Youth are honing a Green New Deal for Vermont

MIDDLEBURY — The Green New Deal is getting a Green Mountain twist.
Middlebury College students are drafting a “joint resolution supporting a State Green New Deal and associated legislative and public policy proposals related to climate change and social justice,” which they hope will get introduced in the General Assembly early next year.
The Green Mountain version of the Green New Deal is every bit as transformative as the federal version introduced Feb. 7 by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass.
According to an April 16 draft, which lists Burlington Democratic State Rep. Brian Cina and Hartland Progressive Rep. Zacharia Ralph as potential cosponsors, the Vermont resolution would call on legislators to “implement a State Green New Deal program with a specific focus on energy, infrastructure, transportation, agriculture, land use, economics, demilitarization, inequality and financial reform.”
Even with the roadmap provided by Ocasio-Cortez and Markey (and 90 of their colleagues), figuring out what a Vermont Green New Deal should look like will require work of a much higher order than word-tweaking, i-dotting or t-crossing — and it will not happen in dorm rooms, classrooms or committee rooms.
Between the resolution and the comprehensive climate legislation it hopes to inspire stand more than 625,000 Vermonters with a wide range of concerns, resources and opinions.
With that in mind, Green New Deal supporters have taken the first step toward outreach.
Last Friday night, Sunrise Middlebury (the college-based node of a larger movement to stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process) hosted a Green New Deal town hall meeting in Mead Chapel. Roughly 140 people attended.
It was just a baby step, to be sure, but these climate justice activists know a little something about putting one foot in front of the other. Earlier this month many of them walked 65 miles from Middlebury to Montpelier to support climate-change-related bills now being considered by the legislature.
Leif Taranta was one of them.
“People from across this country — from across the world — and this is already happening, so many people in this room are directly part of this — need to come together, to build huge coalitions of people from all sorts of backgrounds and really stand up for our survival,” Taranta said at the meeting. “This can look like nonviolent direct action. This can look like talking to your neighbor. And all sorts of actions in between. If every single person is involved with this, we can win.”
After Taranta and five colleagues made their case for a Vermont Green New Deal — and patiently unpacked the false claims leveled against it by fossil fuel companies, climate deniers and climate delayers — they yielded the floor to their audience.
“How can we reach out to people who wouldn’t come to something like this?” asked Weybridge resident Fran Putnam.
“We live in this beautiful state and farms are going out of business and it’s creating a vacuum,” said Jennifer Vyhnak of Bristol. “What’s going to come into our state if the farms are no longer active farms?”
“When we talk about the Green New Deal, we also need to talk about how to reform our immigration system,” said Omar Valencia, a Middlebury College student who grew up in Los Angeles. “We don’t have a crisis at our border, but with the coming change in the environment, that may happen.”
“It’s really important right at the outset to be able to show — whether it’s solar or public transit or whatever — how it’s going to help those of us who have the least amount of resources,” said Ellen Oxfeld, a Middlebury resident and professor at the college.
Vivian Ross, a 13-year-old Middlebury Union Middle School student, looked ahead to 2030, the year by which scientists say “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” must be made in order to avoid catastrophic and irreversible climate disruption.
“I am completely terrified and overwhelmed by that,” Ross said at the meeting. “In 11 years I will be 24. I will only have lived a quarter of my life — hopefully. If this doesn’t work out … then that’s it for me.”
Still, she added, “now that I’m here and everyone else in this room is here with me, I actually have hope now, which is not something I’ve had in a very long time.”
The event was the first of what Sunrise Middlebury hopes will be many across the state.
“It’s vital that the Green New Deal addresses the needs of all Vermonters,” said Sunrise member and Middlebury student Olivia Sommers in a phone interview with the Independent.
Brattleboro, Burlington and Cabot have scheduled town hall meetings in the coming weeks.
Similar efforts are under way across the country. In addition to organizing more than a hundred Green New Deal town hall meetings (and counting), the Sunrise Movement has launched an initiative to focus attention on the 2020 presidential race.
“This summer, thousands of us will descend on one of the first Democratic presidential debates to #ChangeTheDebate and make sure the #GreenNewDeal is a top issue in the 2020 election,” wrote organizers on the Sunrise website. “All presidential contenders must back the #GreenNewDeal or face the contempt of young people everywhere, and the mainstream media must fully cover climate change or slide further into irrelevance.”
Why “young people”?
“For our entire lives, politicians have failed to stop the greatest threat to civilization as we know it — climate change,” they wrote. “We did nothing to cause this crisis, but it’s our generation that will lose everything if we don’t act now.”
For more information about Sunrise, visit sunrisemovement.org. For more information about Sunrise Middlebury, visit the group’s Facebook page.
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].

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