Sen. Reed Won't Commit to Green New Deal

Bennett Walkes, 19 of Providence, was one of 16 climate activists from Sunrise RI who urged Sen. Jack Reed’s office to support the Green New Deal. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News photos)

Bennett Walkes, 19 of Providence, was one of 16 climate activists from Sunrise RI who urged Sen. Jack Reed’s office to support the Green New Deal. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News photos)

Videos and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — The Sunrise Movement, a youth-led national grassroots organization that seeks urgent action on climate change, wants politicians to state their position on the Green New Deal ahead of a major vote in Washington, D.C.

The Green New Deal resolution, championed by popular freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., is a pledge to simultaneously address climate change and improve the economic and social well-being of low- and middle-class workers. The justice-oriented resolution has no detailed policy steps but sets several goals, such as powering the country with 100 percent renewable energy by 2030.

In recent months, the local Sunrise chapter has sought support for the Green New Deal from Rhode Island’s two senators and two representatives in Congress. So far, only Democrat Rep. David Cicilline has agreed and signed on as a co-sponsor of the resolution.

The rest of Rhode Island’s all-Democrat delegation is noncommittal. Rep. Jim Langevin has repeatedly ducked questions about his stance on the proposal. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse has offered support in principal, but won’t sign on as a co-sponsor because he believes it’s too divisive and won’t pass.

Sunrise RI got a tepid response from Sen. Jack Reed during a protest/meeting with two staff members at Reed’s downtown office on Feb. 21.

During a group sit-down, Erin Arcand, Reed’s community affairs coordinator, said the senator’s office is reviewing comments and that Reed is looking at “all different angles” of the resolution. She noted Reed’s support of Whitehouse’s environmental initiatives as proof that he takes climate change seriously.

Sunrise RI organizer Nina Wolff Landau described the meeting as a “slimy political maneuver” by Reed for avoiding a face-to-face discussion with the 16 activists. The group was also disappointed that Arcand and fellow staffer Kyle Weinreich explained that Reed needed more time to review the Green New Deal, despite the fact is was released two weeks ago.

“If you’re feeling angry like I am that’s OK, you should feel angry,” Wolff Landau, 21, told her fellow climate activists after the meeting.

During the meeting, she and other protesters criticized Reed and Whitehouse for not offering alternatives plans to the Green New Deal and instead favoring incremental progress.

“We’re asking Senator Reed what he’s waiting for,” Wolff Landau said. “We need him to support our generation. So we’re asking him whether he’s going to support this best and last hope of avoiding climate catastrophe in our lifetimes or if he’s going to be caving to Mitch McConnell and the fossil-fuel lobbyists.”

Most the protesters were between the ages of 15 and 23. They delivered testimonials expressing urgency on climate change.

“One day I would like to pass this home on to my children,” said Everett Smith, 18, of Warwick. “I’d like them to have a job and clean air and clean water and enjoy Rhode Island like I have. But I haven't seem many of the politicians in Rhode Island stand up for that type of long-term thinking and stand up for me and my children when they may not be around to pay the consequence of their decisions.”

Several Sunrise RI members are heading to Washington, D.C., for a Feb. 25 protest of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s plan to hold a vote on the Green New Deal. McConnell is being accused of holding the vote as a way to divide Democrats and use it as an election issue to attack supporters of the initiative.

In the Senate, the Green New Deal is sponsored by Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and backed by 11 co-sponsors, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. The resolution has 84 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives.

“This fight does not end,” Wolff Landau said. “This resolution is one part of a larger fight.”

Nina Wolff Landau reads her testimony to staff from Sen. Jack Reed’s office.

Nina Wolff Landau reads her testimony to staff from Sen. Jack Reed’s office.