Jan. 29, 2019

#52: What’s the Deal With the Green New Deal?

#52: What’s the Deal With the Green New Deal?
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In Episode 52, Quinn & Brian ask (using their best Seinfeld impression): What’s the deal with the Green New Deal?

Our guest is Varshini Prakash, a founder of the Sunrise Movement, a veritable army of young folks fighting to stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process. We think Varshini will be, no exaggeration, one of the most instrumental people in American politics (and for the future health of our planet) over the next couple years.

The Sunrise Movement’s army is comprised of ordinary people who are scared about what the climate crisis means for the people and places they love. They aren’t looking to the Left or the Right to solve the problem – they’re looking forward to unite millions of people and reclaim our democracy from the corrupting influence of fossil fuel executive and those who empower them. The cornerstone of this movement is the Green New Deal, a plan that will transform our economy and society at the scale needed to stop the climate crisis. So this summer, thousands of people from Sunrise will descend on one of the first Democratic Presidential debates to #ChangeTheDebate and make sure the #GreenNewDeal is a top issue in the 2020 election.

Like our friends Elsa Mengistu and Emelly Villa from episode 33, Varshini recognizes that #thisisZeroHour – and the Green New Deal is our chance to turn back the clock.

Trump’s Book Club:

Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? by Martin Luther King Jr.




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Quinn: Welcome to Important, Not Important. My name is Quinn Emmett.

Brian: I'm Brian Colbert Kennedy.

Quinn: Teddy's not here today because it's raining and he's a low rider and he's not a fan of the rain.

Brian: There's always some reason he's not here.

Quinn: Hey, this is the podcast where we dive into a specific topic or question affecting everyone on the planet right now, or in the next 10 years. If it can kill us, or turn us into CRISPR robots, we're in. Our guests are scientists, doctors, engineers, politicians, astronauts, even a reverend. We work towards action steps our listeners can take with their voice, their vote and their dollar.

Brian: This week's episode asks, what's the deal with the Green New Deal?

Quinn: Can you do that in your Seinfeld voice?

Brian: No.

Quinn: Do it.

Brian: What's the deal with the Green New Deal?

Quinn: That's great.

Brian: Pretty good.

Quinn: Yeah, perfect. Our guest is Varshini Prakash, and she is a founder of the Sunrise Movement, the veritable army of young people fighting to stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process. You may have seen her in places like Nancy Pelosi's office, stirring shit up.

Brian: She's wonderful. She is wildly well spoken, funny, and she's, I don't know, 10 years younger than me and already just embarrassing the shit out of what I've done with my life.

Quinn: No. She's incredible and should be in charge of everything, and had an absolute blast talking to her. I think this is, we are clearly not the first to talk to her. She doesn't need us, or anyone else, that's very clear, but I do think maybe one of the most instrumental people, no exaggeration, in American politics over the next year and a half. Saving the planet, which sometimes you grow up and it turns out that's what you have to do.

Brian: Yeah.

Quinn: I'm excited about it. I hope everyone else enjoys this kick ass conversation with Varshini Prakash.

Brian: Let's go talk to her.

Quinn: Okay.

Quinn: Our guest today is Varshini Prakash, and together we're going to ask, what's the deal with the new Green Deal? Varshini, welcome.

Varshini: Hi, it's great to be here.

Brian: We are very, very happy to have you. If you wouldn't mind, just let our listeners know who you are and what you're doing.

Varshini: Sure. My name is Varshini Prakash. I am based in Boston, Massachusetts, and I am the executive director and one of the co-founders of Sunrise Movement, which has exploded on the stage in the last couple of months. We are building an army of young people to stop the climate crisis and create millions of good jobs for our generation.

Quinn: Into it.

Brian: Yes.

Quinn: How did this whole thing come about? When did you decide to carry the banner and start stirring shit up?

Varshini: Yeah. We're about a year and a half old, so haven't been around for that long. We launched in July of 2017. It had really started about a year before that. There were a number of us, about 12 young people from all across the youth climate sphere, folks who were like leading youth delegations to UN Climate conferences, people who were starting some of the first fossil fuel divestment campaigns on college campuses, that was actually what I got started with all my organizing in, and more.

