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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