Courtesy of Sunrise Ithaca

Common Council candidates discussed their takes on Ithaca's Green New Deal, discussing how they would prioritize sustainability.

May 5, 2019

Ithacan Activists, Native American Leaders Evaluate the Green New Deal

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The Sunrise has come to Ithaca. The local branch of Sunrise Movement, a nationally organized group of young climate activists, hosted a Green New Deal Town Hall at the Tompkins County Public Library on Thursday, giving activists and community members from Ithaca and beyond the chance to voice their concerns about U.S. environmental and economic policies.

Sunrise Ithaca, which was founded by five Ithaca College students, facilitated discussion during the town hall, which opened with a keynote speech from Prof. Sandra Steingraber, environmental studies and sciences at Ithaca College, the co-founder of New Yorkers Against Fracking.

Steingraber introduced the Green New Deal as the only plan that is aligned with “recommendations from scientists and experts for addressing climate change.”

Proposed as a pair of non-binding resolutions in both houses of Congress by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-M.A.), the Green New Deal is a series of large-scale policy reforms designed to address both climate and sustainability issues as well as revitalize the economy through job creation, modeled upon the New Deal of the 1930s.

The Sunrise Ithaca organizers emphasized the importance of job guarantee provision with the Green New Deal, which promises some sort of employment for any job-seekers, especially for historically marginalized communities. “There’s so much climate work to be done that the federal government can offer a job to every American who needs one,” said Mike Moritz, co-founder of Sunrise Ithaca.

After breaking down the broad components of the Green New Deal, the organizers expanded discussion to include the roundtable guests.

Joe Cruz, a Masters student at Ithaca College, introduced himself in the native language of the Comanche Nation. He spoke about the links he saw between gentrification and climate injustice, saying that his community, which was affected by gentrification in Texas, only had access to water so dirty “you could spark it on fire.”

“We’re already kicked to the side and deep in the margins, and now I can’t even drink my own water?” he said.

The New York State Assemblywoman for the 125th District, Barbara Lifton (D-125), spoke about her successful legislative efforts to ban fracking in New York State. She has also recently called for a moratorium against all new fossil fuel projects in the state and is currently co-sponsoring the Climate and Community Protection Act, what she called the State Assembly’s version of the Green New Deal.

According to Lifton, the State Assembly bill is “better” than the Green New Deal because the bill includes “strong labor protections, prevailing wage protections, and environmental justice money.”

As the self-described “only black farmer for Tompkins County,” Rafa Aponte — another panelist — spoke about the racial and socioeconomic inequities he has experienced, including the lack of access to land or resources for marginalized communities. He hoped that the Green New Deal would “provide more pathways for people who have been directly impacted by this crushing capitalism and oppression.”

Another panelist was Sachem Sam George, who is one of the ten chiefs — known as Sachems — for the Cayuga Nation, representing Bear Clan. “Mother Nature is not going to be happy with all these holes poked in her. She is going to strike out somewhere. We have laws of nature — it will happen,” he said, referring to climate change-related natural disasters around the world that have become increasingly severe in recent years.

The panelists also expressed varying degrees of skepticism about the Green New Deal.

Alex Hyland, an electrician and union worker, criticized the Deal’s lack of protection for labor and fair wages. “The Green New Deal is lacking the bold proposals for the working class that FDR’s New Deal had,” he said. “We need to get young people into apprenticeships now. Not everyone has money to go to an expensive university, so this is a path towards decent living for all.”

George expressed frustration at the vagueness of the Deal’s language, saying that while the Green New Deal calls for action, it “doesn’t tell you how, and it doesn’t tell you why.”

Similarly, Lifton mentioned the importance of having a sense of concreteness in the bill by “setting goals, not just long-term goals but also short-term benchmarks to reach those goals.”

“It’s great to say what will happen in 2040 or 2050, but we need to have immediate action and short-term goals,” she said, referencing the Green New Deal’s vision for a zero-emission America by 2030.

Cruz acknowledged the inaccessibility of the Deal’s language to marginalized communities — “the people [the Deal] is going to affect the most.” He noted that the jargon-heavy language is a necessity of congressional bureaucracy, but also warned that one must be “cautious to try to go into certain communities and try to explain” the Deal in such an “academic” way.

Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 made an appearance at the end of the event to publicly affirm his commitment to a “Green New Deal for the city of Ithaca,” laying out plans to adopt a new climate action plan, push “all city operations to become carbon-neutral by 2025” and “retrofit all existing buildings to acquire green building codes.”

“I hope you’ll come out to these council meetings and planning board meetings and hold the city of Ithaca accountable to our Green New Deal,” he told the crowd.