At the Sanders Institute Gathering, Jane Sanders tells Paul Jay that voters shouldn’t support candidates who claim to be progressive, but don’t prioritize the fight against fossil fuel interests
PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.
The Gathering, a meeting of 200 or so progressive thought leaders invited to Burlington, Vermont, was a meeting to talk about what comes next in the coming 2020 elections to help create a vision, a policy framework, for what candidates might run on, what people might fight for. It comes at a rather momentous time in human history, as I said in one of the other interviews; 2020 is maybe the most important election anyplace, ever, given what’s at stake. The Gathering was called by Jane O’Meara Sanders, who’s co-founder of the Sanders Institute; now serves as a fellow. Jane served as a political consultant, has held appointed and elected office, and Jane was the driving force behind the Gathering. And she now joins us here in our studio at the Gathering. Thanks for joining us.
JANE SANDERS: Thanks, Paul.
PAUL JAY: Your hopes going in—and I heard this a little bit in the email back and forth—is we don’t want to spend all this time trashing Trump. We really want to talk policy and what a different world might look like. How do you feel that was achieved?
JANE SANDERS: I was astounded. I mean, we had 49 speakers in 48 hours. And actually, I think a few added on during the weekend. It was thought provoking, inspiring, much better than I had ever envisioned. I had pretty high thoughts for this weekend. We came—you mentioned thought leaders. And what I realized by the end is they’re not just progressive thought leaders. They are bringing the heart to the, their hearts to the causes, to the issues that we talked about. They’re leading from values and principles, and then their intellect informs the rest. But the first layer is the values and the principles that we espouse, for democracy and for human dignity.
PAUL JAY: The times we live in are, as I said, this may be—the coming election may be the most important ever, to a large extent because of climate change. If a climate denier is elected again, or if a corporate Democrat is elected who pays lip service to the climate crisis and doesn’t take effective action, we’re kind of screwed. We’re already close to 1.5 or 2 degrees above—in terms of warming, above pre-industrial averages. The tipping point is really within sight. In terms of the messaging of the extent of the crisis and what to do about it, do you think that was addressed here?
JANE SANDERS: I think it was. I think that people walked away with the concept that, and with the realization, that time is running out. And what we need to do is not just ask people what to do or inform people about the issue.
One of the things that we need to do, and the reason for the Gathering, was to amplify each other’s voices, resonate on the issues. We need leadership that actually says, I’m sorry, this is a crisis. We need to address it now. Not next year, not the year after. It’s leadership at the local, the statewide, the national, the international level. Not just people who are elected, but people who want to make a difference in the world.
At the end of the climate crisis panel, Bill McKibben said that we need to have healthcare, Medicare for All, a $15 minimum wage, and 100% renewable. Those are not the only things. But the 100% renewable and the focus on the climate crisis has to be at the outset of anybody running for office. Where do you stand? Where do you stand? Not [crosstalk]
PAUL JAY: Absolutely. But I’m not hearing it. Even with progressive candidates it’s like, I have to say even to some extent Bernie, although he’s certainly better than any of the others that actually have a mainstream role. But the extent of the threat is not like—it’s got to be front and center. We’re often, it’s like a shopping list, healthcare, Medicare for all, $15, climate. Well, climate is, it doesn’t matter if you get $15 an hour if we ain’t here. There seems to be a feeling both amongst people that work on this issue in the climate sector, people involved in political campaigns, that if you talk about the extent of the crisis you’re just going to scare people. Well, shouldn’t we be scaring people?
JANE SANDERS: I think so. I think you’re absolutely right. And we have to start—I believe a lot of people have conferences, and that’s the end game. Let’s have a conference. This was a jumping off point. We want to have the conference inform future action. What I heard from the questions from the attendees, the hallway conversations was that we have to hold people accountable. It’s not from a perception of you have to vote for this or vote for that. What do you understand about the climate crisis? Where do you stand on it, what are you willing to do, and what are you not willing to do? Don’t talk to me about in sound bites, don’t talk to me to say climate crisis is really bad, but no, I’m not going to fight the pipelines in the states. I’m not going to not take fossil fuel industry money. I think with the climate crisis, I think more than anything else we have to draw a very clear line and say these are the expectations. If you don’t do this, I don’t care how progressive you are, supposedly, it’s not—we’re not interested.
