President-elect Joe Biden won the 2020 election in spite of the Democratic Party and himself. We saw the failures of the Democratic National Committee as their centrist candidates lost with no message aside from ‘orange man bad.’ Regardless, Biden secured the most votes of any presidential candidate in U.S. history. Despite an out-of-control and deadly pandemic, President Donald Trump expanded his number of votes. Biden was only victorious because of the hours and hours of grassroots organizing, phonebanking, text-banking and door-knocking in community after community around this country.
Biden owes his victory to several groups of people, especially young people and Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC). The protests for Black lives starting in June led to a spike in voter registration leading up to the election, and many of these young voters cited the climate as one of their leading concerns.
Young and BIPOC first-time voters gave the Biden administration a clear mandate: enact an agenda that ensures a green recovery, while tackling the intersecting issues of climate, systemic racism and economic inequality, and create millions of high-wage union jobs in the process.
The youth-led Sunrise Movement has tried to connect these issues under a Green New Deal agenda to combat climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process.
Last week, Biden gave former Secretary of State John Kerry the position of international climate envoy, a new position that will be part of the National Security Council and focus on diplomatic relations and international climate collaboration. The creation of this new role is an important step in bringing a climate agenda into every corner of the federal government. It shows how far we have come since Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) was mocked in the 2016 Democratic primary debates for listing climate change as the top national security threat to the U.S.
Yet, Kerry’s appointment is far from enough.
We continue to face the grim reality that we have just 10 years to radically transform our economy and society or face irreparable damage from climate change; science has made it clear that the Paris Accords are insufficient guidelines for action. The potential failure of Democrats to take control of the Senate will limit the types of bold action that a Biden administration could take to enact the massive, federally funded mobilization needed to effectively combat the climate crisis. One way to bypass this roadblock is to create an Office of Climate Mobilization, similar in practice to the Office of War Mobilization formed in 1943 to coordinate U.S. government agencies during World War II. Sunrise and Justice Democrats task this office with ensuring every office and department in the federal government is working cohesively to combat the climate crisis through spending, policies and actions rooted in climate, racial and economic justice.
Even with an Office of Climate Mobilization in place, we are not going to be saved by those leading our government.
When I wrote my first column for The Observer one year ago, I began it by quoting Noam Chomsky. In 2011, he wrote, “As long as the general population is passive, apathetic, diverted to consumerism or hatred of the vulnerable, then the powerful can do as they please, and those who survive will be left to contemplate the outcome.”
This sentiment remains just as true in a post-Trump world. We’re going to need to keep up the momentum that first forced Biden to take the steps like drastically improving his climate plan that helped propel him to victory.
Sunrise spent considerable time turning out the vote to prevent Trump’s reelection and now that Biden’s victory has been secured, we are focusing on retaining the active participation of those who engaged in the electoral process. We are seeking to engage all the young people who voted Trump out of office to push the new administration until we achieve a new social contract that tackles the existential threats of our time and acts on the mandate our generation delivered.
On Dec. 20 and 27, Case Western Reserve University’s own chapter of the Sunrise Movement—of which I am the co-hub coordinator— will be joining this effort by leading a two-part orientation and skills training that centers on the importance of claiming victory, but also refocusing and continuing to build a movement centered around moral protest, collective liberation and relational organizing. No matter who you are or how you’ve been involved in the past, this training is the perfect opportunity post-election to fight the passivity, apathy and individualistic approach our society encourages.