How to Win a Green New Deal Under Biden

With effective organizing and consistent pressure, young climate activists proved that Biden can be pushed to adopt more progressive policies.

Nikayla Jefferson

Climate change protesters disrupt Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden during a campaign event on October 9, 2019 in Manchester, New Hampshire. Scott Eisen/Getty Images

If we have a President-elect Joe Biden on November 3, then consider November 4 Day Zero of the decade of the Green New Deal. 

Under this more ideal scenario the real work continues, to demonstrate the power of our movement. We clog city streets, we take over political offices, we raise our voices from coast to coast until Biden hears us. We do not stop — not until Trump vacates the office, Biden takes his oath and we raise our country from the brink of collapse. 

Biden did not start off the 2020 presidential race with a stellar climate plan. In fact, we stamped his plan with a red F in 2019. (Trump, were he rated, would have received a zero.) It is a testament to the power of the youth movement that, since the end of the primary season, Biden has released his climate plan as a Green New Deal in all but name. He is now calling for 100% clean electricity by 2035 — to create 10 million green jobs, mobilize the country and raise us back from the Covid-19 recession. Biden calls for energy-efficient infrastructure and vehicles, more solar and wind energy, and development of new climate technologies. His ambition is one of the most progressive climate plans of any Democratic nominee in party history.

But Biden still has miles to go. His plan does not ban fracking. He is yet to support publicly owned utilities. The details of his vow on environmental justice are sparse.

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt led this country through famine and economic depression with the New Deal, he did so because he had no choice. The United States was desperately in need of transformative change. Progressives organized their power and laid the groundwork for a period of reduced economic inequality and 20th-century American renewal. Biden himself has spoken on this parallel between his position and FDR’s. It’s a promising sign his administration is open to similarly progressive policy: a 21st-century Green New Deal.

For all of its unprecedented policy achievements, the New Deal had serious failures. Black, Latinx and Asian Americans did not receive the same social benefits that white Americans enjoyed. The Works Progress Administration encroached on indigenous land. The new Federal Housing Administration deepened city segregation. But the core idea of it was revolutionary.

In a moment of national crisis, the New Deal did not aim to return back to normal”; it recognized normal was the crisis. The New Deal built the country as a broad and progressive social improvement project, with agencies created to serve and raise the standard of American living. Many of these programs still exist, like Social Security and food stamps (now known as SNAP). The New Deal redefined the purpose of government to build back better.

A Biden presidency gives us the opportunity to do the same, to kick off a new era out of the devastation of Covid-19 and climate change. We must push his nascent Green New Deal to grow into our transformative and full vision for a livable future.

Our New Deal must be just; it must ensure already marginalized folks will not be excluded or harmed. Biden’s plan pledges to do that, but it’s a just start on the long road to repairing historical injustice. If we, as young people in the climate movement, pushed Biden into an unexpected champion of climate policy, then we can do anything.

Biden will not transform this country on his own, but we have already proven we can push centrist politicians through good organizing and a strong message. Biden must be pressured, but it is undoubtedly possible. If we elect Green New Deal champions to every level of government, activate more people into the movement and strengthen our organizational coalition, we will become the indisputable majority.

The possibilities of what we can achieve under Biden, as an organized and effective movement, are only limited by the constraint of our own imaginations. The only thing that can stop the 2020s from becoming the decade of the Green New Deal is ourselves.

Go vote. Then let’s keep moving.

This article is a response to The Climate Movement’s Difficult Fight Ahead If Trump Wins” by Mattias Lehman.

As a 501©3 non­prof­it pub­li­ca­tion, In These Times does not oppose or endorse can­di­dates for polit­i­cal office.

Nikayla Jefferson is an organizer with Sunrise Movement - San Diego.

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