Environmental activists stage sit-in on Capitol Hill

Four University students arrested following protest in Sen. Mitch McConnell’s D.C. office

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Youth from environmental activist group the Sunrise Movement lined the hallways of Sen. Mitch McConnell’s office in Washington, D.C. to protest McConnell’s call to force a vote on the Green New Deal in the Senate.

Over 200 young people from Sunrise Movement, including 11 University students, swarmed the hallways outside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Capitol Hill office Monday, protesting his plan to bring the Green New Deal to a Senate vote and his acceptance of money from fossil fuel companies.

McConnell, R-K.Y., announced that he would force a vote on the resolution Feb. 12, CNBC reported. “I’ve noted with great interest the Green New Deal, and we’re going to be voting on that in the Senate to give everybody an opportunity to go on the record,” McConnell told CNBC. McConnell did not respond to The Herald’s request for comment. With insufficient support from Republicans and moderate Democrats, the bill as stands is almost certain to fail in the Senate.

The Sunrise Movement, a youth-based environmental activist group, mobilized hundreds of activists from across the country to support its Kentucky members in opposition to McConnell and in favor of the Green New Deal. Over 40 protesters were arrested as a result of the sit-in, reported CNN, four of whom are University students, said Emma Bouton ’20, a member of Sunrise R.I. At McConnell’s office, protesters “delivered over 100,000 petition signatures for people calling for a Green New Deal,” Bouton said. At the event, young people from Kentucky shared “their stories of what they were fighting for,” she added.

The Green New Deal is a resolution introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Ed Markey, D-M.A., that proposes environmental and economic reform aimed at minimizing the effects of climate change. It also includes language that would reduce carbon emissions in the U.S. to zero by 2030.

Out of Rhode Island’s four congressional delegates, only Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., has signed on as a cosponsor of the resolution. “The Green New Deal is an ambitious plan because that is what the challenge of climate change demands,” Cicilline wrote in a statement. “All it takes is for our country to come together united in a common effort.”

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., has previously been outspoken on government action to address climate change but has not signed on as a cosponsor of the Green New Deal. Instead, the senator has been focused on imposing a carbon tax. “I applaud the passion of the Sunrise students,” Whitehouse wrote in a statement. “In the Senate, I’m in the trenches building momentum for an actual bill — one that would dramatically reduce emissions and could become law in time to prevent the worst effects of climate change.”

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., similarly supports climate change action but has not committed to supporting the Green New Deal.

“The Green New Deal had a rocky roll out, but it can have a positive impact in terms of shaping the discussion,” Reed wrote in a statement. “I am carefully studying the bill’s implications and am committed to working with Senator Markey and others to translate ideas into action and ensure the United States is the world’s most energy-efficient nation with the strongest economy.”

Rep. James Langevin, D-R.I., who has also not signed onto the resolution, did not respond to The Herald’s request for comment.

The Rhode Island chapter of the Sunrise Movement will “continue to be pressuring our representatives to come out and cosponsor the resolution,” Bouton said. “While this might be frustrating to not be winning the support of all of the members of our Rhode Island congressional delegation, we’re still building this momentum.”

Professor of Environmental Studies and Sociology J. Timmons Roberts expressed support for the Green New Deal and condemned McConnell for forcing a vote on the resolution.

“The basic idea is that the times for gradual solutions on climate change are passed,” Roberts said. “The Green New Deal is a bold attempt to make up for lost time, and really we’ve known for 30 years that this was the problem.”

Roberts also said that McConnell’s move to bring the Green New Deal to a vote is a “political ploy” to kill the resolution that “disregards” the work of young people. The choice to force senators to pick a side on the resolution early in its development is a “slap to young people,” Roberts said, crediting the work that Sunrise has done in bringing the issue to center stage.

Visiting Assistant Professor in Economics Alex Poterack supports the Green New Deal’s efforts to address climate change, but is wary of the breadth of the resolution. The Green New Deal also addresses many topics including universal healthcare, green investment and free college. “I think any one of a green investment bill, or a jobs guarantee, or a universal healthcare bill or a free college bill, might be just barely politically feasible, but I see no path for something that rolls all of those into one thing,” Poterack wrote in an email to The Herald. “I think some sort of carbon pricing scheme, be it a carbon tax or cap and trade, will be necessary for decarbonization,” he added. “This is an issue on which the Green New Deal is silent.”

Moving forward, the Sunrise Movement is determined to continue advocating for the Green New Deal, Bouton said. “Momentum around the Green New Deal certainly won’t be brought to a halt by these political tactics,” she said, referencing McConnell. “We anticipated that this resolution was not going to be able to pass the Senate in this political climate, so the idea is to take the next two years to make the Green New Deal a key issue in the 2020 election.”

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