Varshini: We were just looking at the world around us and seeing these storms, and floods, and fires, getting bigger and badder and more fearsome, and seeing our politics stagnate incredibly, and not seeing our politicians taking the crisis as seriously as it seems like most of our generation was feeling it in our hearts and souls.

Varshini: At that time, I remember it was 2015, a really horrible series of climate fueled floods hit Chennai, India, where my family is from. I remember seeing all these horrific images of just like women and children walking chest deep in water. Like I remember visiting like a year and a half later, and the stench of sewage and garbage was still present. Like thousands of people had been displaced, hundreds killed. I was just looking around being like, what the hell? People shouldn't have to live in fear of losing their homes, or the people that they love, due to crises that are preventable and caused by rich old white dudes half a globe away.

Quinn: Yeah. They've ruined everything.

Brian: Wow.

Quinn: The people in your crew, sort of your captain planet-esque crew, saving the world, what's the average age there? What are we talking about? Because to Brian, young people could mean anything under 60.

Brian: Anything.

Varshini: Yeah. I mean, we do define it pretty widely. Like there are seven year olds in Sunrise and there are 40 year olds in Sunrise, and we're like, “Yup, you're all young.”

Brian: Whoa.

Varshini: Yeah, so a wide range there. Also, you know, there's a lot of young at heart folks as well, as we like to call them, who are a part of our movement too.

Brian: Like Quinn.

Quinn: No, look, young at heart. My body's just, I'm so tired.

Brian: I know.

Varshini: I've never actually seen your face Quinn, so you could really be in there.

Quinn: You know what? Let's just, we're good. It's a face for radio.

Brian: Okay.

Varshini: Our average age when we launched, the oldest among us I think was 26. We're all in our 20s, but we have tons of people in our movement who are teenagers, high schoolers, middle schoolers, and people who are working as well.

Quinn: That's awesome. Are you born and raised in India, were you born here? What's your heritage there?

Varshini: Yeah, I was born and raised in Massachusetts. I was, you know all those revolutionary towns outside of Boston, places where you could fire off muskets every summer, and things like that.

Quinn: I'm from Colonial Williamsburg, so you don't have to, I'm aware.

Varshini: Oh nice. Yes, you know the deal. Yeah, and so speaking of Williamsburg, I actually went to school out in Western Massachusetts as well, at UMass Amherst, which is where I really got involved in organizing on climate. Born and raised here, and the child of two South Indian immigrants. Really yeah, their story and our family have been back and forth to India a lot, and that's impacted almost every aspect of my organizing.

Quinn: India's having a tough time. I mean, the heat up north, farmers committing mass suicide. It's just incredible. Again, we're just getting started, which is-

Brian: The pollution, it's wild.

Quinn: Upsetting.

Varshini: Totally. The water wars. There were like 41 million people who were affected by flooding last year, or I guess it's not last year anymore, but 2017. At the same time that it was like the costliest year on record in the United States for disasters caused by the climate crisis.

Brian: Yikes.

Quinn: Incredible.

Brian: All right. Great, so we have a little intro, which is great, and we'll get into this. Quick reminder for everyone, our goal is to provide quick context for the question or the topic at hand and then dig into some action oriented steps and action oriented questions that can get to the heart of why we should give a shit about it, and what all of us, Quinn and I and our listeners and everybody can do about it.

Quinn: We like to start with one important question, and it's something to sort of set the tone a little bit, even though I guess we've done that a little bit. Instead of saying, “Tell us your whole life story.” We like to ask, why are you vital to the survival of the species?

Varshini: Why am I personally, or Sunrise?

Quinn: You, as a human being. Be bold. Be honest.

Varshini: Yeah.

Quinn: Let's hear it.

Varshini: Oh wow. What a great question.

Quinn: We know.

Varshini: Let's see. Well, okay, here's what it is. I think what Sunrise and what I specifically helped Sunrise, start Sunrise, so I can talk about it from that way I guess. We're just not about fighting for what is politically feasible in this moment. We're about fighting for what we actually fucking need. From the place of survival, from what it takes to exist as the human species, and what it takes to protect the future of human civilization as we know it. That is the conversation that we are starting from.

