President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed an executive order in 1935 launching the Works Progress Administration, creating millions of jobs at a time of unprecedented economic collapse, deep poverty and an environmental crisis that turned much of America into a dustbowl. With strikes and protests roiling the country, FDR turbocharged the New Deal, with the help of Henry A. Wallace, his most trusted cabinet member, his future vice president — and our grandfather and great-grandfather respectively.
Climate change presents an even more daunting challenge to our society — and time is running out. The last five years have been the hottest five years in recorded history. The polar ice caps are melting like popsicles in the summer sun and the oceans are rising at unprecedented rates. Flooding will devastate cities and farmland. Wildfires and food scarcity will proliferate. Migration will accelerate, and with it, the potential for violent conflict as more people compete for fewer resources. This is why the UN and 13 agencies of our own federal government have recently found climate change to be the major threat to global peace and the U.S. economy.
What do climate change and the Great Depression have in common? Basic corporate greed —enabled by a supine federal government. President Hoover’s “laissez faire” (hands off) economic policies let Wall Street run amok. Decades of political contributions by fossil fuel corporations have allowed them to continue polluting and melting our planet without consequence. When government turns a blind eye to a raging crisis, regular people rise up.
In the 1930’s, when the Great Depression devastated American families, farms, and communities, Americans rose up and demanded bold leadership for people-focused solutions. The New Deal was brought to life through myriad government initiatives that constructively regulated our economy, created millions of jobs, and pulled vast swaths of our country out of poverty.
Inspired by this precedent, youth today are rising up again to demand bold government leadership. The Green New Deal that they demand promises to put millions of people to work as we transition to a fossil-free economy, build clean infrastructure, re-invest in communities, and reverse the devastating impacts of climate change on our planet, our economy and public health.
The story of the Great Depression and its aftermath is a story of how Americans from all walks of life set aside personal differences and pulled our nation out of economic ruin and international peril.
Obviously, the Green New Deal faces fierce opposition from those who profit from the status quo, just as the original New Deal did.
But we take great heart in the young people who have stepped up, the Sunrise Movement. They refuse to be cowed. They directly challenge the industries driving the crisis. They confront the politicians who are unwilling to act.
As Mahatma Gandhi said, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” With President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer Sen. Heller to run for Nevada governor Overnight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley becomes lightning rod on right MORE and his climate-denying acolytes ridiculing the Green New Deal as a scheme to outlaw hamburgers and airplanes, it looks like the Sunrise activists are halfway to victory.
The House has just voted to reverse Trump’s decision to make America the only country in the world to reject the Paris climate agreement. Additionally, a new poll finds that climate change is now the No. 1 concern of Democratic voters, ensuring it a dominant place in upcoming election debates.
The foundation we chair believes that these young activists are changing the world, and we have made a major investment in the Green New Deal movement. Just like in Henry A. Wallace’s day, this movement is challenging corporate interests and calling for a government that works for all people. Sunrise has unleashed this momentum, inspiring youth across the country, and the world.
If we invest together in this people-powered movement, we believe it will ultimately inspire our elected leaders and ignite the type of visionary change that will go down in the history books as the best New Deal ever.
Scott Wallace and Scott Fitzmorris are co-chairs of the Wallace Global Fund. The fund named the Sunrise Movement the recipient of the Henry A. Wallace Award for courageous activism.