The idea is especially popular among young voters, and many of the protesters were students
The group spearheading the effort for House Democrats to move Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “Green New Deal” to the top of their legislative agenda appeared to score a victory on Monday as more than 1,000 demonstrators stormed the Capitol Hill offices of Democratic House leaders to stage sit-ins.
U.S. Capitol Police on Monday arrested roughly 143 activists, including 61 outside the office of the likely next speaker, California Rep. Nancy Pelosi. The mostly high school- and college-aged protesters demonstrated in or outside nearly 50 congressional offices to urge lawmakers to confront man-made climate change.
The protests were organized by the Sunrise Movement, a group that aims to promote policy action to address climate change and rid political campaign coffers of money from the fossil fuel industry.
One of the group’s primary targets for demonstration Monday was incoming House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. The Maryland Democrat and longtime Pelosi deputy has accepted more than a quarter of a million dollars from the fossil fuel industry. Protesters also confronted the likely next House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman, Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone, who has accepted $143,000 from energy groups and executives.
“For too long we’ve seen committees get strangleholded by politicians who are bought out by fossil fuel executives,” said Stephen O’Hanlon, a spokesman for the Sunrise Movement.
O’Hanlon said the group is open to having Republicans on the select committee for the Green New Deal so long as their campaigns do not accept donations from the fossil fuel lobby or executives in the industry.
“We need to make sure that people on the select committee stand up for our generation — not their donors,” O’Hanlon said.
Select committees typically include members of both parties, with the leaders of each party getting to choose which members to install on the committee.
In recent weeks, Ocasio-Cortez has prioritized the establishment of a new Select Committee for a Green New Deal with the goal of “meeting 100 percent of national power demand through renewable sources” in the next decade.
Like the original New Deal, the Green New Deal would require large scale investments in infrastructure and jobs, according to Mark Paul, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute.
“The idea has always been that we have to tighten our belts today to benefit future generations, ” Paul said. “But in fact, we can simultaneously tackle inequality and climate change — the two largest challenges of our time.”
Ocasio-Cortez secured the commitment of Pelosi to establishing a Green New Deal select committee following an earlier Sunrise Movement demonstration outside the Minority Leader’s office in November.
“I have recommended to my House Democratic colleagues that we reinstate the select committee to address the climate crisis,” Pelosi said last month. “House Democrats ran on and won on our bold campaign for a $1 trillion investment in our infrastructure that will make our communities more resilient to the climate crisis, while creating 16 million new good-paying jobs across the country.”
But the push has reportedly irked some establishment Democrats, including Pallone.
“Frank Pallone is concerned about holding onto his power and title, not about the future of our generation or human civilization,” said the Sunrise Movement following the Nov. 13 protest.
Renewable energy and green jobs are popular among voters younger than 30, recent polling by Data for Progress and YouGov Blue shows. And many of the protesters were students.
Saya Ameli, a 16-year-old high school student from Brookline, Massachusetts, convinced her mom at the last minute to let her make the trip down to Washington to demonstrate outside Pelosi’s office.
Ameli moved to the U.S. from Tehran seven years ago and was immediately struck by the difference in the air quality here.
In Tehran, she said, there was only one park close enough for her family to visit. But it was so far away that they only went a couple times a year.
“Just even physically stepping outside of your house, out of the confines of that clear-air space with air purifiers and whatnot, just walking through the streets, there was so much pollution,” Ameli said. “You’d step out and you would feel dizzy and sick. And it just kept getting worse.”
Administrators often were forced to cancel school on days when the air was too dirty. Ameli said she does not want to see that happen to future generations in the U.S.
“We’ve come far in the U.S., but there’s a long way to go,” she said about addressing climate change with government policy. “I really don’t want to see the beautiful landscape here turn into a barren wasteland like a lot of other places.”
Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern, the top Democrat on the House Rules Committee, emerged from his office to address protesters and promised them he is “committed to the House Select Committee on a Green New Deal.”
McGovern commended the protesters for taking action to promote environmentally friendly policies and thrust climate change into the national spotlight.
“We’re talking about it is because you’re here,” McGovern said.