Varshini: Unfortunately, for the last 40 years a lot of our movements, or academics, or folks, have been largely confined to the realm of solutions largely based on what the political context and circumstances are that we find ourselves in. Right now we're looking at a Trump administration that quite literally put a former fossil fuel CEO, the ex-CEO of Exxon Mobile, as secretary of state. Then replaced him with a guy who is called the congressman from Koch, as in the Koch brothers.

Brian: I don't understand. What's the problem?

Varshini: Yeah. We have previously watched the House and the Senate be completely overrun by a climate denying GOP. We're like, if we're talking about the solutions to the crisis based off of what is politically feasible in this moment, we will get nothing done and humanity will perish.

Varshini: I think what poises us to be the kind of organization that's actually going to change things in this country, that's already significantly changed things in this country, is that we're not afraid to call for the kinds of change that we actually need.

Quinn: I love that. I'm into it.

Brian: Yeah. Hell of an answer.

Quinn: Yeah. There's no dicking around anymore.

Brian: There's no time for it.

Quinn: We are out of time.

Varshini: There's no time for it.

Quinn: All right, so listen, we're just going to set up a little context here. Because one of the things you guys are driving towards, and some of your cohorts in congress are driving towards, is this thing called the Green New Deal, is what we're calling it these days. Just for some context for Americans who for whatever reason don't involve themselves in history in any capacity, what is the New Deal?

Quinn: The New Deal was a just truly massive series of programs to drag us out of the Great Depression. Public work projects, financial reforms, regulations enacted by President Franklin Roosevelt. Mostly started between 1933 and 1936. Huge programs for farmers, the unemployed, the elderly, and the youth. We put, for the first time, really constraints on banking. We built in relief for the unemployed and the poor, which I know sounds insane today. Then of course we tried to be semi proactive, which also sounds fucking insane, to build in reforms to prevent another depression.

Quinn: As is usual, some things never change, most republicans said it was hostile to business and economic growth. They weren't perfect, but the next Republican president, Eisenhower, actually built on it and greatly expanded social security, minimum wage, public housing, highways, federal education aid, and even said in a private letter, I found this, of any party that tried to abolish those things, “They are stupid.”

Varshini: I love this. It's the best quote.

Quinn: It's amazing.

Brian: Wow.

Quinn: Like one of the greatest generals of all time, and a fantastic Republican president. “They are stupid.”

Quinn: Anyways, now with some perspective, most people agree at the very least, at least it restored some hope and self-respect to millions of desperate people. I mean, we think the Great Recession was bad. It's just, it's nothing close. We also at the same time managed to upgrade our national infrastructure, and didn't actually destroy capitalism. Things that are really timely right now. Because if you've ever been to a New York airport, you will know what I'm talking about.

Quinn: You still might be asking yourself why we need another one of these today, and of course the answers are plentiful. It's not just the many varied holes we've dug for ourselves from that crumbling infrastructure to the climate crisis we're talking today, but also the incredible opportunities to build an entirely new, more equal society on the backs of clean energy jobs, for example, the fastest growing jobs on the planet.

Quinn: You ask me how you want to make America great again, that's where we start. With that for some context, let's talk about what the deal is with the Green New Deal. Where did the current incarnation of this term and plan come from, and how did the push begin as it sort of manifested itself? Was it before all these incredible women and smart scientists got elected to office? Was it as that was rolling along? Let us know how it got started here so we can paint the structure of whatever [crosstalk 00:12:41].

Brian: The origin story.

Varshini: Yeah. I mean there's been a lot of people who have been talking about it for decades. I feel like some of the concepts around it, people like Ralph Nader were talking about. There was an article, Thomas Friedman has been talking about it for a while, who's an economist who you wouldn't expect to be talking about it in the ways that we are. There are other folks, like Bernie Sanders made it a central pillar of his platform when he was running for president. Obviously Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made it a central pillar of her platform when she was running for congress.

Varshini: There have been lots of people who have sort of echoed a lot of the sentiments of a Green New Deal in their run, especially around the 2018 elections. Folks like Rashida Tlaib from Detroit, Ilhan Omar from Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley, who's actually my representative in Boston.

