I watched the showdown between the Sunrise Movement and Senator Dianne Feinstein with varying degrees of sympathy, frustration, and dismay. Some thoughts follow.
No one appreciates more than I the necessity to work on legislation even against insurmountable odds. For the past seven years, the Appalachian Communities Health Emergency (ACHE) Campaign, a project of Coal River Mountain Watch, has been pushing one of the single boldest pieces of Climate Change legislation ever introduced in Congress. We have done so in Congresses that can only be described as openly hostile to the idea of ending Mountaintop Removal coal extraction in Appalachia. We have been proud to see our grassroots, citizen-driven bill, The Appalachian Communities Health Emergency (ACHE) Act, championed by some of the most progressive voices in the House including its original sponsor, Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky and Rep. Louise Slaughter, gone-but-never-forgotten for her tireless, heart-felt dedication to the people and region of her birth. We have enjoyed considerable success among House Progressives, including the Congressional Progressive Caucus, but it has been a different story in the Senate.
Over the course of those seven years, we have endeavored to see a companion bill introduced in the Senate. In the name of more than 900 people poisoned and killed by the coal industry every year in West Virginia alone, and backed up by rock-solid, published, peer-reviewed science, we have implored and begged every Democrat in the Senate and several Republicans, as well. Not one, not one single Senator, including some currently running for President, no matter their Progressive bona fides, has ever introduced the bill.
Almost without exception, they all ask the same question: “What does Senator Manchin think?” And that is where the conversation almost always ends.
In this newborn Congress, Joe Manchin has risen to the Ranking Member’s seat on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, likely the same Senate committee where any legislation related to the Green New Deal would land whenever that legislation might be introduced (as yet, none has been). Several other senators who had more seniority than Joe had the right to keep him out of that seat (including one now running for President), but chose not to do so, dooming from the outset almost any Climate Change legislation that would come before the committee even if Democrats were in the majority.
If Democrats take the majority in 2020, Joe Manchin will still be sitting there in Energy and Natural Resources, only then as Chairman, and he, hostile to any effort to save us from the Hell that is Climate Change, will be more hostile to any such legislation than three-headed Cerberus was to anyone seeking an exit from Hades of old.
The confrontation with Senator Feinstein was good P.R. for Sunrise. The young Americans made her look disconnected and out-of-touch with a future of which, by virtue of her great age, she will *not*, simply as a matter of the nature of human life, be a part. The same may be said for a majority of the Senate, however, and this is where the problem arises. Our government, while loosely based upon ideas of governance that originated with a Native American confederation (the Haudenosaunee), does not adhere to one principle of that confederation that informed their decision-making, namely the obligation to include the next seven generations in any lawmaking. Sadly, it’s been my experience that where anything touching oil, gas, or coal are concerned, not even one generation is considered; only the well-being of immortal corporations and the senators they own lock-stock-and-oil-barrel.
Now that they have the upper hand in the P.R. battle, I hope the inspired, inspiring activists of Sunrise will press their advantage. I hope the politicians they are supporting will respect them enough to introduce real legislation instead of a mere resolution with no legal effect. I hope they understand that as long as Addison McConnell a/k/a “Mitch” McConnell has the Senate in his coal-blackened clutches, no substantive Climate Change legislation is going to pass the Senate. That means no Climate Change legislation will become law.
Like I said: sometimes we press the fight even knowing that, for the time being, we’re licked before we get out the door. It’s OK.
Now is the time in which we outline the terms of the struggle. 2020 is the battle. If we are to succeed, we must have a vision larger than the threat we face. Addison McConnell a/k/a “Mitch” is up for re-election. Given his past willingness to go hammer-and-tongs against anything remotely good for America’s future, he *must* be defeated.
So must John Cornyn, his chief henchman. So must every single one of the other 18 Republicans running. That, coupled with a victorious sweep by the Democrats up for re-election, *might* provide sufficient momentum to overwhelm Joe Manchin’s servile obsequiousness to the corporations hell-bent on destroying the ability of this amazing planet to support human life.
Dare to Dream!
It is the privilege of youth.