Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez discussed a Green Justice New Deal with The City Project, GreenLatinos, CA LULAC, and The Praxis Project in her office on the Hill.
Congratulations on your election to Congress, and becoming a national leader on social justice, democracy, and livability for all. We write to you on behalf of The Praxis Project, California League of Latin American Citizens (LULAC), GreenLatinos, and The City Project. We are eager to work with you to better serve frontline communities through a Green Justice New Deal in the following ways.
A. The Framework for a Green Justice New Deal
First, people of color and low income people are consistently the voters for and supporters of environmental and climate protections. They suffer first and worst from health vulnerabilities, exposure to toxics and pollution, lack of green access to healthy active parks and recreation, housing segregation, and lack of quality green jobs and contracts. Yet, they remain consistently marginalized and ignored by elected officials, government agencies, mainstream environmental organizations, foundations, corporations, and the media. We see this already in the public conversation about a green new deal. That is why there is a civil rights, environmental justice, and health equity movement seeking equal justice, democracy, and livability for all.
Those facts are extensively documented. The solutions are too. Green Latinos, The Praxis Project, and The City Project, A Framework for Civil Rights, Environmental Justice, and Health Equity (2018). See generally Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything (2014).
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine cites the following analytic framework as a best practice for ensuring environmental justice, health equity, climate justice, and community resilience. It is based on good policy and sound law.
- Describe what you plan to do.
Here, develop a Green Justice New Deal.
- Include affected communities at every step of the process, including people of color, low income people, and other traditionally marginalized communities.
- Analyze benefits and burdens on all people.
- Numerical differences and disparities are generally the starting point for analysis.
- Numerical disparities can be shown through statistical studies, demographic analyses, GIS mapping, surveys, historical analyses, anecdotal evidence, cumulative impacts, and other information.
- Follow the money: who benefits, and who gets left behind?
- Standards and publicly available data are necessary to measure progress and equity, and hold public officials accountable.
- Consider the values at stake. For example: public health, human development, fun, and healthy recreation; climate justice and conservation; culture, history and art; and economic vitality, including quality jobs, housing, and green displacement. Equal justice and democratic governance underlie these other values.
- Analyze alternatives to what is planned.
- Develop an implementation plan and distribute benefits and burdens equitably, avoiding discrimination.
Discrimination includes unjustified discriminatory impacts regardless of intent, intentional discrimination, implicit bias, and systemic discrimination – or “business as usual.”
B. Nature’s New Deal Failed People of Color and Women
There already was a “Green New Deal;” it was called the Civilian Conservation Corps. While it improved the environment for people who were disproportionately non-Hispanic white from 1933 to 1942, it marginalized or excluded people of color and women. The CCC employed 3 million young men, planted 2 billion trees – more than half of all the trees planted in the United States up until that time – slowed soil erosion on 40 million acres of farmland, and developed 800 new state parks. Visits to National Parks increased 600 percent from less than 3.5 million people in 1933, to 21 million by 1941. The rise in visitors was due to the increased facilities for recreation afforded by the completion of trails, campgrounds, roads and other projects. The work of the CCC appealed to people across the political spectrum and across class lines. The work projects appealed to foresters in the West, to farmers in the Dust Bowl and in the soil-eroded South, and to easterners who could recreate in new state and national parks. Unemployed urban youths enrolled in the program got paid, and their minds and bodies grew stronger as they learned the benefits of hard work, conservation and recreation. Working-class families received Corps paychecks every month. Business owners sold goods and services to CCC camps and rural families benefited economically from the nearby camps. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt relied on the work relief of the CCC to raise support among the American people at the local and national levels and on the political Left and Right, to knit together an ideologically diverse political constituency to support the New Deal.
The CCC discriminated against people of color, who were housed in segregated camps, faced fewer advancement opportunities, and generally were not recruited until enrollment declined among non-Hispanic white men. Women were largely excluded.
C. The New Deal for White People
The New Deal overall benefited people who were disproportionately non-Hispanic white and wealthy. Prof. Ira Katznelson’s book When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America documents how New Deal policies excluded people of color and increased income and wealth disparities. A continuing legacy is that the average black family holds just 10% of the assets of the average white family. The Federal Housing Authority sanctioned racially restrictive housing covenants, for example. Robert Moses transformed New York with New Deal and other federal funds, often excluding African Americans and Puerto Ricans from housing, parks and beaches. People of color could not get many New Deal jobs. Income and wealth inequality today can be traced to these New Deal and Reagan tax cut deregulation policies.