Varshini: A lot of people who've been really echoing the sentiment that we need a rapid, massive, honestly what you could think about as a wartime-esque, economic mobilization that really utilizes the full scope and scale of all of our resources as a nation to turn this ship around. To shift our politics and avert what we're staring down at is straight up climate catastrophe.

Varshini: The latest UN climate science that came out late last year talks about how we have quite literally 12 years to make unprecedented changes to our economy and society if we want to avert crisis. That is not a lot of time, but we have seen the way in which our country has been able to mobilize vast amounts of resources, people, and really unleash the full potential of our creative and imaginative energy in what could be one of the largest socioeconomic projects of our lifetime.

Varshini: That's really what it's about, and it's about stopping the climate crisis, creating millions of good jobs for working people. We'll have to fight really hard to make sure those are good jobs. Also, the potential to eliminate poverty in this country, and support people who have been historically left out of economic prosperity.

Quinn: Let me ask you a question. Everyone says, “Oh hey, look, you know look, every time there's an election CNN runs one of their fucking maps and it says, 'Oh look, if just millennials had voted, this is what would have happened. It would have been overwhelming.'” Yada, yada. We can't paint it all with a brushstroke, but it's a hell of a lot better than showing the map where, what if just baby boomers had voted? We just die.

Quinn: There's one sense where everybody in the middle here, the older millennials and generation X, says like, “Thank God for the millennials. They're going to save us all.” Then there's the other side where you think, well what is the pressure that your generation feels of like, that you have to clean up this fucking mess because everyone else has caused it and ruined it, and they're clearly not doing it themselves. Is it a feeling of, “We're excited to do this.” Is it a feeling of, “Get the hell out of the way and just let us do this, because you've destroyed everything.” What does it feel like every day fighting for this?

Varshini: Yeah. I mean I'd say it's a little bit of all of the above. We are, like if we don't take action within a very narrow window, our generation, and frankly every generation that comes after us, is going to be cleaning up after the crisis. There are, I talk to like 16 year olds who are literally doing family planning around the climate crisis. Who are like, “I'm not sure if I should have children, or it's appropriate for me to start a family.” 16 year olds.

Quinn: To be clear, they should not have children yet.

Varshini: Yes. True.

Quinn: Different discussion. Different podcast. Have fun kids. Be safe.

Varshini: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Important clarification.

Quinn: Right.

Varshini: Still, we're like strapped with monumental amounts of student debt. We are still experiencing the impacts of a wildly unequal world where it's tolerated that eight people own as much wealth as the bottom 3.5 billion. Like that kind of absurdity. We're still seeing massive racial disparities. Our generation still suffers from unemployment and underemployment at high rates.

Varshini: We're really feeling the, we're sitting at the nexus of so many intersecting crises, and I think a lot of us are feeling super frustrated and pissed of at a generation, a political establishment, and I think on both sides of the political aisle, who we don't think actually represents us. We're frustrated at an older establishment that doesn't actually represent the changing diversity and political ideology and interests, especially in the Democratic party, how that party's base has completely shifted from what it looks like at the top and in its leadership.

Varshini: I think a lot of people are pissed off but they're ready to take action. I have just seen thousands, and thousands, and thousands of young people get involved in Sunrise since we did our first action in front of Nancy Pelosi's office on November 13th, when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined us. I think that energy is coming from just seeing that there's a movement that they can actually be a part of. That they're not alone. That there are thousands of other people who are pissed off, ready to take action and join them. That there are actually for the first time politicians who are willing and ready to be accountable to us, to fight tooth and nail for us in the halls of power, and who are starting to actually reflect a more diverse, both racially and economically, base within the Democratic party.

Quinn: I guess a specific question on that point. Speaking of representative Ocasio-Cortez, who is incredible, and I just want to make her dictator for a day. She had this great tweet actually today, as much as we try to make these episodes a little more timely. Which was she said, “What is my life? Is one common thing that could have been said about both my life a year and a half ago, when I was campaigning from a restaurant with 300 Twitter followers, and now.” Which is to say just radical change in what the hell am I doing and what am I getting myself caught up into, and is this where I want to be going?

Quinn: I kind of ask that of you. You're still so young, but obviously have such a position of influence, and you've earned it and manifested that of yourself. When you look back five years ago, do you say like, “Is this where I saw myself personally, or is this what I have to do?” Is there a mix of those two things?

