Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gave a fiery speech at an event sponsored by the Sunrise Movement on May 13. The symposium at Howard University marked the end of a 30-day campaign by the Sunrise Movement designed to educate voters across the nation about the Green New Deal proposed by AOC and Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts.
Now folks, politicians give speeches all the time. Most of them are nothing more than hot air, filled with empty promises and blue sky blathering. The speakers know their promises will never be fulfilled. The audience knows the promises they are hearing are just sloganeering. We all wink and nod and pretend we are witnessing some historic peroration, knowing in our heart of hearts that it is all window dressing designed to obscure the real political wheeling and dealing that goes on in the background.
Some speeches leave a permanent mark on society. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is one. JFK’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech was another, even if America’s charismatic young president got his genders confused. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech is one for the ages. Barack Obama’s nomination speech at the Democratic Convention in 2008 ignited his drive toward the White House.
This speech by AOC may well stand the test of time. In it, she rips feckless politicians of all political parties for selling out to fossil fuel interests and refusing to protect Americans from the pollution caused by burning oil, gas, and coal. Not just because it threatens the world’s fragile ecosystem but because it affects the health of everyone, especially the youngest citizens.
She pushes back hard against the namby pamby, go slow, middle of the road policies put forth by Joe Biden and clears the air about charges by Republicans that she seeks to make America a socialist country by reminding her audience that a strong nation, a proud nation, a great nation is one that tends to the needs of the poor and the powerless.
"I will be damned if the same politicians who refused to act then are going to try to come back today and say we need a middle of the road approach to save our lives." –@AOC on the Green New Deal at #Road2GND pic.twitter.com/S9UI7bmDEV
— Justice Democrats (@justicedems) May 14, 2019
Told by her detractors that the Green New Deal is “too much,” she fired back with a list of things she finds to be too much, such as politicians standing idly by while babies in Flint, Michigan are poisoned by the water they drink and bathe in. She also attacks taxpayer bailouts for coal companies and subsidies for fossil fuel companies, calling them “too much.”
But enough preamble. Please watch the entire video below. It is just over 11 minutes long and it may be the best speech of the 21st century so far.
Wow! Give ’em hell, Alexandria! Most Americans alive today have never seen such an example of truth telling by a member of Congress. The video has garnered hundreds of comments on YouTube, like this one from Chuck Johnston. “This young lady has made the old politicians look like idiots for not doing their job for decades. You keep up the amazing work you are doing.” Others predict she will be president some day. Jamc666 writes, “I’ll take a waitress as POTUS over a ‘billionaire’ anytime. This woman is precious.”
Bernie Weighs In
Bernie Sanders was also on hand to echo AOC’s sentiments. “These companies lied to the American people about the very existence of climate change and committed one of the greatest frauds in the history of our country,” Sanders told the crowd. “Just as the tobacco industry was ultimately forced to pay for the fraud they committed, the fossil fuel industry must be forced to do the same. Instead of spending well over a trillion dollars a year on weapons of destruction, think about spending that money on making this planet healthy and habitable.”
There is no “middle ground” when it comes to climate policy. If we don't commit to fully transforming our energy system away from fossil fuels, we will doom future generations. Fighting climate change must be our priority, whether fossil fuel billionaires like it or not.
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) May 10, 2019
Lessons From Australia
Australia held national elections this week. In the end, a know-nothing, do-nothing fossil fuel apologist won over candidates who put climate change first in their campaigns. That’s troubling for people like Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders, who are staking their political careers on being the adults in the room when it comes to addressing the ravages of a warming planet. Voters in Australia threw their support to creating more jobs based on extracting coal and selling it to developing nations rather than protecting themselves and their children from the toxins created when that coal is burned. They seem to think that carbon pollution exported to Indonesia or Vietnam will have no impact on their own continent.
Identity politics, which are based more on national pride than rational thinking, is sweeping the world. If the Earth becomes overheated to the point where most life is extinguished, branding will be one of the main reasons. At least we will die with the logo of our favorite sports team emblazoned on our hats and clutching our national flag. Tribalism is buried deep in the reptilian part of the human brain and today’s successful politicians have perfected the art of appealing to our deepest fears and insecurities.
What an epitaph for the human race. So many deaths. So much energy expended just so one tribe can claim bragging rights over another tribe. “Lord, what fools these mortals be,” Shakespeare wrote. “Lord, how pathetic these mortals are,” might be an even better way of putting it.
When it comes to climate change, lots of people just don’t want to hear it. They are told that doing anything about it is too expensive, as if destroying the Earth won’t have economic consequences of its own. And they believe it, never stopping to consider they are complicit in the poisoning of their own children when they vote for leaders controlled by fossil fuel interests. Better a job today than a sustainable planet tomorrow, or so the thinking goes.
Beware Scary Socialism
One approach to blunting the call for a Green New Deal is to label all who support the idea as socialists. Reactionaries have done an exquisite job of conflating socialism with communism. Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell has used the fear of socialism to berate GND supporters. “Now, my friends, we’re having a legitimate debate about the virtues of socialism,” he told an audience recently. “And I don’t want you to think this is just a 28-year-old congresswoman from New York. This is much broader than that.” Almost sounds like the Red Menace from 7 decades ago.
People like McConnell would like you to forget the Latin root for socialism is the same as the root for society — “societās, equivalent to soci(us ) partner, comrade + -etās, variant of -itās- -ity,” according to Dictionary.com. Here are some related words: company, humanity, community, nation, culture, civilization, world, public, association, population, club, league, group, network, union, corporation, institute, circle, elite, commonwealth. Oh, my. That’s some scary stuff right there.
Reactionaries see life as a post-apocalyptic struggle in which everyone is out for themselves. Think Mel Gibson in Mad Max. Life has no room for charity, concern for others, or compassion. It’s a Jack Welch world where the bottom 10% are simply eliminated every year. Thinning the herd, you might call it. It’s the dystopian vision promoted by Fred Koch and his progeny for the past 70 years, the one that gave us Ronnie Rayguns and his “welfare queen” myth that resonated so powerfully with white people back then and still does today.
If AOC and Sanders, or someone like Washington governor Jay Inslee, are going to have success promoting their visions of a Green New Deal, they will need to overcome decades of programming by Rupert Murdoch, the Koch Brothers, and others of their ilk. In the end, convincing humans to work together for the collective good may be a bridge too far those who have been taught to believe the collective good is an antisocial construct. Talk about standing logic on its head!
If AOC’s speech doesn’t get you fired up to seize the initiative and throw the predators out of government, then for all practical purposes the cause is lost and the only hope is that the next species to rule the world — in a few million years, after the Earth has a chance to repair the damage inflicted upon it by people — will be smarter about creating a sustainable planet.
Biologists classify humans as homo sapiens, which in Latin means “wise man.” Putting aside the obvious gender bias in that taxonomy, there is a better than even chance that we should be more accurately classified as homo non sapiens. Any evidence that humans are wise is scant, as we have done far more to live up to the latter characterization than the former.