My name is Jessica Juarez Scruggs, and I recently joined the Sunrise Movement and a courageous group of young Kentuckians who took over the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to demand he stop playing political games and take real action to address our climate crisis.
McConnell gloats over his role as a spoiler in the Senate - he refuses to bring common-sense measures on voting rights and good government to the floor. He thought he was clever by promising to bring the Green New Deal up for a vote before the Senate.
Doing this, he imagined, would turn the tables on Democrats, and highlight divisions within the party. No one would notice, he hoped, that he and other Senators like him, who are flush with campaign contributions from the fossil-fuel industry, have done nothing to address climate change in the last thirty years.
But a cry is rising up all across the country, especially among young people, that lawmakers must stand up and defend those who will bear the brunt of our climate catastrophe: our children. So now McConnell has started to backtrack. Oh - maybe we’ll vote before we recess in June, he says.
From the Sandy-ravaged streets of the Jersey Shore to rural towns decimated by tornadoes in Alabama, the waterways contaminated by flooded hog farms in North Carolina and the farm workers and family farmers fighting fracking in Illinois, we know that the climate crisis isn’t coming; it’s here.
From communities ravaged by the pollution and exploitation of the coal industry in West Virginia, we know that this isn’t about saving jobs – it’s about the 1 percent protecting obscene profits while the rest of us struggle.
From my friends choking on the poison spewing from the Marathon refinery in Detroit right now, to indigenous people fighting to clean up land in “sacrifice zones” poisoned by uranium and lead contamination, we know that people of color are hit first and worst by pollution, by toxins and by neglect.
This is our national emergency. It affects us all, unlike the fake “emergency” Donald Trump declared so he can take billions from taxpayers to build a vanity project at our southern border. McConnell backs Trump up on his racist border wall. That is not an emergency. It is an illegal and immoral distraction from the very real crises we are facing.
My children are 2 and 4 years old. My baby girl won’t even be in high school when we run out of time. What kind of planet will they be left with? I need every Senator to look at me, and to look at all of us, and decide: Will you take courageous action, or will you side with dirty fossil fuels and dirty political games?
The Green New Deal is a bold plan that actually addresses the scope of the crisis we are facing. We must spark community transformation, not just transfer wealth from working people to the one percent. We must build sustainability, not sustain a broken system.
For far too long, big energy companies have profited from our destruction. They’ve left our communities with dirty air, poisoned water and dangerous, dead-end jobs. They have drilled and polluted and pocketed unbelievable profits.
They’ve bought off politicians like Senator McConnell with millions of dollars in campaign contributions. They’ve bought silence and inaction and dirty political tricks like the ones McConnell is trying to pull right now.
Fossil-fuel billionaires might have bought generations of politicians, but we are the ones who pay the price. We pay in health problems like asthma, cancer and heart disease; we pay in poisoned water and unusable land. In monster storms that threaten our homes, in droughts, in fires, and in lives cut short.
Crucially, the Green New Deal understands that the climate crisis is a racial justice issue. Everyone pays the price of the climate crisis, but we don’t all pay it equally. 68 percent of African-Americans, in particular, live within 30 miles of a coal plant. 80 percent of Latinos live in areas that fail to meet federal EPA Air quality standards. The same is true of exposure to lead and toxins and more.
When monster storms hit, communities of color and low-income communities are most at risk once again. We haven’t forgotten that they are still finding the bodies of people killed by Hurricane Maria and the Trump administration’s neglect in Puerto Rico, and people are still living in tents in Florida and Georgia because of Hurricane Michael.
How many more storms, fires and droughts will it take to open our eyes?
Communities of color and low-income communities have paid the heaviest price all along which is why the Green New Deal must do even more to ensure there are no more sacrifice zones and that the hardest hit communities get investment and clean up first.
This is the real emergency: our emergency. This, now, is our crisis.
I was my daughter’s age when scientists began testifying about climate change before Congress, more than 30 years ago. Congress has failed to act for my entire lifetime.
Now, my question is, will they fail us again?
We need transformation. We need a 100% just Green New Deal. And we’re here to tell Mitch and every one of his colleagues that we will transform the Senate, if they aren’t up to the task.