Varshini: Yeah. I think there's a sense that I couldn't really-

Quinn: You sat in on Nancy Pelosi's office like on the first day of congress. There must have been a moment of like, “What the hell is going on? What have I gotten myself into?"

Varshini: Yeah, totally. I mean, there's just a sense that at some level I couldn't imagine myself doing anything else. I think when I started getting involved in organizing I didn't give a shit about politics. I hated politics. It was depressing. None of the people who I saw as talking heads on these news stations, or representing me, look like me. They didn't talk about things that I cared about. I really avoided it for a really long time.

Varshini: When I was 15 and like heard about some of the stuff that was happening in the world, like piles of trash twice the size of Texas sitting in the ocean and choking out life. Millions of people going without food and water. The privatization of basic necessities, and corporate abuse of people and workers. I was like, what the hell is wrong with our world? Like why would we treat people like this, and why do we have a world where some people have so, so much, and the vast majority of people have so little? It felt like it was a series of, it was like a series of falling into different situations where every choice that I made just led me to feeling more and more empowered that I could actually change the world around me.

Varshini: I remember the moment that just like still makes me, it might have been almost exactly five, maybe six years ago. I was on my college campus, knew nothing about organizing, knew nothing about protesting, none of that. This young woman on campus just invited me to be the emcee of like some anti-fracking rally that was happening on campus, or something like that. I was literally like shaking, like shaking going up there, and feeling so much fear, and feeling so ... Like all I had to do was talk in front of like 100 students, four days before finals. It wasn't a big deal by any means.

Varshini: I remember just like the feeling of when she handed me the megaphone and I stood up in front of all of these people, and this sort of like quiet came over me. I stopped shaking and looked out at 150 people in front of me and just felt the like greatest sense of power and joy that I have ever felt in my life. That was five or six years ago, but it happened again right before I was doing this action at Nancy Pelosi's office.

Varshini: I don't know if you guys like roller coasters, I really do.

Quinn: Fuck yeah, man.

Brian: Huge fan.

Varshini: What it felt right before doing that sit in was it's like, okay, you know that like 30 seconds when you're going up the biggest hill and you're just like, “Okay, I'm strapped in for the ride. I can't get out because there's like dozens of people here who are watching me, and hundreds below me who are definitely going to charge me."

Brian: No turning back.

Varshini: No turning back. You get to the top and you're like, “This is the scariest thing I've ever done, but I hope to God it's okay in the end and I survive.” That's exactly what it feels like every time we do one of these. It's like an adrenaline kick. Like every single time a feeling immense fear and knowing that there's something that is much, much, much more important than it. I think what's more important than it is fighting for a world where people can actually like drink clean water, and breathe fresh air, and live free from violence and harm.

Quinn: I love that, that these things are more important than your fears.

Varshini: Absolutely.

Brian: Right. What a way to overcome them. Thank you for using your power for good, by the way.

Varshini: Thanks.

Quinn: This conversation could be going a totally different direction if she was like, “Let's talk about oil, or kidnapping the sun."

Brian: Okay, so a Green New Deal, what are some of the more specific platforms of it? Obviously there's a lot of work to do, but help me. I need help. Help me understand what we're talking about here.

Varshini: Yeah. Totally. Sure. I mean, what we're really talking about when we say a Green New Deal is it's an umbrella term for a set of policies and programs that get America off fossil fuels fast, create a lot of jobs, put a lot of people to work, and help to actually elevate and improve people's lives.

Varshini: Some like very specific pillars for what we would need to see to really understand something as a Green New Deal is a transition to 100% renewable energy. We're calling for that by 2030, which is in line with the latest UN climate scientists say is necessary. That's like massive deployment of renewable energy and increasing a lot of our production capacity to meet our national power demand. It looks like a job guarantee that actually grants every person who wants or needs one a job to do the really hella important work of averting climate catastrophe.

Quinn: Thank you for using that technical term, hella.

