“We don’t know what the House and the presidency and the Senate is going to look like in 2022 or 2024,” New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said to hundreds of young Sunrise Movement activists gathered in front of the White House on Monday. “What we know is that we’ve got an opening to tackle climate.”
The crowd had convened to demand that President Joe Biden pursue a bolder infrastructure package to address the climate crisis. Progressive House Democrats Jamaal Bowman and Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Cori Bush of Missouri spoke at the protest, calling for more climate policies, including a fully funded Civilian Climate Corps, to be included in the infrastructure proposal.
Activists held signs that said biden you coward fight for us and no climate no deal, and called for “transformative” climate policy from Democrats. Some of the protesters accused the administration of selling out the same communities that helped deliver them the presidency, insisting that Biden shouldn’t be negotiating with a party of climate deniers to begin with. After rallying outside in scorching heat, as an early summer heat wave brought dangerous temperatures across the country, the protesters blockaded all 10 White House entrances, resulting in dozens of arrests.
Ocasio-Cortez sounded the call for a Civilian Climate Corps, a New Deal–style jobs plan, to be included in the infrastructure deal. She told the crowd, “They want you to think, ‘Oh this is a new idea, this is too ambitious, this is too crazy.’ How about this? The last time we introduced the Civilian Climate Corps in this country, we hired and mobilized a quarter-million people in three months.”
Progressives connected the fight for climate action to the fight against racism, policing, and the broader US history of discrimination against Black and brown communities. “They occupy our streets. They mass incarcerate us, but they leave us food insecure, in transportation deserts, and our buildings and schools falling apart. Fuck that!” Bowman said.
“We’ve got to go big, and take it to another level. And this is our moment. This is the moment,” he said to cheers.
The White House reached a $1.2 trillion, eight-year infrastructure deal with a bipartisan group of lawmakers last week, which includes only $579 billion in new spending—a figure experts say doesn’t come close to meeting the country’s infrastructure or climate needs. In comparison, Sunrise and the Congressional Progressive Caucus, among other left-leaning groups, have been calling since infrastructure negotiations took off for $10 trillion over a decade to combat the climate crisis. In response to this week’s protest, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters, “I would dispute the notion that it doesn’t do anything for climate, which some are arguing.”
The bipartisan deal isn’t just inadequate, offering a paltry amount of money for massive overlapping crises—it also takes a Trumpian approach to infrastructure. As it stands right now, according to the White House fact sheet, the bipartisan proposal would grant Wall Street one of the biggest items on its wish list, opening the door to further privatization of the nation’s physical infrastructure. “Public-private partnerships, private activity bonds, direct pay bonds and asset recycling for infrastructure investment” are among the proposed financing schemes.
Congressional Democratic leaders say they’re planning a two-track strategy, passing the watered-down bipartisan infrastructure deal alongside a larger, more comprehensive spending package that would enact the rest of Biden’s agenda. Biden has vowed to work with Democratic leadership to “move through the legislative process promptly and in tandem.” If the bipartisan deal is the only bill that comes to his desk, he said, “I’m not signing it.”
Reconciliation, a complex budget process that can be used to bypass the 60-vote filibuster threshold in the Senate, would allow for a package including aggressive climate action, drastic investments in the child care system, a range of health care provisions, and other top party-line priorities. But the Democrats’ plan is fragile, and we won’t know what the reconciliation package consists of until the Senate votes on a top-line number, various committees hammer out the details, and then a “vote-a-rama” on the floor. Progressives have been clear that they won’t support a bipartisan bill unless it’s linked to a separate, bigger spending deal. “No reconciliation bill, no deal,” Senator Bernie Sanders tweeted this week. “We need transformative change NOW.”