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250 youth with the Sunrise movement confronted the Senate Majority Leader about his decision to fast-track a Senate vote on the Green New Deal resolution

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DHARNA NOOR: It’s The Real News. I’m Dharna Noor.

On Monday, 250 young protesters with the youth-led environmental group the Sunrise Movement confronted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell about his decision to fast track a Senate vote on the Green New Deal resolution.

42 demonstrators were arrested. This action came just days after a dozen Sunrise protesters, mostly middle and high schoolers, confronted Senator Dianne Feinstein in her home state of California to demand that she support the resolution. Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey introduced this resolution for a Green New Deal earlier this month. It calls for the U.S. to move to net zero carbon emissions within a decade, and create millions of jobs in the process.

With me to discuss this today are two guests. Lily Gardner is a 15-year-old high school student from East Kentucky, and a Sunrise Movement member with her Kentucky delegation. Also joining us is Claire Tacherra-Morrison. She is a Sunrise Movement spokesperson for Mendocino County, California. Just hours ago both of them were protesting in Senator McConnell’s office on Capitol Hill. Claire actually just got out of jail. So thank you so much for being here today.

Thanks for having us.

DHARNA NOOR: Lily, I want to start with you. You’re from McConnell’s home state of Kentucky, which is a big hub for coal. Talk about what a Green New Deal would mean for Kentucky, and what you think that McConnell should be doing to support his state.

LILY GARDNER: Absolutely. So, growing up in eastern Kentucky I was very conscious of the generational poverty around me that came as a result of the fossil fuel industry. 30 years ago they recognized that the end of coal was coming, yet they just continued to deny, deny, deny, continuing to give these promises of prosperity, when in the end they became perpetrators of persecution. So when I was surrounded by these people living in these tiny trailers with barely enough food to eat, I realized that this issue of climate change is one that directly related to my experiences. The same things that were perpetuating climate change were perpetuating the poverty that I saw in my community.

So to me a Green New Deal showcases a unique opportunity for the voices of my community, who have never been listened to, to be heard. And also a chance for them to get good sustainable jobs, something they haven’t had an opportunity for in over half a century.

So I was in Mitch McConnell’s office, my senator, asking him to not only listen to me, who had traveled from Kentucky to speak to him, but listen to all of his constituents, specifically the ignored ones in eastern Kentucky, to look us in the eyes and explain to us why these fossil fuel corporations have been and are still more important than our futures and our livelihoods.

DHARNA NOOR: And, Claire, in a statement after your action, McConnell’s office said: “It’s worth noting that two weeks before, Senator McConnell had already announced that he would be bringing the Green New Deal up for a vote in the U.S. Senate.” What’s your response to that? Is that a way of moving this forward?

CLAIRE TACHERRA-MORRISON: So, we know that Senator McConnell is bringing the Green New Deal to a vote not because he’s voting for it. He has no plan to support the only solution to the climate and economic crises that our generation are facing. He was bringing it to a vote in order to quell the overwhelming support that we have seen since the rollout. Because we know that he is scared for this massive outswelling of support that we are seeing for this resolution that challenges him and his billionaire friends. So we actually see that as the opposite of him trying to move it forward. And he is playing games with our lives. So today we were calling on him to come and have the courage to look us in the eyes while he plays those games with our future.

DHARNA NOOR: And, Lily, in their statement, McConnell’s office also said “Last week, Senator McConnell’s state director met with a group of students from the organization in the Louisville office to discuss the issue.” What’s your reaction to that? I know that you weren’t actually at that action, but you must have known people who were there. And you’ve been doing organizing on the ground in Kentucky, too.

LILY GARDNER: Absolutely. I’ve been intrinsically involved with a lot of the organizing that’s gone on in Kentucky. So what happened in Louisville was this. On Tuesday, we tried to find Mitch McConnell. Erin Bridges and Destiny Griggs, the two speakers at the action, searched and searched and searched. But he, despite being on recess, was not in his home state. So they stood outside of his office waiting for him. They returned on Wednesday, and again they waited for him, outside, because they had been kicked out. Simply standing there, and waiting for him to have a meeting with them, to even speak with them. Then on Thursday, after those two attempts had been in vain, they decided that dire action was necessary. So they slept over. Students from across Louisville slept over on a school night. And the next morning they went to school without having met Mitch McConnell. They sacrificed their night, and he couldn’t even acknowledge it.