Varshini: Yeah, absolutely. Then it looks like really centering racial and economic justice in all of this. Ensuring that there's massive investment in communities on the front lines of climate crisis. Communities of color, low income communities that have historically been disenfranchised and left out of economic prosperity through the years. That also looks like a just transition for workers in the fossil fuel sector. It looks like a just transition for people who are already experiencing the impacts of a warming world and will experience more because there's obviously warming that will inevitably occur no matter how fast we act on this timeline.

Varshini: Those are some of the like biggest components of it. There's a lot, lot more, and I really encourage folks, there's going to be more and more content coming out, but if you go to Ocasio2018/gnd, you can see the resolution that she put forward that coincided with our sit in on November 13th. That really includes sort of like a blueprint for what a Green New Deal is.

Brian: Awesome.

Quinn: I love that. Brian, this is a good moment to remind you. Remember when I asked you to read the book Checklist Manifesto?

Brian: Yes, I do remember that.

Quinn: About going down a list and knocking things off. This is a good list for you to start with.

Brian: Okay.

Varshini: Yeah. Casual. Casual list.

Quinn: Casual, super specific.

Brian: Ease right in.

Quinn: No obstacles.

Brian: Thank you Quinn.

Quinn: No, thank her. Don't thank me.

Brian: Thank you. Thank you Varshini. Sorry Quinn. All right, so what is the Sunrise Movement's role in building support for a deal like this?

Varshini: Yeah, totally.

Brian: Sorry, and why is the youth so important?

Varshini: Aha, yes. What we're really trying to do is like basically build the political power and the people power such that something like a Green New Deal becomes a political inevitability in 2021 or beyond. We're working to build a very large, very active, vocal base of public support, of people who are just clamoring for a Green New Deal, and laying the groundwork for a lot of the base building and support that we'll need to pass something like this and push our politicians to pass something like this when we have slightly more favorable political circumstances.

Quinn: What do you mean?

Varshini: Yeah. Then the second thing is building political power. Actually getting like a critical mass of enthusiastically supportive public officials who are going to stand for the Green New Deal and go hard for it, and campaign on it. Then also fight really hard for it the way in which Rashida and Alexandria and Ayanna have been doing, even in the like couple of weeks that they've been actual congresswomen.

Varshini: Then really ensuring that we build the kind of power with other movement groups, think tanks and institutions, and working alongside hundreds of other groups so that when the time comes we can actually build the governing coalition that we need to pass these types of sweeping massive policies. Including a Green New Deal, but also including things like medicare for all and a livable wage, and so many other progressive stuff that we really desperately need.

Varshini: That is what we're doing, and a lot of the strategy for 2019 is to ensure that the Green New Deal stays actively in the public discourse. Making sure that it is something that gets talked about constantly during the presidential debates. That any politician who's running for office gets measured on whether they are backing a Green New Deal or not. That it's become like a real litmus test for politicians who say they care about young people and our futures.

Varshini: Then 2020 we're going to actually be running what we hope will be the nation's largest youth political force to actually elect climate champions to office and kick out politicians that have been bought off by fossil fuel money and have halted progress for years.

Brian: Wouldn't it be great if during a presidential election at least one fucking nominee would talk about global warming like it matters?

Varshini: Totally, or like if they asked a question about it. I don't know even know if there was-

Quinn: Look, don't get ahead of yourself, all right. It's a bit much.

Varshini: I think it was like literally less than 2% of the total time spent in the presidential debates last election cycle was spent on climate change. 2%, and we know there were a lot of fucking, like there were a lot of debates, you know.

Quinn: So many.

Brian: Yeah.

Quinn: I saw something the other day, it said, “Oh, the Democrats are going to have something, it's like 17 debates.” I was like, great. That's just so great.

Brian: Wow.

Quinn: Real talk. You mentioned building towards more favorable political circumstances, which is such a gentle, professional way of putting it.

Brian: Yeah. Thank you for that.

Quinn: I appreciate you bringing some legitimacy to this shit show. We've got, let's be realistic, minimum like 23 months until we officially take back the White House and hopefully the Senate, and have our very first real chance of actually passing a version of this collection of things under the banner of Green New Deal, right?

Varshini: Yes.

Quinn: Good news is, as much as we are in a huge rush because the clock is ticking, there's nobody going, “We need to pass this thing tomorrow. Let's just do the bare minimum and get it done.” It does give us plenty of time to hopefully sort out a lot of details. To find people to, like you said, take the place in 2020 of the people who won't stand behind this thing, or stand against it. Bad news again, the clock's fucking ticking and there's a hell of a lot of potential stumbling blocks along the way.

