WORDS BY YESSENIA FUNES
The U.S. political system isn’t working for people of color. It also is failing us all on climate action. Welcome to The Frontline, where we’re talking straight facts.
This year will be Drake Hunt’s first time voting for a president. He’s only 18, but he knows more about politics and all that’s wrong with it than most people I know my age.
Hunt is not all that excited to vote, though. He’s afraid. When Joe Biden became the Democratic nominee, Hunt considered not voting. Then, police killed George Floyd. Hunt—a young Black man—saw the very fabric of American democracy begin to untangle as President Donald Trump said, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” and sent federal troops to American cities.
The system was already failing democracy. Trump won the White House despite losing by 2.9 million popular votes. Voter ID laws across 34 states have long created hurdles for Indigenous, poor, and formerly incarcerated voters. Concerns over stolen elections have run wild, such as was alleged in Stacey Abram’s race for governor in Hunt’s home state of Georgia.
“It’s not about who we want. It’s about seeding American democracy.”
Meanwhile, the political establishment appears quite comfortable with the status quo. Neither party is rallying behind progressive policies that would help put out any one of the country’s dumpster fires. The entire system needs some restructuring—from abolishing the electoral college to ending lifetime Supreme Court appointments—but November 3, 2020, is only two weeks away. We need to focus on what needs to be done immediately. Like the idea of triage in the medical community. It’s about prioritizing needs based on urgency. Organizers like Hunt are strategizing with this in mind. He’s voting to keep democracy alive—to ensure his peers still have the right to safely advocate for change after November.
“It’s not about who we want. It’s about seeding American democracy,” said Hunt, an organizer with the Sunrise Movement in New York City. “The system is rigged. It’s rigged against people of color. It’s rigged against the marginalized communities down there in West Virginia, down there in you name the poor white community. It’s rigged against Latinx communities. It’s rigged against anybody who is not a rich white straight male. And that’s just facts. That’s complete facts.”
Welcome to The Frontline, where we speak straight facts. I’m Yessenia Funes, the climate editor at Atmos. I’m providing some analysis today on how U.S. politics suck, fail voters of color—and fail humanity at large! Let’s get into it.
Conservatives barely want to acknowledge climate change exists, and liberals like to waste time squabbling over how much to spend on it. Politicians on both sides, however, are happy to take dollars from the very corporate assholes that created this mess. This is America, folks.
“We have inherited a bunch of institutions that were built on genocidal settler colonialism and chattel slavery, which bakes deep conservatism and general lack of compassion for other human beings into our political process,” Julian Brave NoiseCat, the vice president of policy and strategy at progressive think tank Data for Progress, tells me when I ask why our political system is so incredibly messed up.
Unraveling all that may take a lifetime. When it comes to addressing global temperature rise, we’ve got less than a decade. An ideal solution would be to overhaul the system so that our legislative bodies are more representative of the people, not corporations. Until then, however, those politicians who believe in science must look internally to win the urgent climate battle.
Biden—the only candidate with a climate plan—has created a $2 trillion framework that features hallmarks of a Green New Deal, including creating clean energy jobs and investing in communities of color historically left as sacrifice zones. His current plan can’t achieve complete decarbonization, but it’s the largest investment to address climate change by any presidential candidate ever.
“Even if he’s not where we’d want him to be on every single issue, he’s infinitely better than Donald Trump,” said Samuel Weinberg, the founder and executive director of Settle for Biden, which is made up of former Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren supporters.
Biden has created a climate task force made up of the most progressive legislators out there, like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders. Embracing progressive politics and better engaging with voters of color can help politicians who want to advance climate legislation. Mastering the art of persuasion may help here, NoiseCat suggests.
“Progressives and the Left have not really developed that capacity [to persuade people] particularly well,” he said. “Because there’s not as much emphasis at the end of day on persuading people of color—it’s all about mobilization and sort of harassing people of color to go out and vote—we actually don’t have a great understanding of what it takes to persuade people to go out and vote.”
If progressives want to stop reaching dead ends on climate policy, they need to work together to understand voters. Black people care about more than criminal justice reform. Latinx people don’t only have opinions on immigration. Both populations, in fact, are highly engaged on environmental issues. Pointing a finger while lecturing them to show up is not working—especially when the system already places barriers between them and the polling booth.
“The conservatives are fucking crazy.”
I know. This sounds obvious, right? And yet, the political establishment keeps disappointing. In August, for instance, the Democratic National Committee removed a ban on fossil fuel subsidies from its platform. In the first presidential debate, Biden snubbed the Green New Deal. In the first vice presidential debate, Sen. Kamala Harris promised fracking shall reign. In turn, progressive politicians struggle to push strong legislation through Congress that would make these necessary proposals reality.
With the loss of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, our executive and legislative branches gotta get down for the people. The judicial branch is looking unsafe for climate litigators.
“The conservatives are fucking crazy,” NoiseCat says. “They don’t even think that regulation should be a thing, so what does that do in the context of climate change? It’s one of the biggest ways in which they could ratfuck us.”
That phrase might sound like a joke, but NoiseCat’s serious. This power imbalance is dangerous. Structural change to increase voter accessibility and equity may fix this long term, but the climate crisis is here now.
This isn’t a game of politics anymore. For young voters of color like Hunt, this is real life.