So concurrently in Lexington, we had a protest on Wednesday at his office. We went inside, we took photos in front of his shut blinds–a true example of what it is he is trying to do to us, his constituents. And then we were kicked out for doing absolutely nothing, but we stood outside in the pouring rain and continue to tell our stories.

So people across Kentucky have been doing this for the past week. But there have been few responses from McConnell or his office, despite our continued efforts to advocate or to even just speak to him.

DHARNA NOOR: So, Claire, Sunrise isn’t just making demands of Republicans like McConnell, right? On Friday, kids with Sunrise also confronted Sen. Dianne Feinstein in California. And she said that she’s got her own climate resolution.

SPEAKER: We are trying to ask you to vote yes on the Green New Deal.

DIANNE FEINSTEIN: OK. I’ll tell you what. We have our own Green New Deal.

DHARNA NOOR: And Feinstein’s office actually released that plan that she was talking about there. It seems like it mostly calls to reinstate Obama-era regulations. She said that it has a much better chance of passing than the Green New Deal resolution. How is Sunrise’s proposal different from that, and why is her proposal not really enough?

CLAIRE TACHERRA-MORRISON: Right. Yeah, it’s a great question. So, as you said, her proposal focuses a lot on Obama-era policies. It’s a plan that would have been good 30 years ago when she came into office. But at this point, we know that what is needed. We have 10 years to address this crisis. And what we need is the Green New Deal. That’s the only plan on the table that actually meets the climate and economic crises at this scale and speed that we actually need. And so anything less than that is out of touch with what our generation needs for our very survival.

So yeah, we’re talking to Democrats and Republicans. We’re asking everyone to sign onto the Green New Deal. And anyone who does not see this as as urgent of a crisis as the Green New Deal addresses it to be is out of touch with what we actually need as Americans across this country.

DHARNA NOOR: So the Green New Deal resolution that Sunrise is pushing for, the one that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ed Markey introduced earlier this month, has little chance of passing in the Senate. I think that we can all agree that it won’t really pass in a Republican-controlled Senate. And somebody from Sunrise acknowledged that in Feinstein’s office.

SPEAKER: I think the thing is that this particular resolution isn’t something that’s aimed at passing right now, obviously, like you’re saying, because of the Republican leadership in the Senate.

DIANNE FEINSTEIN: It won’t get through. But I think what we have done has a chance of passing.

SPEAKER: Then can we focus both them? Because I think that the point of voting yes on this is to show the world what we really need [crosstalk].

DIANNE FEINSTEIN: I understand that. I understand that.

DHARNA NOOR: So if it doesn’t have a good chance of passing, why is it still so important?

CLAIRE TACHERRA-MORRISON: Right. So we are garnering support for it now because we know that we don’t have that much time to get this passed. If we have 12 years to solve the climate crisis, then we’ve got to get all the support we can now. And we are pushing the Green New Deal. We are making it a litmus test for anyone who wants to run for president in 2020. We are bringing it forward to every corner of this country. And we know that over 80 percent of the American people support what is in the Green New Deal. And so there is massive support across this country. And you’re right, a Republican-held Senate will not pass this bill right now. But that’s not what we’re doing right now. We’re asking for everyone to sign on in support, in accordance with the overwhelming support of the American people, because that is what is needed to address the urgency of the situation.

DHARNA NOOR: And Lily, so, again, if the resolution is non-binding, talk about why it’s still important and why it still matters if the Senate votes on it and rejects it. What could that–what impact could that have on this proposal?

LILY GARDNER: The Senate’s rejection would set a precedent of voting against, first and foremost, what their constituents want. As Claire already said, what 80 percent of the American population wants. And secondly, sets another precedent that shows that they’re voting directly against the interests of young people. The Green New Deal is the only comprehensive climate change legislation fully in line with the UN IPCC Special Report. It is the only comprehensive legislation to tackle the full scope of this crisis.

And so if the bill, or if the resolution is [defeated], then it sets a dangerous precedent; one in line with the complacency that has permeated politics and that spurred Sunrise to action in the first place. So it would be discouraging, angering, and most importantly, it would make me and all the other members of my generation even more fearful for our future than we already are.

