Steven Marquardt, Sunrise Movement fellow-Chico, CA hub coordinator, speaks during the Sunrise Movement's Green New Deal Town Hall.
Steven Marquardt, a Sunrise Movement organizer, speaks during the Green New Deal town hall. Credit: Edward A. Ornelas for the San Antonio Report

A vision to limit the worst effects of climate change and remake the U.S. economy got its first public hearing in San Antonio on Saturday at an event on the West Side.

About 75 people attended a Green New Deal town hall on Saturday at the Guadalupe Theater, where organizers sought to build support for the initiative and San Antonio’s own Climate Action and Adaptation Plan.

The event was part of a series of local events across the country put on by the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led political action group that’s provided grassroots force behind the Green New Deal. The group drew national attention last November when it helped organize a sit-in at the office of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to urge support for the climate and jobs initiative.

Steven Marquardt, a Sunrise Movement organizer based in Chico, California, started with a personal story about how the devastation wrought by the Camp Fire, the deadliest in the U.S. in 100 years, propelled him into climate organizing.

“We’ve grown this movement from the ground, and we’re going to continue doing it because that’s what this crisis calls for,” Marquardt said.

“Just eight months ago, our politicians were not talking about climate change the way they are now,” he said. He pointed to the Green New Deal resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives that was introduced by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) and now has nearly 100 sponsors.

That resolution calls for Congress to take massive action to shift the U.S. economy away from fossil fuels, coupled with a federal jobs guarantee to cope with economic stagnation and inequality.

For the first time, climate is also a major issue in a presidential race, with Democratic candidates Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Julián Castro, Beto O’Rourke, and Jay Inslee having released their own climate plans.

Much of the criticism of the Green New Deal has centered around its vague language and aspirational dreams about a radical shift in American society.

At Saturday’s event, Briauna Barrera, a San Antonio-based climate justice organizer with progressive and consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, broke down the elements of the Green New Deal, which she called a “framework.”

“It’s not one specific policy, it’s a framework that calls for systemic change,” Barrera said. The Green New Deal also applies to the resolutions themselves introduced by Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) in the Senate.

On a concrete level, Barrera said, the Green New Deal is also a call for a House select committee that would “be charged with developing a detailed national industrial economic mobilization plan for the transition of the United States economy to become climate neutral.”

“Probably most importantly, the Green New Deal is a vehicle for organizing our neighborhoods, our workplaces, our schools, and our cities for a better future,” Barrera said.

Briauna Barrera, Organizer for Public Citizen
Briauna Barrera, an organizer for Public Citizen, speaks at a town hall focusing on the Green New Deal. Credit: Edward A. Ornelas for the San Antonio Report

Saturday’s event drew attendees beyond San Antonio’s established environmentalist community. One of the speakers, Alejandra Lopez, a second-grade teacher in the San Antonio Independent School District and member of the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel, drew a connection between the climate and the classroom.

“The Green New Deal is essentially a reconnection with the idea of a public good – something that is there for everyone and not just the profit of a few,” Lopez said. “The wonderful thing about public education is it is one of the last remaining public goods in our social sphere.”

The town hall’s other supporters included MOVE Texas, the San Antonio chapter of Democratic Socialists of America, the Sierra Club, the Texas Organizing Project, the Bexar County Green Party, and Moms Clean Air Force.

Houston native Raven Douglas, MOVE Texas’ deputy director, talked about how the intense flooding left by Hurricane Harvey in 2017 left friends and family members displaced and in debt.

“Reading the seemingly daily inundating and apocalyptic reports can have a paralyzing effect,” Douglas said. “It is easy to slip into feeling inert in the face of such a daunting historical task. It is a tall order to completely overhaul our political economy.”

Several of the speakers focused on environmentalists’ tendency to push people only toward individual action – recycling, reducing energy and water use, and other voluntary choices. Instead, they urged the need for people to organize as schools, churches, community groups, and municipalities to combat the influence of the fossil fuel industry on the political system.

At the event, Jessica Cisneros, a Laredo immigration attorney who is challenging U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar for the Democratic nomination to the 28th District, signed a pledge not to take more than $200 from any fossil fuel company, executive, or lobbyist.

“I’m really happy to be having these conversations because today, we’re talking about why we should and how we can,” Cisneros said. “Porque si se puede – we can.”

Jessica Cisneros, candidate for US Congress TX-28 addresses the audience.
Jessica Cisneros, an immigration attorney who is mounting a primary challenge against U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, addresses the audience. Credit: Edward A. Ornelas for the San Antonio Report

Many of the speakers also urged adults who may have grown complacent to listen to young people. Alyssa Martinez, 14, a local student starting high school in August, talked about a lesson she had learned from her father about taking action the face of despair.

“If it was a mistake, you fix it,” Martinez said. “Don’t sit and pout about it because it won’t get the job done.”

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Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.