We Need a Green New Deal
In the Arctic, sea ice is melting. In the United States, houses are foreclosing.
And in Washington, the Senate is becoming a real-life Bermuda Triangle for progressive agendas.
Proposals for major limits on carbon emissions aren't getting far in the Senate, where the corporate war on the environment has an abundance of powerful allies.
As for class war, it continues to rage from the top down. Last week, a dozen Democratic senators teamed up with Republicans to defeat a bill that would have allowed judges to reduce mortgages in bankruptcy courts.
President Obama supported that bill. But as The Associated Press reported, he was "facing stiff opposition from banks" and "did little to pressure lawmakers" on behalf of the measure. The Senate "defeated a plan to spare hundreds of thousands of homeowners from foreclosure through bankruptcy."
Big-money vultures are circling the Capitol dome to feast on the latest multibillion-dollar carrion, whether under the heading of "cap and trade" or "health care reform." And many billions in profits can be found inside yet another supplemental bill to fund war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, a familiar pattern is unfolding for the most important piece of labor legislation in decades - the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) - which would go a long way toward protecting the rights of workers to form unions. Obama says he supports EFCA. But there are no signs that he'll go all-out for its passage.
There are pluses and minuses on Capitol Hill these days. But on big-picture items, it's clear that environmentalists and labor rights activists are mostly up against the corporate wall - and the wall is not yielding.
We need a Green New Deal.
It won't happen without a lot more effective grassroots coalitions - strong and sustained enough to change power relations for the long haul. But acculturation in the USA often encourages us to think along the lines of solo acts.
There's the old American story about the solitary Dutch boy who discovers that a dike has sprung a leak. He inserts his finger, hangs in there heroically by himself and saves the town.
But in the real world, individual heroics are a fool's gold when compared to the genuine value of building political movements. The immense obstacles to effective grassroots organizing can be overcome: not by lone rangers, but by persistent organizers and coalition-builders.
During the last six months, I've participated in a lengthy series of meetings with many other local activists. Across two counties in Northern California, we're about to launch a long-term project called the Green New Deal for the North Bay.
It's just a start. But, as we begin a round of public forums throughout the region, we're in the process of developing a grassroots agenda for far-reaching change that will address these two key questions:
"How can we create a sustainable green future that includes economic equity and social justice?"
"How can agendas for economic rights and environmental protection become more integrated and more successful?"
Seventy-five years after the start of the New Deal, and nearly 40 years after the first Earth Day, the need for basic change on behalf of social justice and ecology is clear.
But ideas are the easy part. In an era of massive environmental damage and vast economic inequality, we've got to organize.
Norman Solomon, co-chair of the national Healthcare NOT Warfare campaign, is the author of many books, including "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death." In California, he is co-chair of the Commission on a Green New Deal for the North Bay.