Hundreds of pro-environment activists lobbied lawmakers on Capitol Hill Monday in an attempt to pressure Democratic leaders to endorse a Green New Deal for the new majority’s agenda in the next Congress.
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Protesters staged sit-ins at the congressional offices of Reps. Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer and Jim McGovern, calling for a transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy and urging Democrats to leverage their power in the 116th Congress to enact green legislative proposals championed by progressives.
“The U.N. says we have 12 years to transform our economy and avert catastrophe,” said Varshini Prakash, Sunrise co-founder, as the sit-in began at Pelosi’s office. “Over 1,000 young people took over Capitol Hill today because we all deserve good jobs and a livable future. The Democrats need a plan to make it happen.”
Another speaker at the demonstration, the Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr., said Americans of all backgrounds “are fighting for existence” in the face of climate change.
“This is not about Republican. This is not about Democrat. This is about humanity!” Yearwood, Jr., the president and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus, exclaimed. “Climate change is a civil rights issue. We have a right to clean air, we have a right to clean water and we will fight not for ourselves but for the next generation.”
Jeremy Ornstein, 18, of Watertown, Massachusetts, called on House Democratic leaders to “step up for my generation” and support the Green New Deal.
“We’re fighting for survival and we’re also fighting for dignity,” Ornstein said. “The Democrats might say that they’re our climate champions but they’ve gotta step up and back a Green New Deal if they wanna prove it.”
Pelosi, who is facing a test of her leadership as she builds support in her bid for House speaker, has already announced plans to reconvene a select committee on climate change in the next Congress. After Monday’s demonstration, Taylor Griffin, a spokeswoman for Pelosi, reiterated that “addressing climate change remains a top priority” for Pelosi.
“She has proposed reinstating a select committee on climate and looks forward to caucus-wide discussions with the committees of jurisdiction to determine the appropriate path forward,” Griffin stated.
Hoyer, D-Maryland, also expressed harmony with the activists.
I welcome visitors from @sunrisemvmt to my office today, and I'm happy to hear from them about one of the most pressing issues of our time. Speaking out is exactly what our democracy is all about, and I appreciate their passion. The new Dem Majority will #ActonClimate.— Steny Hoyer (@WhipHoyer) December 10, 2018
Of the targeted lawmakers, Sunrise Movement said McGovern addressed the demonstrators and pledged his support, but none of the other lawmakers were present during the sit-ins.
Initial reactions from Democrats did not satisfy many of the activists marching around Capitol Hill Monday.
“Speaker Pelosi proposed bringing a committee back from years ago -- a committee that would gather evidence. We don’t have time to gather evidence anymore,” Ornstein said. “We need climate action and we have all the evidence we need.”
Each of the Democratic leaders has an office in the U.S. Capitol where access is restricted to official business. But access for the public is not limited in the House office buildings, forcing Sunrise organizers to execute their protests there.
U.S. Capitol Police eventually moved in, warning protesters to leave or face arrest.
There were 138 protesters who were arrested and charged with crimes related to unlawfully demonstrating in the Cannon and Longworth House Office Buildings.
Last month, a similar protest in Pelosi's office led to 51 people being arrested. Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, visited the protest, but she did not participate on Monday.