Varshini: Totally.

Quinn: I'm curious where this early, I find it's always helpful to try to sort these things out ahead of time in some capacity. Where do you see us running into specific issues over the next year and a half?

Varshini: Yeah, totally. Well, I mean honestly I think you're totally hitting the nail on the head by saying anything that 45 signs is not going to be anything close to a substantive policy that's actually going to get us away from the train wreck that we are heading towards. It does actually give us a lot of room to do the kind of groundwork, foundational building to actually get a shit ton of public support behind something like this. A ton of politicians not pushing for some sort of like lowest common denominator policy, but actually the one that's the most in line with the climate science, and the most ambitious thing that we could push for. That is going to be a major project over the next two years.

Varshini: I think there is going to always be the issue of the Democratic establishment not wanting to, like basically missing an opportunity to actually energize a base of young people, and also just like a base of people who want to see the Democratic party do something that's actually visionary and bold, and actually in line with what we need them to do if we're going to survive the next 100 years. That is going to be a big obstacle.

Varshini: We've already seen the way in which after the campaign to get a select committee for a Green New Deal, which is just a kind of bureaucratic way of saying to get Congress to start to draft a plan for a Green New Deal over the course of 2019. We saw that Speaker Pelosi and Democratic leadership completely shot that down and created a select committee for the climate crisis that has no subpoena power, that allows fossil fuel funded politicians to sit on the committee, that doesn't include a mandate to draft a plan, and is like woefully inadequate for what this moment in history calls for.

Varshini: We're already up against this Democratic establishment that is not changing as fast as the base of the Democrat party is and what they want to see from the party as well. That's definitely going to be an obstacle.

Quinn: Old white guys. Check. Keep going.

Varshini: Yeah. The GOP, another, yeah. Unfortunately it seems like maybe all of this is going to be old white guys. Anyway, the GOP is also going to be a really big obstacle, largely because they are best friends with the fossil fuel corporations that are jeopardizing our future. I think it's something like upwards of 80% of the amount of fossil fuel money that was donated to candidates in 2018 and also in 2016, went to GOP candidates. That is not surprising.

Brian: Not surprising.

Varshini: Given that the GOP has completely embraced climate denialism as their like number one strategy.

Brian: It's not even like their best friends. It's like the call's coming from inside the fucking house.

Varshini: Exactly.

Brian: Like half the time these people, that's their actual fucking job, you know. It's like, you know, Wheeler getting interviewed for the EPA job. You're just like, what kind of fucking universe are we living in?

Quinn: Oh, that was incredible. Very entertaining.

Varshini: Totally. I mean, the Secretary of State has the distinct honor of having received the all time highest amount of oil and gas money ever for a congressperson. He was literally the lap dog, was like trained up and developed by the Koch brothers in Wichita. Like just is, yeah, it's just absurd that those are the people who are at the helm of our country and who are responsible for setting our international climate negotiations and climate policy.

Varshini: It's just it's the way in which the collusion and the lack of separation between oil and state is going to be one of the biggest pitfalls and downfalls. If the Democratic, that's why one of the things that we're really holding up as a litmus test, we did this in 2018 and also will be doing it in 2020 for politicians, is like, will you say no to fossil fuel money in your campaigns? We've seen that people in both sides of the aisle are really concerned about the massive influx of corporate money in our politics.

Quinn: Yeah, it's a nightmare. I mean, Citizens United just ... All I think back is to that moment where Obama was, was it State of the Union? He lashed out at Citizens United and Judge Alito was shaking his head? I was just like, oh, this is the beginning of the end.

Varshini: Yeah.

Quinn: Like the whole fucking thing is coming crumbling down.

Brian: Varshini, we like to help our listeners get involved with their voice, their vote and their dollar. At this stage in the process, what are the best ways for our listeners to get involved with their voice?

Varshini: Yes.

Quinn: Right. There's no election right now, which is shocking and kind of fucking nice for a minute. I guess in that respect, what are the big actionable questions the rest of us should be asking of our representatives, now that we have some that look like us and we can believe in?

