Rep. Ben Ray Luján Endorses Green New Deal

Santa Fe Sunrise Movement town hall also features Rep. Deb Haaland and Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber

Hundreds of people packed the two rooms of the Center for Progress and Justice at the Santa Fe Sunrise Movement Town Hall to discuss the Green New Deal Thursday night.

They heard a surprise endorsement of the ambitious, controversial federal legislative proposal aimed mitigating the effects of climate change from New Mexico Congressman Ben Ray Luján—and support for the measure from two other high-profile politicians.

The event was one of many organized across the country in the last few weeks to generate momentum for the ambitious, controversial resolution, which was introduced in Congress on Feb. 7 by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, and Rep. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts.

The resolution calls for the creation of a plan to transition the United States to 100% renewable energy by 2035; stimulate the economy through the creation of thousands of green jobs; provide universal healthcare and a living wage; and transition the nation to a sustainable economy by providing resources to the low-income communities and non-white communities most impacted by climate change.

In February, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, wouldn't commit to holding a vote on the resolution, which failed to advance through the Senate on March 27. The following day, Pelosi introduced alternative climate change legislation in the House with a bill called the Climate Action Now Act that focuses more narrowly on reducing carbon emissions and ensuring that the US honors the Paris climate agreement.

The Green New Deal continues to get all the attention. It's still the most talked-about legislation introduced at the federal level that aims to blunt the damage caused by climate change, and advocates have hardly given up the fight.

The Sunrise Movement, organized by young people across the country who endorse the Green New Deal and push for its reintroduction in the next session of Congress, has helped force the resolution into the spotlight for the upcoming election cycle. At the Santa Fe event, politicians, advocates and young people spoke about their reasons for supporting the federal legislation.

Mayor Alan Webber talked about Santa Fe's own citywide Green New Deal proposal.

Hannah Laga-Abram, the local youth leader for the Santa Fe Sunrise hub, kicked off the event with a speech about how climate change affects young people, and opened the floor for other youths to speak up. Among the students who spoke Thursday night were several young people who talked to SFR last week for a story on the psychological impacts of climate change on youths and their role in pushing the movement into the political spotlight.

The crowd was visibly shaken by the testimony of one little girl, Asyla, who sobbed as she confronted the assembly, saying: "If I want to become a marine biologist when I'm older, I can't, because of you! You are destroying my future! My life! Your children! How could you do that to us? … People think this problem is just going to pass, but how will it pass if you don't stop it? You think this is easy to go through, but every day I think about what is hard to think about­—what my future will be like."

Next up was Luján, who gave a speech announcing his endorsement of the Green New Deal. It made him the 103rd member of Congress to sign on. The announcement came less than 24 hours after Luján received an endorsement from Nancy Pelosi for his 2020 run to fill the Senate seat made available when Sen. Tom Udall declines to run again.

It marked the first time Luján has expressed his support for the resolution. After the event, he told SFR that speaking with young constituents swayed his stance on the issue and convinced him to add his name to the growing list of Democrats who publicly endorse the proposal. He singled out the impact of one student from the Santa Fe Indian School, Harlan Quintana, who recently traveled to Washington to urge the representative to do more on climate action.

"What we're working on in the short term now that Democrats have a majority in the House, is we are having hearings for the first time in 10 years on the climate crisis in Congress," Luján says. "We'll be having those before summer in the Energy [and] Commerce Committee; you'll see legislation passed out of the committee and onto the House floor that we will send to the Senate."

Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico's 1st Congressional District, one of the first members of Congress to show outspoken support for the Green New Deal, also spoke at the event, followed by Webber.

The mayor touted Santa Fe as one of the first cities in the country to adopt a citywide Green New Deal Plan, but he offered no specifics on what that would look like. Instead, he instructed the crowd to look at the city's new sustainability plan and promised the creation of hundreds of new jobs.

Hernan Gomez Chavez, a young man with a welding degree from Santa Fe Community College, took the mayor to task on making big promises without providing the crowd with any details about how the city's sustainability plan will benefit low-income residents.

"As a local Santa Fean, I'm always wary and concerned that these promises for new jobs only go to people who already have these degrees and come from outside," he said. "I know the inequities of this town very, very well because I live on the Southside. I want to make sure that, moving forward, we create a sustainable economy for people who already live here and create training programs for our local youth so that as we are moving forward, we are not leaving the same people who are always being left behind."

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