PAUL JAY: It’s got to be a criteria people use on who they vote for. But to do that we’ve got to get into those sections amongst working people who right now, climate is barely on the top 20 of their list. We did some work in southern Pennsylvania, we’ve done work around Baltimore where we’re based. And without doubt, the day-to-day suffering is such that people, they want that addressed. This thing has to be framed in a way that it is today. It’s not some great future prospect. And it’s your kids at stake, your grandkids at stake. The messaging is not getting through much to ordinary people.
JANE SANDERS: Well, when you look at the floods and the torrential rains and the fires, there is no analysis of that on the news. They cover it like voyeurs to say, oh, look at this terrible thing that’s happening. These people are helping, this is good news. The community is coming together, great. But they don’t ever ask why. Why is this occurring? Cover the science. And that is not happening. They need to cover the science.
PAUL JAY: Every day.
JANE SANDERS: Yeah, every day. But they’re not, and we need to insist they do.
PAUL JAY: We’re going to be, we are. and we’re going to be every day doing science. Because what’s missing from the whole discourse for ordinary people, people coming in on the issue, is the sense of urgency. People that understand what’s going on, we feel a sense of urgency, but there’s still this feeling that you can’t tell people that because it’s going to overwhelm them. It’s like treating people like kids.
JANE SANDERS: Partly. But I also think that people don’t want to have—want to just focus on a problem without a solution. Many of the people that are speaking about it or looking for votes don’t want to deal with the solutions. I do think that we have an opportunity at this point in time to say, to lay out what this administration has been doing in terms of rolling back air and water and all this, and all these regulations, and to recognize the support they’re giving to the fossil fuel industry with our tax dollars and not to renewables, which would help us. But to be able to say there is an answer.
The House just turned, and we should be making it very clear to the Democrats that are in control of the House, are you going to do something? If you’re not going to do something, thank you very much, we’re not going to be supporting you. If we say to the people, this is what you can do, and this is what we expect of you as leaders in your community or as elected leaders, we need your voice out there, then we can make a change. I think people need to not just focus only on the climate crisis, because as you say, that’s what everybody is saying. Everybody is going to be very nervous about it and very concerned. They should be, but we have to give them a path forward. We have to say how are you going to be able to make this-
PAUL JAY: Well, one of the things that came out of the conference was the discussion of a new green deal, a Green New Deal, I should say, which seems to make a lot of sense. It makes a lot of sense when you already understand why we need a new green deal—Green New Deal. Most people don’t even get the urgency of that.
JANE SANDERS: I think the bully pulpit really matters. The people in that room, and hopefully the people that watched on livestream, and the people that watch the things we’ll be putting out in the future at the Sanders Institute, will understand more. And Real News. You’ve been talking to people this entire time to have the Real News be covering the science, covering the facts, and having people who are in a position to lead their communities to solution. That helps. Now, the problem is that so many of the solutions, or so many of the approaches, seem to be protesting only. That’s not what we—I mean, protests are very important. That’s not enough. What we need to do is demand accountability, demand that they don’t take money from pipeline, they don’t support banks that fund pipelines. We need to say to our representatives and to the media, we expect you to ask and answer serious questions that are complex and not just give us sound bites.
PAUL JAY: I got a suggestion for the Sanders Institute.
JANE SANDERS: Okay.
PAUL JAY: One of the things I learned over the weekend was how Barcelona has created a publicly owned energy company. It seems to me more of that kind of program, like here’s what, if you actually took over a city, major city in this country, here’s what a city can do, here’s what a state could do. Also in terms of Congress, I think there’s going to be a real fight over whether real hearings are going to be held over what to do about climate change or trash Trump. I have no problem with trashing Trump. But if the focus is on that it’s just more of the same rhetorical battle.
