Varshini Prakash of the Sunrise Movement talks about why hundreds of activists occupied Nancy Pelosi’s offices demanding a Green New Deal and an end to fossil fuel contributions
DHARNA NOOR: It’s The Real News. I’m Dharna Noor in Baltimore.
Hundreds of activists occupied House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office on Tuesday, demanding action on climate change. Fifty-one were arrested. The protest was led by the environmental group the Sunrise Movement and the political action committee Justice Democrats, and they were joined by Representative-Elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York. The activists are demanding Pelosi and the House Democrats champion a Green New Deal and mandate that all Democrats elected to the House pledge not to take any fossil fuel money. Pelosi responded to the protests. She called them inspiring.
Now joining us from D.C. to talk more about this is Varshini Prakash. Varshini is a co-founder of the Sunrise Movement, and she currently serves as their communications director. Thanks so much for coming on today.
VARSHINI PRAKASH: Happy to be here.
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DHARNA NOOR: So- OK. We’re recording on Tuesday afternoon, and this morning you saw dozens of your fellow protesters get arrested at Pelosi’s offices. You saw a representative-elect join your ranks again. She even stood on a table supporting y’all. How are you feeling right now?
VARSHINI PRAKASH: Well, I feel excited. I feel energized. I also feel exhausted. But a lot of the energy of this morning is really keeping me going. I mean, what it felt like to see somebody who will literally walk the halls of power joining us in that moment, and calling for some of the same things that we’re calling for. Calling on Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leadership to step up on climate and show real climate leadership by backing a program like a Green New Deal to actually transform our economy and society at scale over the next 12 years to stop the climate crisis, and mandate that politicians at Nancy Pelosi’s level and who hold positions of power and Democratic leadership really need to take the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge and reject contributions from oil and gas executives and lobbyists.
DHARNA NOOR: And the way that you’re demanding Pelosi get to this Green New Deal is to create a new committee. The Select Committee for a Green New Deal, you’re calling it. And in response to your protest she said, “I have recommended to my House Democratic colleagues that we reinstate the Select Committee to address the climate crisis.” I guess here he is referring to the committee that she created in 2007, the Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. Sunrise responded that she’s “bringing a squirt gun to a wildfire.” Talk about this response, and what exactly the Green New Deal that you’re demanding would entail. What would she have to do?
VARSHINI PRAKASH: Yeah. Well, if you look at the actual House committee that she’s talking about, it really had no teeth. It had no ability to draft legislation. It was largely an outfit to just do messaging and communication about climate change. And frankly, the time to educate the public and increase awareness about the issue has far gone. It’s 2018. We are rapidly approaching a deadline, a science-mandated deadline, in the next 12 years to decarbonise our economy.
And so instead of the committee that Nancy Pelosi is proposing, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Sunrise Movement, and Justice Democrats are proposing that she create a committee, a House Select Committee on a Green New Deal that would actually have the power to draft legislation and build some understanding, put forward big, bold, popular solutions to the climate crisis, so that when 2021 and beyond comes we can actually put some of this legislation into practice.
DHARNA NOOR: So talk more about the pledge that you’re asking- or that you’re demanding, rather- that all House Democrats sign. Again, this pledge is to not accept any fossil fuel donations. And some have already signed it. Could you talk a little bit more about what that looks like, and what kind of support you’ve gotten?
VARSHINI PRAKASH: Sure. I think something that’s really cool is that all of the powerhouse young politicians who supported us today and yesterday, Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, were actually some of the first signers of the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge, which calls on politicians to reject the influence, the financial influence, from oil and gas executives, lobbyists, and front groups. We really identified fossil fuel money in our politics, like all corporate money in our politics, as being a huge, huge influencer. We’ve seen the Koch brothers spend $750 million on the 2016 elections. They spent a record $450 million on the midterm elections, which is absolutely unprecedented. And so this influx of dirty oil money has really corrupted our democracy and our ability to make sound decisions about the climate crisis and put forth the solutions that we need.
So it only seems to make sense, and seems pretty common sense, that somebody who would sit on a committee to pass big bold climate legislation wouldn’t be bought out by the very companies that are, that only seem to care about their bottom line when it comes to a climate crisis.
DHARNA NOOR: Talk more about what those solutions are. What exactly is a Green New Deal, and what kinds of solutions do you think would really address the climate crisis? What are your issues with some of the things that have been proposed in the House previously, for example?
