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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, standing next to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, speaking in Berryville, Virginia on July 24, 2017, as they unveiled the Democrats' new "Better Deal" agenda. (Photo: AP/Cliff Owen)

This Sort of Spineless Corporate Pandering Is Why Democrats Keep Losing

The DNC's vote to reverse a ban on fossil fuel industry giving is a deplorable step backward for the party

Jamie Henn

When we were fighting the Keystone XL pipeline back during the Obama Administration, I learned to watch out for Friday afternoons. That was the Administration’s favorite time to put out a news dump, whether it was a faulty environmental impact statement or some sort of waffling delay of the project. We knew the Obama team was conflicted about the pipeline and increasingly realized that it undid all of their rhetorical commitment to climate action. But instead of showing the political courage to finally say “no” to the pipeline, they strung out the decision for years with these quiet Friday afternoon announcements, trying to bury the news at the end of a long week. 

"It’s absolutely vital that the DNC and the climate movement stand with labor and workers across the country, but this is the wrong way to do it."

Saying “no” to the fossil fuel industry clearly still comes hard for Democrats, which is why on Friday afternoon, at 5:00pm ET the Democratic National Committee voted to reverse a decision they made two months ago to not take political contributions for the fossil fuel industry. This had to be one of the quickest flip-flops in DNC history, and if it hadn’t been for some attentive journalists (credit to Alexander Kaufman over at Huffington Post who broke the news) and addicted Twitter users, the Committee may have succeeded in burying it. 

Instead, the decision blew up in their face. Christine Pelosi, Nancy’s daughter, who had been one of the DNC officials who had worked with advocates to push for a ban on fossil fuel money, quickly started live tweeting the proceedings, revealing that she hadn’t even been consulted on the moves until they were already underway. The always attentive RL Miller of Climate Hawks Vote, and a main driver behind the “no fossil fuel money” push, immediately got some fiery quotes. I ended up getting out a tweet on the way to a friend’s wedding reception that now has over 500 retweets and 1,000 likes, big numbers for a pedestrian account like mine. 
I think the virality of the news didn’t just come from our collective sense of outrage, but the sinking sensation that the decision affirmed everything that we knew to be true about the Democratic Party establishment. Yet again, given the chance to stand with young people, progressives, and the over 950 diverse, exciting candidates who have already signed the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge, the party caved to a few conservative unions who represent fossil fuel industry workers and have worked hand in glove with the industry to support projects like Keystone XL. 
It’s absolutely vital that the DNC and the climate movement stand with labor and workers across the country, but this is the wrong way to do it. Democrats should be embracing the powerful parts of the labor movement that are supporting a just transition to 100% clean energy, not unions who are still throwing their weight behind more fossil fuel projects. As Kaufman wrote in a follow up article in the Huffington Post, Democrats could unite their entire coalition around a Green New Deal agenda that could create millions of jobs while combating the climate crisis. 

Instead, their lack of vision traps them time and again in the false dichotomy of jobs versus the environment, a division that is especially absurd considering how few union jobs there are in the fossil fuel industry these days. Only 4.4% of fossil fuel workers are unionized. The solar industry alone employs more people than coal, oil and gas combined. The future of labor in America isn’t with fossil fuels, it’s with advocating for policies like a federal jobs guarantee to give a job saving the planet to everyone to who wants one. 

"Climate, jobs and justice. That’s the vision that the Democratic Party needs to embrace."

So, what do we do now? The answer is certainly not to give up on Democrats writ large and stay away from the polls. 2018 has seen a wave of inspiring, progressive Democrats who are putting forward genuine solutions to the intersecting problems we face. As I wrote above, over 950 candidates have signed onto the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge, a number that will surely top 1,000 by election day. More so than ever, we have champions who deserve and need our support. Getting these Climate Progressives into office, and into positions of leadership in the Democratic party, is what is going to ultimately change the DNC from a corporatist, centrist bureaucracy into a meaningful force for change. 

At the same time, we need to continue to fight for our principles. That’s why it’s vital, even in the midst of an election, to call out the DNC for this deplorable decision. We sent out a petition to 350 Action members across the country on Sunday and will make sure to get your voices directly to the DNC in the coming week. It’s also why at 350 Action, we’ve been proud to support the young people in the Sunrise Movement who have been birddogging Democratic candidates across the country and hosting sit-ins in places like Massachusetts, New York and California to push our elected officials to actually walk the talk on climate. And it’s why we’re going to be turning out in force for the Rise for Climate, Jobs and Justice mobilization this September 8, a concerted attempt to push all elected officials and local governments to cut ties with the fossil fuel industry and support 100% renewables for all. 
Climate, jobs and justice. That’s the vision that the Democratic Party needs to embrace. When it does so, it will find that instead of constantly fracturing its coalition into competing parts, it will be uniting a movement that is ready to contest for power in all 50 states. The DNC could take a big step in that direction by recommitting to not take a penny more from the fossil fuel industry and embracing a Green New Deal that will benefit our climate, our communities, and all the workers who live in them.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Jamie Henn

Jamie Henn

Jamie Henn is the director of Fossil Free Media and a co-founder of

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