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April 23, 2019

The Daily Free Press: Ayanna Pressley, Ed Markey speak about Green New Deal in Dorchester

The Road to a Green New Deal, an eight-city nationwide tour, launched Thursday as U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley and others addressed a 1,400-person audience at the Strand Theatre in Dorchester about the urgency of climate change and how the Green New Deal plans to address it.

The tour was organized by the Sunrise Movement — a youth movement founded in 2017 whose mission is to “stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process,” according to their website.

Varshini Prakash, co-founder and executive director of the Sunrise Movement, said at the event that the issue of climate change can no longer be ignored.

“This is a matter of life and death,” Prakash said. “We’re not listening to the people who say it’s too hard, we are rolling up our sleeves and saying you need to follow our lead.”

The Green New Deal, an outline of which was released this February, calls for a transition to 100 percent renewable, zero-emission energy sources. Many of the improvements are aimed to also address poverty by calling for universal health care and a guaranteed job at a living wage.

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Markey, who both spoke at the launch, introduced the resolution in the House of Representatives and Senate, respectively. The resolution failed to pass the Senate on March 26.

Markey said the Green New Deal aims to lessen America’s dependence on fossil fuels and instead seek sustainable energy sources.

“We are going to save all of creation by job recreation,” Markey said at the event. “We’re going to do it by changing our relationship with the fossil fuel fast and we’re going to ask young Americans to install this new energy technology into our society.”

Pressley said the movement against climate change is intersectional because the impacts of climate change are intersectional, as well.

“The impacts of climate change are intersectional on our public health, on our human migration, on national security,” Pressley said at the event. “And so we come here tonight to advance bold, innovative and, yes, unapologetic, aspirational policy.”

Activist and Rev. Mariama White-Hammond, from Dorchester, led the audience in a hymn, accompanied on stage by the youth of Sunrise.

“Somebody’s hurting my brother, and it’s gone on far too long,” they sang, “… and we won’t stay silent anymore.”

White-Hammond said climate change is one of multiple concerns for Dorchester.

“Climate change is real,” White-Hammond said at the event, “but it is not the only challenge in our neighborhood.”

White-Hammond said when she was growing up in Dorchester in the 1990s — what she called “the most violent time for this neighborhood” — she felt like she had to choose between being an activist for racial issues or for environmental issues.

“I, like many people of color, felt like I had to choose between working on mass incarceration and working on the environment,” White-Hammond said. “We had to choose between working on the school-to-prison pipeline or working on the environment.”

White-Hammond said her perspective shifted when she saw how Hurricane Katrina especially affected communities of color in New Orleans who were not economically equipped to weather the natural disaster.

“I realized I could not keep choosing between one or the other,” White-Hammond said to the sound of cheers. “We’re here for the Green New Deal because it said that we should not have to choose between lifting people up and protecting ourselves.”

Eric Fisher, a 72-year-old organic farmer from Groton, said he attended the event on Thursday because he is a “lifelong environmentalist.” His crops, he said, have shifted “one complete climate zone” for their harvest season.

“We should’ve been doing this 30 years ago,” Fisher said. “I am just grateful that people are finally starting to move on this. It feels like nobody is listening, but I feel like now some people finally are.”

As for the supporters of the Green New Deal, Prakash said in an interview after the event she encouraged her fellow activists to work their hardest because “there are too many damn lives on the line,” and that she was “inspired beyond belief” by Sunrise’s progress as a movement.

“We started as 10 people in a small room, but now we have changed politics in America,” Prakash said. “Six months ago, nobody talked about climate change on the federal level, and now every presidential candidate is being asked where they stand on the Green New Deal.”

Alina Tomeh, 26, of Somerville, said she started volunteering for Sunrise two months ago because she admired the movement’s activism.

“All the times I’ve tried to get involved with [climate activism] before felt depressing — lots of hours for very marginal changes,” Tomeh said. “But with Sunrise, I’ve been able to align my own skills and interests with what the organization needs, which feels nice.”

Various climate action groups tabled outside of the event, passing out flyers, petitions and compost buckets to attendees.

Watertown resident Eileen Ryan, 58, waved a large banner throughout the evening that said, “We support the Green New Deal.”

“[The Green New Deal] is really inclusive. It’s addressing the social justice issues as well as the environmental issues,” Ryan said. “It’s been so incredibly frustrating to feel like you can make a difference, but now I finally feel like we can all join together.”

Earlier this month, the Boston City Council passed a resolution in support of the Green New Deal.

Boston City Councilor At-Large Michelle Wu, who spoke at the Road to the Green New Deal event, said it was hope for the future that inspired the Council’s resolution.

“Hope becomes action,” Wu said, “when we stand up to build the future that is more just, more equitable and stronger than what we’ve ever experienced.”