VARSHINI PRAKASH: Yeah, totally. I mean, I think … The thing about the Green New Deal is that it’s just coming into fruition now, some of the language around it. And I think a lot of the things that have been put forward for what this Select Committee would actually do, or the plan that the Select Committee would actually make and the draft legislation that they would create lays this out a little bit. It includes things like transitioning to a 100 percent renewable energy economy. It includes things like ending fossil fuel subsidies for corporations. It could look like politicians not taking money from the fossil fuel industry. It includes the electrification of our grid and of vehicles and transportation.
The list is endless. It could include massive investments, the creation of tens of millions of good jobs for Americans, and also investments for low-income communities and communities of color to actually weather the storm, so to speak, and enhance climate resiliency in those communities as well.
And there are lots of examples of legislation like this in New York, in Chicago. California just passed a 100 percent renewable energy electricity bill. So there are examples of states doing this, and we think it’s time that the federal government actually step up as well.
DHARNA NOOR: But I think to all of that, I think Pelosi would say that she has stepped up. I mean, the creation of the Select Committee in 2007 that we discussed previously. She championed [cap and trade]. Talk about why these- you don’t think that these actions have been enough, and what else you think that she needs to do to really be a climate champion.
VARSHINI PRAKASH: Yeah. Well, it’s really about the urgency of the matter. If you look at the recent IPCC report that just came out, the UN climate report, which I’m sure many of you saw the news about, science that tells us that we have 12 years for a rapid wartime-esque economic mobilization to stop the climate crisis. That is no joke. And rumors prior to the election were showing that Democratic leaders like Nancy Pelosi and others were actually only talking about creating a plan around the climate crisis in 2021 or beyond. And we wanted to just draw a line to say that waiting till 2021 or beyond to even start talking about the solutions to this crisis is delivering a death sentence on our generation, and on many generations to come.
We are terrified for our future. A lot of us aren’t even old enough to vote yet. We have seen the ways that wildfires have- drought-driven wildfires have ravaged California, Nancy Pelosi’s home state. Forty-two people perished. Entire towns just nonexistent because they’ve gone up in flames. And so we’re really seeing the potency and the urgency of this moment. And we just want to make clear to Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leadership that there’s no time for talk and education. That time is over. The science is sound. We have everything we need. We just need you to be a leader and push for the big bold solutions that are already popular with the vast majority of Americans.
DHARNA NOOR: So what’s next, now? Today you occupied Nancy Pelosi’s offices. What kinds of support are you getting, and what are the next steps for Sunrise and Justice Democrats?
VARSHINI PRAKASH: Totally. Well, a less televised part of this whole thing was that there was actually a group of people, the folks who did not risk arrest, went around and lobbied different progressive leaders in the house. So we talked to Raul Grijalva, we talked to Pocan, we talk to Pramila Jayapal, we talked to Ro Khanna, and we asked them to support us and issue statements of support if they thought that this Select Committee ought to be on a Green New Deal and have more power than what Pelosi is putting out right now.
And so we are going to continue to push forward with that. We’ll be- if you’re interested in getting involved I would go to SunriseMovement.org and sign up. We’re looking for more and more people to add their voices so we can call on these progressive leaders to support AOC’s, Ocasio’s new resolution that she is bringing forward, and a lot of the pressure will keep up in the next two to three weeks.
DHARNA NOOR: And how will you ensure that the Select Committee that you’re pushing would have teeth? If you’re saying that the Energy Independence and Global Warming Committee didn’t have teeth, how would you ensure that this one really does?
VARSHINI PRAKASH: Well, I think it’s just about continuing to ensure that we’re making our voices heard. I mean, obviously nothing is set in stone. We will continue to push from the outside folks like AOC, Rashida Tlaib, people like Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, who have backed a Green New Deal, who have put forward claims that we need to get to 100 percent renewable by 2035 even, not even some of the other benchmarks that other progressive leaders are talking about. We know that they are going to be in the halls of power fighting with and for us, and we’re going to be fighting from the outside to make sure that this committee is really following the principles and policies that we need them to, and that we need in order to act in accordance with what science and justice demands.
DHARNA NOOR: So the committee that you’re proposing would be able to write legislation, actually, unlike the one in 2007. Is that right?
VARSHINI PRAKASH: Right. It would be able to draft. Yes.
DHARNA NOOR: OK. Well, as you continue on this fight we’d love to stay in touch with you and see what comes next. Thanks so much for coming on today.
VARSHINI PRAKASH: Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me. And again, SunriseMovement.org. Get involved, especially if you are a young person who is worried about the climate crisis and your future. We are with you. We feel you. Go to SunriseMovement.org and get involved.
DHARNA NOOR: And here on The Real News Network we will continue to follow the Sunrise Movement, we’ll continue to follow what’s happening with climate change in the House and beyond the House, so stay tuned. Thanks again, Varshini, for coming on. And thank you for watching The Real News Network.