By Grace Clark
Volunteer on the Green New Deal and Policy Action teams

Imagine a future where our communities run on renewable energy, where housing, education, and healthcare are not commodities but guarantees, where “luxuries” like parks and access to the arts are public goods for everyone to enjoy. The Green New Deal is our pathway to that future.

Since I joined MN350’s Green New Deal team last year, we’ve grown from a research group to an active team with a plan to make radical change toward a just transition to renewable energy across the state. To get a Minnesota Green New Deal passed, we recognize that it’s going to take a movement of people in urban and rural areas alike. But we’re already making progress. Earlier this year we supported and marched with Twin Cities janitors and security guards at Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 26, who went on strike to win better wages, sick days, and clean energy demands in contract negotiations. 

Now we’re working with Greater Minnesota residents to envision and fight for a COVID recovery plan that would meet their needs, creating green jobs in healthcare, affordable housing, education, and public transit. We’re working with local organizers in Bemidji, Grand Rapids, and St. Cloud to plan public events and trainings focusing on electing climate champions in the MN state senate this year, and we could use your help with this organizing. Fill out this Green New Deal Team Interest Form if you’re interested in getting involved.

It’s time for a change

Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, many people have seen daily economic precarity become a full-scale crisis. Many have lost their jobs or have struggled to find childcare for kids whose schools have closed, find safe transportation, or even keep food on the table. Now, as unemployment benefits and stimulus checks are running out, and virus cases continue to climb, it’s clear that our government’s support systems are woefully insufficient.

In the last few months, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent protests, we’ve seen our communities rise up and take care of one another. Many have also seen firsthand the inherent inability of corporate power, and institutions like the police, to take care of people and keep them safe. In fact, as many Black organizers have been saying for decades, the police, and the prison industrial complex more broadly, are the biggest threats to safety, particularly that of Black and brown communities.

Although the pandemic and police violence are not specifically climatic crises, they underscore the need to recover, rebuild, and remake our institutions (or abolish them, in the case of the police). By focusing on major changes to decarbonize our energy, transportation, and housing infrastructure – and provide basic services as well as public luxuries to everyone – the Green New Deal can help us avoid the worst effects of climate change and weather the crises that are already upon us.

What’s the Green New Deal?

The Green New Deal is about investing in a culture and economy of care, rather than one of exploitation, of both people and our environment. The architects of the Green New Deal realize that climate change is an existential crisis, and the only solution is a fundamental restructuring of our society. As we transition to a clean energy economy, at every step of the way we must maintain healthy and resilient communities and center racial and economic justice.

The Green New Deal began as a resolution proposed last year in the U.S. Congress by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ed Markey. Around the same time, high school students in Minnesota co-wrote a Green New Deal bill that Rep. Frank Hornstein proposed in the Minnesota House. There have been a number of other Green New Deal bills and proposals, on federal, state, and even local levels, many of which have yet to pass. It’s easy to get caught up in the details of each individual policy and proposal, but the Green New Deal can best be understood as a framework that will eventually take many different forms.

Green New Deal Vision

In Minnesota, a Green New Deal for housing could mean the development of new, zero-carbon homes and the retro-fitting of existing homes, with a plan to completely fulfill the state’s needs for affordable public housing and guarantee that the jobs created would be worker-directed and pay family-sustaining wages. A truly transformative local Green New Deal involves divesting from the Minneapolis Police Department, where the murder of George Floyd is indicative of the violence and racism at its core. Instead, we could reallocate that money toward a naturally low-carbon sector in a way that combats poverty and reduces violence, through services such as childcare, mental health services, truly affordable public housing, and healthcare. Achieving these goals will take electoral organizing and campaigning to elect politicians who will fight for us, working with unions and social justice groups, expanding our movement, and showing up for other related movements to build people’s faith that a just transition is possible.

Many groups across the world have taken up the cause of the Green New Deal, expanding it and challenging it where necessary. For example, in September 2019, the Indigenous liberation organization The Red Nation released A Red Deal, including explicit demands for prison/police abolition, enforcing treaty rights, and ending the U.S. military occupation worldwide. This intersectionality of struggles is the crux of the Green New Deal – ending the extractive, colonialist, white supremacist forces that have caused the climate crisis, in addition to so many other overlapping crises. So how do we get started? The work is already happening, right here in Minnesota.

MN350’s work with SEIU is one example of a Green New Deal framework being used in our local context. This past February, MN350’s Green New Deal team worked as part of a coalition of unions and environmental justice organizations to support SEIU Local 26’s janitors and security guards in their contract negotiations with some of Minnesota’s wealthiest companies, who own office buildings in downtown Minneapolis. Led by Latinx women, the union incorporated climate demands into their negotiations, asking for a green cleaning training program for janitors, so they could help conserve energy and water and keep themselves safe from harmful chemicals.

When the union decided to strike, MN350 and other environmental organizations showed up in force. MN350 members also took part in a full week of activities with the coalition under the banner “Fighting Today for a Better Tomorrow,” in which other community issues were also central: shutting down of the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center (HERC) incinerator in Minneapolis and the need for adequate investment in health, education, and housing. A few days later, SEIU Local 26 won their demands, and janitors credited community support as an important factor in their win – a hopeful and exciting sign for the future of bargaining for the common good. Although this campaign didn’t focus on a bill or policy at the government level, it was squarely within the Green New Deal framework and is a powerful example of what we can achieve when we engage with other grassroots movements.

The Green New Deal Team’s Work

In the last few months, MN350’s Green New Deal team has been focusing our outreach in St. Cloud, Bemidji, and Grand Rapids to build relationships across race and class and continue to grow our movement around a just transition. We’ve been busy texting and calling people in these districts, listening to their concerns and inviting them to organize community events. With our support, these events will hopefully result in sizable local groups that can advocate for the transformative change they want to see – during this year’s elections and beyond. Through this work, we’ll be building power in these areas of the state and connecting climate solutions to the many other things people care about and need to thrive. We invite you to be part of this work and our broader goals of building a movement around the Green New Deal in Minnesota: Our most immediate need is help with turnout for our events and trainings around election organizing in Bemidji, Grand Rapids, and St. Cloud. Again, fill out our Interest Form to get involved.

The Green New Deal begins with the understanding that the climate crisis is one of many intersecting crises we’re facing. The scale of change required to transition to a clean energy economy can make it possible to invest in and transform our societies. I’m convinced that although this is an unprecedented challenge, the breadth of this movement and the strength of our connections is ultimately what will make it successful.

PS I’d also like to acknowledge that much of my political education surrounding the Green New Deal and community organizing that informed this blog post has come from writers and activists like Naomi Klein, Jane McAlevey, Daniel Aldana Cohen, and Thea Riofrancos. For those interested in learning more about the radical potential of the Green New Deal, I recommend the book A Planet to Win: Why We Need a Green New Deal

Labor and climate protestors at the SEIU Local 26 strike, February 2020. Image:

Grace Clark (she/her) has been involved with MN350 since June 2019 and is a volunteer on the Green New Deal and Policy Action teams.