Wow! Youth-Led Green New Deal Town Hall
Rep. Lujan Stuns Crowd by Endorsing GND!
There are no words for how powerful the Santa Fe Green New Deal Town Hall was last night, or the scope of its potential impact. This post gives a summary, and a link to the full video (watch it and share this link). Naomi Klein wrote, This Changes Everything, and last night Hannah Laga Abram and Global Warming Emergency students may have changed NM. It was that powerful.
Most often when I hear youth take the stage to speak, the power of their message is in their age, not in the nuance of their words. After all, how many of us were composed and articulate at age 9? Last night was different, and I want to begin by thanking Les Lakind and Craig O’Hare for their masterful job of orchestrating the perfect balance of youth and adult speakers at the Green New Deal Town Hall in Santa Fe. It was extraordinary.
There were 400 folks packing the Center for Progress and Justice, and the energy in the room was electric. Undoubtedly, by the end of the evening, many felt that the political calculus in NM may have begun to transform. The dominoes just might start to fall, and they could fall in the direction of hope. Read on.
First, let’s start with Hannah Laga Abram. The poised, impassioned, articulate woman who facilitated the entire Town Hall is an 18-year-old high school senior. She orchestrated an evening that alternated youth speakers ranging in age from 8 to 17, with some adults of high political profile: US Rep. Deb Haaland, US Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, and Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber. Before the meeting started, I was pumped by the crowd, but truthfully almost fearful of having to listen, once again, to political pablum where leaders say they are “studying” the issue and are “impressed” by the youth present.
From the start, Laga Abram, Santa Fe’s new Youth Poet Laureate, wove her own powerful comments between each speaker. Wisely, the agenda was changed to allow several youth speakers to come before any of the adults. All I can say is: watch the video. The youth who spoke at this Town Hall spoke 1-2 minutes each, but the power of what they conveyed rests in my heart now. It was that clear and challenging and unutterably poignant. These are paraphrases that don’t begin to capture what was said throughout the night but hopefully will bring you to the video of the event. “How do you practice piano or study for school when you have no hope that there is even going to be a future,” one young student who is deaf, blind, and has a brain tumor communicated through a translator, describing her fears and hopes. Most powerfully of all, one young speaker, Asilah Archuletta, spoke quietly with tears flowing and penetrating dark eyes looking directly at us: “I am terrified. You are destroying my future. You are killing the planet.” Her words hung in the air the rest of the night. My summary does no justice to what transpired when these youth spoke. I wasn’t taking notes, but even had I been, typed words couldn’t possibly convey their pained expressions.
After youth speakers had set a very somber stage, the mic was handed over to Rep. Lujan. I was sitting across the center aisle from him and I am sure he knew what I was thinking, as Retake has dogged him for years begging him to use his safe House seat to show leadership on healthcare for all, refusing money from fossil fuel lobbyists and, once it was unveiled, to endorse the Green New Deal. Many times I had heard his well-woven words describing his concerns and his passionate belief in the ideals, but then hedged in caution, more words conveying that he would continue to study the issue. There was always the “but” followed by one reason or another why caution was necessary. Not last night. He spoke only briefly, first acknowledging the words of the youth and then referencing how his Congressional visit to Chaco on Sunday had changed him. And he was holding back tears. As I listened, I was waiting for the “but.” It never came. He then announced his co-sponsorship of the GND and sat down to an exuberant standing ovation. Then he reached across the aisle, shook my hand, and said: “Peace.”
In embracing the GND, Lujan has embraced a whole range of progressive policies: refusing fossil fuel money, universal healthcare, a guaranteed living wage, a just transition, a vast commitment to renewable energy, and more. It took far more courage to take this stand as a candidate for statewide office than from his entirely safe House seat. And his announcement could have a domino effect. Sitting in the row in front of me was State Senate Leader Peter Wirth and his wife City Councilor Carol Romero Wirth. Next to Roxanne were County Commissioner Anna Hanson and Rep. Matthew McQueen. Across the aisle, Mayor Webber. Also in the crowd, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, who is close to announcing her run for Senate.It will be interesting to see if other NM politicians follow suit and make their own endorsements. In any case, this is an inroad to NM Democratic Party leadership at its highest level and we need to take advantage of it.
One young student told the crowd toward the end of the event (paraphrasing): “I am terrified every single day. It is very hard to think of the future. But tonight, for the first time, seeing you all here, I have hope.” I think I share that feeling, but a good deal depends on the next few weeks. We all have been moved before at the first Women’s March, at the Retake Town Hall that drew a similar-sized crowd right after Trump was elected. Those moments tend to dissipate over time, as do the commitments we all make to become even more active. So when I was given the mic, I challenged the crowd, “When Asila spoke tearfully, many of you shouted out ‘we’re with you, Asila.’ Well, I want you to think about what that means. We can’t keep doing business as if this were just another day, another issue. We need to commit to doing things differently.”
One participant suggested we could all plant a tree on Earth Day. Yes, but we also need to plant seeds — not in the ground, but in the hearts of our leaders. We need to find ways for the words of the Global Warming Emergency youth to be shared with our leaders. We need to bring an entire delegation of NM House Reps and Senators on the same tour of Chaco that Reps Haaland and Lujan took last Sunday. We need Hannah and the GWE students to come to the Roundhouse to speak to the full assemblage and issue the challenge we heard last night. We need last night to translate into real political leadership that commits to taking a different path. Watch the video at this link. And “like” the Sunrise Movement Santa Fe Facebook page here.
One speaker last night spoke about Greta Thunberg, the 15-year-old girl who walked out of school one Friday and went to the Swedish Parliament and sat on the steps in protest of Sweden’s failure to address climate change substantially. She continued to do this until hundreds, and now over 1.5 million students, walked out of school. One 15-year-old taking action, and then the dominoes fell. If one Swedish teen can launch an international student movement, one gas and oil dependent state can launch a national movement. And it starts with one five-word commitment: “Keep it in the ground.” Yes, that means an economic challenge, but that challenge is dwarfed by the prospect of extinction.