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A Green New Deal Town Hall: Paving the Way for a Just Transition

A truly effective climate policy will require 'a cultural shift that is bigger than legislation'

How do we make the Green New Deal real? By holding town hall meetings led, centered and organized by the people – discussions so honest that you’re not the same person when you leave. These are the kinds of discussions we need to be having as a community – and some of us have been talking honestly about this for a long time. Need inspiration? Let women of color lead the way.

We held a town hall like this last week at the Jamaica Plain Forum in Boston featuring Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley and local activist Rev. Mariama White-Hammond. These two fierce leaders are pushing for a cultural shift towards community and equity, values that will return us to harmony during our battle for survival from the environmental emergency upon us.

Right now, we see the disharmony play out before our eyes. It’s been just over a month since Cyclone Idai hit Mozambique, killing several hundred people, leveling hundreds of thousands of homes, and destroyed the main source of food – all in a country where more than half the population lives under the poverty line.

Compare the reaction to that of the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral, where billionaires offered up hundreds of millions in dollars even though there was no death toll. The Catholic Church is one of the world’s wealthiest entities, but French billionaire François-Henri Pinault still instantly pledged more than $100 million to the reconstruction effort. Had Cyclone Idai hit the UK or France, we’d likely see similar donations pour in for repairs and rescues.

We cannot allow this type of dramatic inequality to shape our response to the ecological crisis. Fortunately, as Congresswoman Pressley put it, moving towards climate justice offers us a chance to address these disparities head on. “The aspects of the Green New Deal that I am most focused on are equity and economic justice,” she said at the forum. “This is not just an opportunity to fix the past to the first New Deal, but also to transform the economy.”

That’s crucial, because politicians divorce equity from climate legislation all too often, Rev. White-Hammond pointed out. “Time and time again the environmental legislation that has passed in [Massachusetts] has stripped every single equitable provision almost every single time.”

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We’ve watched as the Green New Deal forces the urgency of climate change into the public eye. But we should realize that the values in the Green New Deal aren’t all new. They grew out of decades of work from frontline organizations, especially from indigenous brothers and sisters. Any of their absences in our climate and economic transition should serve as a rude awakening.

We must learn from our history so we don’t repeat the same mistakes. Let us keep watchful eye so that the Green New Deal is not manipulated to further disenfranchise the people who bear the brunt of the climate emergency under the guise of opportunity or political feasibility.

The Green New Deal is a bold and brave set of ideas but it will take all of us to secure not just a transition, but a just transition. Such a transition must follow the leadership of the woman of color who have moved us forward on critical issues, and in a way that bridges racial divides.

To ensure we get such a deal, we need real talk that makes us uncomfortable enough to invest in what we promote and divest from all we don’t sign on to. Our conversation around the Green New Deal in Boston can apply to any other city or state in the country, as long as we ask the questions around equity that move us towards the just transition we need.

“The problem is we are complicit in culture. We say, it’s just human behavior. Human behavior can be changed and be disrupted and what it requires to break down those barriers is a willingness in our sweat equity and our coalition buildings,” Congresswoman Pressley said at our event. “This is going to require a paradigm, a cultural shift that is bigger than legislation.”

Anny Martinez

Anny Martinez directs the Jamaica Plain Forum for the Institute for Policy Studies office in Boston. Distributed by OtherWords.org.

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