JANE SANDERS: I agree. I think, unfortunately, the Democrats have a great opportunity, and unfortunately I’m concerned that they are going to blow it and focus on investigations, investigations, investigations. People want them to pay attention to the real issues facing their lives. And what’s happening now, I know, I really want Medicare for All, I really want $15 minimum wage, we want a lot of things. And a lot of new ideas and replicable policies came out of this conference. In terms of the climate crisis, what we need to do is focus on it, and if they don’t deliver to the voters that put them in, I think that it’s over. I think it’s over for that party. I don’t, I think-
PAUL JAY: It’s over for us humans.
JANE SANDERS: Well, but no. Because I think if they don’t focus on real change, on effecting real change, especially in this area, I think that we will be able to lead from below.
PAUL JAY: The logic—I mean, other than the fact that a whole section of the Democratic Party is very tied up with finance and fossil fuel, but set that aside for a second. They accept the dictatorship of corporate media. What I mean by that is the corporate news media is making a fortune out of this partisan battle. Not only does it drive ratings, because it’s like watching a football game, then the parties spend a billion, over a billion dollars, billions on advertising and campaigns. The partisan war, the news media loves. The logic goes if we have a hearing on climate change they won’t cover it.
JANE SANDERS: That’s what they said, actually. They have said that to us, that the ratings on climate change don’t matter. Then, at the same time, the ratings on fires and floods, they cover ad nauseum. Now, how hard would it be to cover them in a way that said these are the facts, this is climate change at work. This is why it’s happening. And this is what you can expect to happen later. These parts of the world are going to be underwater, and there’s going to be mass migration, and there’s going to be food shortages. They don’t have to cover it all at once. But when you look at things and you see the same footage for three days of terrible personal pain that people are experiencing, the loss of their homes and of their communities and even their cities, instead of saying, okay, we don’t have to put that on again, we can keep informing the people. That’s my, one of my concerns, is I think the fourth estate has been letting us down. A democracy requires an informed electorate. The media, the fourth estate, is supposed to inform the public. They’re not doing that. They’re selling ratings. But they’re not even thinking deeply about it. Because if they covered the fires and explained them, they’d get the same ratings.
PAUL JAY: I agree with you. But I have no expectation that corporate news media is going to change. This Democratic-controlled House, if they’re serious about climate change, they can create hearings with as much drama as the Kavanaugh hearings. You know, subpoena the head of Exxon, create a real dramatic presentation.
JANE SANDERS: Like they did with tobacco years ago, under Henry Waxman.
PAUL JAY: Exactly. But they have to want to do it. And that’s going to be a fight.
JANE SANDERS: It is going to be a fight, because people don’t want to take on the banks. They don’t want to take on the fossil fuel industry. They don’t want to take on the large donors and the big corporations. My hope is there will be—and I know there will be a group of people that will in the new Congress. And the Progressive Caucus in the Congress is pretty good.
PAUL JAY: There is a group now pushing for hearings on a Green New Deal.
JANE SANDERS: I think we’ll see some, for once, moving in the right direction. And I think the fact that under the Trump administration so many things have been so difficult for not just climate crisis, but everything, that I think people are beginning to realize we can’t take six more years of this. We can’t possibly survive that well. I guess that’s dramatic but-
PAUL JAY: A lot of people won’t survive.
JANE SANDERS: Yeah, a lot of people won’t. I think people are getting that. I have more faith in the American people. I think that they’re going to pay attention if they can be informed. That’s why places like The Real News and the Sanders Institute and all the people that were here from different organizations are so important, because—you started it with I don’t think they know. That education is extremely important.
PAUL JAY: Great, thanks very much.
JANE SANDERS: Thank you.
PAUL JAY: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.