A few months ago, I woke up with a “berning” need to join the Bernie Sanders campaign. I had followed the evolution of the revolution because of Bernie’s outstanding climate platform, and I wanted to do more. I canvased in New Hampshire ahead of the primary and interned with the campaign, immersing myself in the “Feel the Bern” movement’s theory of change.
As Bernie’s campaign marched into my life, I could not help but compare its strategies to those of the other cause that dominates my world: the climate movement. Climate organizers have worked for decades to build a mass movement, an effort that produced the largest climate event in US history when 400,000 people marched in 2014 in New York City. Yet within six months of launching his campaign, Bernie had drawn that many people to his rallies. As the climate movement struggles to build electoral power, Bernie has inspired more people than ever to vote and engage with the political process. Up close and personal, I learned that America’s new political uprising and its leader offer invaluable lessons for climate activists.
- Shared vision: The Sanders campaign revolves around a unified, concrete, and identifiable vision defined in the platforms on Bernie’s website. People can easily understand the values and objectives of Bernie’s political revolution. When it comes to climate change, for example, the senator envisions a country in which we “reclaim our democracy from the billionaire fossil fuel lobby.”
In contrast, the climate movement does not have a unified vision for the future other than a general imperative to avoid climate catastrophe. This makes it confusing for outsiders and even those within the movement to understand exactly what we are fighting for. Some organizations, including a few of the “Big Greens,” support natural gas as a bridge fuel. Yet more and more groups reject natural gas, citing health and environmental risks. Each approach represents different values and futures. Can the climate movement create clarity by rallying around a common vision?
- Beyond human-as-usual: Bernie understands that there is no room for human-as-usual compromise when it comes to climate change. He is the only Democratic candidate to oppose fracking and reject all fossil fuels. He is not afraid to stand up to the fossil-fuel industry, famously saying: ‘To hell with the fossil fuel industry. Worry more about your children and your grandchildren than your campaign contributions.” Bernie also condemned the international COP21 climate agreement when he declared that it “does not provide” the “bold action” required. Rather than succumb to the status quo and its acceptance of endless compromise, Bernie Sanders’ climate policy stems from a fact-based insistence on climate justice.
Many climate organizations stand with Bernie’s strong positions. Others are willing to compromise and settle for weaker action. The reaction to COP21 shows the range of opinion. Both the heads of the Sierra Club and Avaaz hailed the Paris agreement as a “turning point.” The head of Greenpeace said, “The wheel of climate action turns slowly, but in Paris it has turned.” Yet many young climate activists consider the agreement profoundly unjust, condemning youth and front-line communities to a future of climate chaos. One of the major climate-justice delegations to COP21, It Takes Roots, wrote after the talks concluded: “The COP21 agreement is a failure, condemning humanity to a slow and painful death.” How can these perspectives be reconciled?