The Power of the People Cannot Be Stopped

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Two weeks ago, nearly a dozen Rise for Climate mobilizations took place across New York State. On September 6th, over 3,000 people braved blistering heat and then rainy skies to rally and march in New York City. The following day, ten climate activists were arrested in front of Governor Cuomo’s Midtown office. On September 8th, people rallied in cities across the state from Syracuse to Albany, and Buffalo to Long Island. Every action called on Governor Cuomo to Rise to the challenge of achieving bold, ambitious climate action in anticipation of the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco. All the while, Cuomo faced a primary bid by Cynthia Nixon, who ran a small-donor funded (97%) campaign on a bold climate-friendly platform that excited many activists.

It is a significant time in human history. Few generations before us have faced the task of saving humanity from self-destruction. National polls increasingly reveal that majorities of people understand that climate change is human-caused. Support for renewable energy continues to increase and is creating more jobs than the fossil fuels sector. The Trump Administration’s outrageous tax cuts for the rich and concessions to the fossil fuel industry are making clear to many that the interests of the few are being prioritized over the needs of the many. Whether or not we avoid the worst of climate change depends in large part on the political will of elected officials and the people who stand up, fight back, and demand political action to address the crisis at the scale required.

In January, after nearly two years of targeted and persistent pressure from activists, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer and Mayor Bill de Blasio decided to make NYC a global leader on divestment. They committed to divest the nearly $5 billion that the City’s pension fund has invested in the fossil fuel industry. One week after the NYC Rise for Climate mobilization, the Comptroller and Mayor announced they would invest $4 billion of the City’s pension fund into climate solutions. These are powerful moves from the biggest city in the U.S. to advance the City’s sustainable performance in a major way. The Mayor should also quickly and fully support Council Member, and Environmental Chair, Costa Constantinides’ legislation to slash carbon emissions 80% by 2050 from the City’s largest source of climate and air pollution: buildings.

While New York City is gradually responding to the climate crisis under persistent pressure from constituents, the State is failing to respond to New Yorkers’ demands for climate action. For over 3 years now, environmental leaders and activists across the State of New York have been urging Governor Cuomo to halt fossil fuel infrastructure projects and support ambitious climate legislation like the Climate & Community Protection Act (CCPA). The CCPA is a comprehensive legislative package that would move NY to 100% renewable energy by 2050 through a just transition and ensures that 40% of funds would be allocated to frontline communities.  

After intense pressure from climate activists, Governor Cuomo banned fracking in 2014, but the build-out of fossil fuel infrastructure including pipelines, compressor stations, and power plants persists across the state while only 4% of our electricity comes from wind and solar. Our state is far from being on track to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2050.

Since Cuomo won re-election, activists will need to push him even harder to enact climate action that measures up to his rhetoric. At the same time, Cuomo faces a very different political balance in Albany. Governor Cuomo’s 10:1 campaign spending compared with Nixon’s, and invocation of his father’s popularity may have won him the candidacy, but it was no match for the footwork of young progressive Democrats across the state. The Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), a band of 8 rogue Democrats who caucused with the Republicans and were supported by the Governor until activists called for the group to be disbanded, has lost 6 seats to progressive Democratic challengers. These challengers, assuming they hold onto victory through the November general elections, are expected to support the CCPA, which would send this legislation to the Governor’s desk for passage.

The fight is not over. While corporate influence has helped secure the status quo on the gubernatorial level, it was overwhelmingly the people's’ voice that has paved the way for New York State to beat back that influence. Increased participation in our politics by every day New Yorkers is one critical way to further this momentum. We must build on the Rise demonstration, by getting engaged in the long haul campaigns of the groups that participated. Likewise, we must keep the fire burning - the fire ignited by Nixon, the IDC challengers, and all of those that stood behind them - by holding our electeds accountable to us and getting our friends and neighbors to do the same. This is the only way we will continue to achieve critical victories like those we’ve won.

Here are 3 ways you stay involved:

  1. Support the Climate and Community Protection Act.

  2. Urge Cuomo to Halt Fossil Fuel Infrastructure: Text “cuomomondays” to 69866

  3. Cut Pollution from NYC #DirtyBuildings: Text “dirtybuildings” to 718-865-3902

Patrick Houston