we should expose those who attempt to manipulate public opinion about climate change, or obfuscate issues connected to it for political brownie points.
I support the Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats’ proposal for a “Green New Deal.” My concern is that a Democratic leadership that is ready to deal with Trump — and has failed millions of progressives already — will continue to provide lukewarm support for comprehensive policy action addressing climate change, while gulping donor money and influence from the fossil fuel industry as long as humanly possible.