Thomas Friedman in the New York Times blithely calls for a green new deal to include “the four zeros:” 1. Zero-net energy buildings; 2. Zero-waste manufacturing; 3. A zero-carbon grid; 4. Zero-emissions transportation. Reflecting why the Green New Deal failed in 2007, Friedman ignores 5. Zero discrimination, which defines the Green Justice New Deal.
D. Towards a Green Justice New Deal
There are structural obstacles to a Green Justice New Deal. The more committed to the environment, the less likely a foundation will fund social justice. While environmental funders spent $10 billion between 2000 and 2009, just 15% of those dollars benefited marginalized communities, and only 11% went to advancing social justice. To help address these concerns, foundations should invest at least 25% to advance social justice—that is, policy, advocacy, and community organizing that works toward structural change on behalf of those who are the least well off politically, economically and socially, and that build on the lessons of the Civil Rights Movement. Green 2.0 after years of advocacy reports that although people of color are now almost 40% of the U.S. population, mainstream environmental organizations have not made significant progress in breaking the 16% “green ceiling.” Of full time staff from top environmental nonprofits, only 22% are people of color, down from 27% in 2017. Black and Latino communities suffer from lower expenditure levels for parks and recreation by both the government and nonprofit sectors. People must mobilize and many organizations must work together in a sustained democratic movement to build a green economy.
We are eager to meet with you to support and strengthen a Green Justice New Deal for all. Please let me know when you are free to meet.
Very truly yours,
Mark Magaña, Founder and President, GreenLatinos, www.greenlatinos.org
Xavier Morales, PhD, Executive Director, The Praxis Project, www.thepraxisproject.org
Yvonne Gonzalez Duncan, State Director, California LULAC, www.californialulac.com/
Robert García, Founding Director-Counsel, The City Project, www.cityprojectca.org
 PRRAC, Strategies for Health Equity at 45-57 (2018). www.cityprojectca.org/blog/archives/45829.
 National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, Committee Report: Communities in Action: Pathways to Health Equity (2017). One of the top five most downloaded reports released by the Academies in 2017. www.nationalacademies.org/promotehealthequity.
 Communities in Action: Pathways to Health Equity (2017). National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. nationalacademies.org/hmd/reports/2017/communities-in-action-pathways-to-health-equity.aspx.
 Neil M. Maher, Nature’s New Deal 43 to 76, 110, and 11-12 (2008); Paul, C. A. Civilian Conservation Corps Social Welfare History Project (2017). http://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/eras/great-depression/civilian-conservation-corps/.
 See generally Ira Katznelson, When Affirmative Action Was White 52 (2005); Ira Katznelson, Fear Itself (2013); Mike Davis, City of Quartz 160-64 (1990); Robert Caro, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York 318-19, 509-12, 513-14 (1974); Martha Biondi, Robert Moses, Race, and the Limits of an Activist State, chapter in Hilary Ballon & Kenneth T. Jackson, eds., Robert Moses and the Modern City: The Transformation of New York 116-21 (2007); Thomas Piketty, On the rise of Bernie Sanders: the US enters a new political era, The Guardian (Feb. 16, 2016). www.theguardian.com/us-news/commentisfree/2016/feb/16/thomas-piketty-bernie-sanders-us-election-2016.
 Thomas Friedman, The Green New Deal Rises Again, N.Y. Times, Jan. 8, 2019.
 See Sarah Hansen, Cultivating the Grassroots: A Winning Approach for Environment and Climate Funders (Feb. 2012, National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy
 Green 2.0, NGO Diversity Data, https://www.diversegreen.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/NGOReport2018-2.pdf.
 See Sarah Hansen, Cultivating the Grassroots: A Winning Approach for Environment and Climate Funders (Feb. 2012, National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy); Theda Skopcol, Naming the Problem: What It Will Take to Counter Extremism and Engage Americans in the Fight against Global Warming, Prepared for the Symposium on the Politics of America’s Fight Against Global Warming (Jan. 2013).