DHARNA NOOR: I know that last week, in response to that protest in Louisville at Mitch McConnell’s office, McConnell said that Sunrise does represent a piece of his constituency, but just one voice amongst his entire constituency. And Dianne Feinstein, when she was confronted in California on Friday, said that people weren’t giving her enough credit, that she’s been in this role for 30 years, that she knows what she’s doing. What’s your response to all of this, and why is it so important to include the voices of young people in this fight? Of course we as young people are going to be around for a lot longer than folks who are in the later parts of their lives. But but why is it that that voice should be held in such high regard and should be listened to in this conversation?

LILY GARDNER: So, I like to say that just because I can’t vote doesn’t mean that I don’t have a voice, that I don’t have the right to be heard. Because first of all, I will be able to vote very soon, and I will hold my politicians accountable for the decisions they made while I was simply a constituent. But second of all, we must listen to young people, because as you said, they are the primary recipients of the symptoms of climate change, of its drastic impacts. And they are the people who are–they are the people who are bearing the brunt, the burdens. And so we must listen to them and hold our leaders accountable in that regard.

CLAIRE TACHERRA-MORRISON: So when someone like Senator Feinstein comes out and says that we should trust her because she’s been doing this for 30 years, I want to say that we should have been doing stuff like this 30 years ago. We needed to be taking action. And she’s out of touch with what is called for in this emergency crisis situation.

Our state is getting set on fire every year, and more and more, destroying homes and lives and lungs. I was home last–in November, when the fires were happening. And walking down the streets, people were wearing masks just to go outside. Babies have to breathe the air, the toxic chemical air, because their lungs can’t pull air through a mask yet. And it breaks your heart to see that. It’s our literal lives that are on the line. And so if our representatives and senators are not stepping up to the plate to take the courageous and ambitious action that is called for by this situation, then we as a generation are going to make sure that they feel that in our vote as well, because we can’t afford not to.

DHARNA NOOR: And finally, we’re recording on Monday. And on Tuesday I understand that Sunrise has plans to continue pushing for the Green New Deal resolution in localities across the nation. Could you talk a little bit about what you have planned?

CLAIRE TACHERRA-MORRISON: Yeah. So, as I mentioned earlier, in 2019 we’re taking the Green New Deal to every corner of this country. Because we know that 80 percent of the American people support what is in a Green New Deal. But we are going to make that even broader. And so tomorrow we are taking action all across this country. There are Sunrise hubs in states all across this country where people are calling for the good jobs and livable future that a Green New Deal will provide. And so they’re going to their senators to call on them to support this resolution.

And then after tomorrow we are continuing to do this work through a tour that’s happening to raise to raise excitement and get people really excited for the Green New Deal, all across this country. Because we know that people like Mitch McConnell and his billionaire friends are dead set on killing this bill, because it threatens the power that they’re holding on to. And as I said, it’s our lives on the line. And so we are taking it to the people, because we know that when we organize in these communities across the country, we have the power that will be necessary to actually win the solutions we need.

LILY GARDNER: This fight is not over. I will be 27 in 12 years. And I’d really, really, really like to have some sort of a future then. Some sort of a hope for a future, some kind of opportunities. And I would like it if it wasn’t conjoined with my planet being devastated by natural disasters, or in climate-related symptoms. And so this fight, again, it’s not over. And we will continue to wait for Mitch McConnell to respond to the Kentucky constituents, to the delegation that he has ignored. And we will continue to put pressure on all senators and representatives, and possible presidential candidates, that our future is not a political game. And it is not something that can be bargained for the money of fossil fuel corporations.

CLAIRE TACHERRA-MORRISON: Yeah. We’re just getting started, and I’m feeling very powerful today, because we have seen hundreds of people come out in support of Kentuckians today in solidarity and also fighting for their own futures. And we’re just seeing the support for this resolution growing and growing. So it’s a really powerful, hopeful time.

DHARNA NOOR: Well, as you continue to push senators, representatives, those running for president, please keep us in the loop. And thanks so much for being on today, Claire and Lily.

CLAIRE TACHERRA-MORRISON: Thank you for having us.

LILY GARDNER: Thank you.

DHARNA NOOR: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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Dharna Noor is a staff writer at Earther, Gizmodo's climate vertical.