As the climate crisis continues and public calls for action mount, the Green New Deal has been centered as a broad proposal for an array of policies that could address the man-made impacts on the climate. But a response has arisen amid concerns that the various programs embodied in different versions of the deal could leave Native climate needs and understanding of the earth out of the conversation. That response is called the Red Deal.
The version of the Green New Deal introduced in February by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), which calls for a nationwide approach to climate change to avert a potential climate disaster, drew inspiration from the Green New Deal originally popularized by the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led grassroots organization that built upon organizing knowledge of Native, black, and brown communities.
The Green New Deal calls for clean-energy jobs, infrastructure, decarbonization, and support of vulnerable “frontline” communities. Included in the list of frontline communities are Indigenous folks, the land’s first people, who only see a dedicated section to the history and destruction of community, culture, and health and on the last page of the bill.
That section reads: “… a Green New Deal will require the following goals and projects … [including] obtaining the free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous peoples for all decisions that affect indigenous peoples and their traditional territories, honoring all treaties and agreements with indigenous peoples, and protecting and enforcing the sovereignty and land rights of indigenous peoples.”
For 25-year-old Cheyenne Antonio, that’s not good enough. That’s why she and other organizers with the grassroots Native organization called The Red Nation have proposed a Red Deal, intended not to replace, but to support the proposal from Ocasio-Cortez and others by centering Native leaders and the knowledge that comes with centuries of fighting back against a government that sought to destroy them.
Water protectors and land defenders who live on the front lines of environmental degradation and are often the first to protest its destruction are mentioned once in what is being heralded as the revolutionary policy our country needs right now. So what are they asking for with the Red Deal? Teen Vogue spoke with Antonio and Red Nation cofounder Dr. Melanie Yazzie to find out.
The Red Deal was crafted by community members, Native people, young people, and poor people. It has four key tenets designed to build on and push forward the ideas in the Green New Deal: First, what creates crisis cannot solve it; second, change must come from below and move to the left; third, politicians can’t do what mass movements do; and fourth, the climate conversation must move from theory to action.
“We draw from Black abolitionist traditions to call for divestment away from the criminalizing, caging, and harming of human beings AND divestment away from the exploitative and extractive violence of fossil fuels,” the Red Nation writes of the first tenet on their website. “Proposed discretionary spending for national security in 2020 comes in at $750 billion … And only $66 billion of discretionary funds are spent on healthcare each year … This proves there is an overabundance of energy and resources that go into demonizing Indigenous water protectors and land defenders, Muslims, Black people, Mexicans, women, LGTBQIA2+, and poor people.”
In other words, it’s not enough for Red Deal proponents that the Green New Deal seeks to create jobs in renewable energy and pushes for access to clean water, food, and a livable planet.
Responding to the fact that the bill does not call to end fossil fuel consumption, Antonio said that the Green New Deal language could create potential for “normalizing fracking again [and] normalizing nuclear again, and doesn’t give an option for our people or the planet.” She explained that Red Deal proponents believe the Green New Deal should include language that explicitly bans fracking and every form of resource extraction.
The second tenet of the Red Deal, advocating for change from below and to the left, is a call to recognize the inspiration for the Green New Deal and to go further. In order to take the next step toward climate justice, the Red Deal states that a mass movement is needed: “We must throw the full weight of people power behind these demands for a dignified life. People power is the organized force of the masses; a movement to reclaim our humanity and rightful relations with our earth.”
The second tenet of the Red Deal, which claims that mass movement politics must be a catalyst for change, underlies the third tenet, which suggests that politicians cannot save our planet by attending to symptoms of the problem. Incremental political reforms do not address underlying causes and neglect to hold to account industries that perpetuate the climate crisis.
“[Gradual reform] attempts to treat the symptoms of a crisis, rather than the structures of power that create crisis in the first place,” the Red Nation writes. “Reformists misunderstand this fundamental truth about capitalist states. States protect capital and the wealthy class, not life. Reformists who appeal to the state for change compromise our future. We refuse to compromise.”
“We actually have to build really broad, mass coalitions,” Yazzie explained, connecting tenets two and three. Yazzie noted that politics takes note of “what’s happening in the public sphere” and added, “The politicians will respond and follow our lead anyway; we’re really interested in empowering people to feel like they can own this work.”
With its first three tenets laying out that the system is broken and only a mass movement — not piecemeal political reforms — can fix it, the Red Deal’s fourth tenet is a call to apply that understanding in action.
“We must reclaim our collective power,” the Red Deal’s fourth tenet reads. “When the state invests its greatest resources to contain the threat of mass mobilization, we must already be organized in those spaces and those communities. We must be one step ahead, ready to capture the momentum of the next rebellion and catapult it into a full-blown mass movement.”
“We don’t have time for people to pretend that the problem is much further off,” Yazzie said of the fourth tenet. “We have to collapse the process and figure out ways to move forward together.” She explained that that the Red Deal is intended to empower people at the local and regional level in order to tackle the “urgent issues that they’re facing in their local context.”
“We need people as a whole to lead these conversations and move it beyond legislation,” Antonio told Teen Vogue, stressing that there is no time to wait. “At this point, we need action. At this point, we need people organizing in their communities.”
The Red Deal asserts that the fight for climate justice must center Native people when it comes to the issues that disproportionately impact Native communities, but it also communicates what the Green New Deal does not — namely, that public lands are stolen lands and climate change is significantly caused by just a few industries, which the government has at worst neglected to hold accountable and at best assisted in their efforts to mine the earth for resources in a move that put profits over people.
“We need to center Indigenous people who’ve been at the forefront,” Antonio told Teen Vogue. Native people have the worst health outcomes of any demographic group in the country, and their communities are at times on the frontlines of places where government and private companies pollute. Antonio believes that a Native-centered climate justice approach will not only aid the environment but also address the high rates of deadly diseases and cancers brought on by uranium mining and fracking, just to name a few.
This content was originally published here.