Varshini: Sure. Well I am very excited, because in just two weeks from now, we are going to be launching the Campaign for a Green New Deal. What's really exciting about this is that you can basically fight for a Green New Deal any place that you are in the United States. We have had literally like 100 plus chapters of Sunrise, what we call Sunrise Hubs, launch in the last two months.

Brian: Oh yeah. I saw that on your website.

Varshini: Super exciting. Yeah, so you can go on our website,, and either join a hub or start one. We're going to be hosting a massive livestream on February, I think it's 5th, that you can go online and sign up to join. That's actually going to lay out the strategy for how you can pressure policy makers in your own community to back a Green New Deal and build the public support for this nationally as well. That is huge.

Quinn: That's awesome.

Varshini: Yeah, and there's a couple more things. Oh my god, there's so many exciting things. We are launching a massive 15 city tour called The Road to A Green New Deal, which is going to include some of these like rock stars of the new faces of the Democratic party, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and more. It's going to include artists and influencers, and movement leaders. What we're really trying to do is spread the message about the Green New Deal and make sure that every single person who can, hears about it, and gets involved. Provide people with the training and resources to run local campaigns for a Green New Deal as well. That is coming maybe to a place near you, if you're listening to this. You can check it out also on our website,

Varshini: The last thing I will give a pitch for is we are going to be trying, the thing you said about the presidential debates sucking up all of the attention for the next two years is extremely real and it's going to start in full swing in May, June, July. We are going to ensure that the Green New Deal remains a top issue in the presidential debates for the entirety of this campaign cycle. We are calling for the largest popular demonstration at a presidential debate for one of the first ones that's going to be happening this summer, probably in June. You can actually sign up to attend that action already, because we want to put our politicians on notice that we're ready, we are coming. That is found also at

Brian: Hell yeah.

Quinn: It sounds to me like you guys are planning on fizzling out basically.

Varshini: Yeah.

Brian: It was a good run and we'll see you later.

Quinn: Yeah. Awesome. This is also a great moment to remind listeners, and I don't know if you are familiar with this group at all, but they're fucking great, the people and the product. They started as a website back before the election, when the healthcare stuff was going on, when we were all praying McCain would vote thumbs down on that. Now they've turned it into an app. You just mash your fat fingers against it and they basically, you put in a zip code or you use your position ... Use your position, I mean, talk words today. Use your location and it'll pull up your representatives.

Quinn: You pick an issue and it gives you the text, and you mash the phone number, and you leave a message if you don't want to actually talk to somebody. You can call in the middle of the fucking night, they still count the messages, and you just click whether you talked to them or not. It is the easiest way to talk to folks about issues like that. Maybe I can find a way to connect you guys to make sure that specific Green New Deal stuff is constantly in there, because I feel like you guys could really stir some shit up together.

Varshini: That's awesome.

Brian: Yeah.

Quinn: The second pillar where we try to drive action, again, is your vote. We're not voting right now again, but it's obvious that when the time comes, for now, because it's starting, supporting, galvanizing and voting for folks who have been working on this deal, or if they're not already in Congress, supporting this deal, or are at the very least publicly supporting it, will be key.

Quinn: Last tenet is, what about their dollar? What should people be doing with their hard earned money right now?

Varshini: Oh my god, I have a place for you. You can donate to Sunrise. It's been amazing, we have just seen this massive influx of small donations from people from every corner of the country. It means the world to us. It makes the biggest difference. People donating to us can get us buses to ship a group of 65 high schoolers from Kentucky to DC, which did in fact happen last fall. It allows us to print thousands of flyers to get the word out about our actions. It allows us to support our digital platforms, which we use to communicate with thousands of people across the country.

Varshini: Really, really important, so if you want to donate, you can go to our website, which is, if you want a really quick way to get there. We're also on Venmo @Sunrisemvmt. If you really want to cut us a check, let us know, you can email us at UMass [crosstalk 00:43:14].

Brian: You guys take checks?

Quinn: What's a check?

Varshini: Yeah. We take checks, if you really want to.

Brian: Nobody under 40 knows what a check is.

Quinn: Yeah, I was going to say. Do you know what to do with a check though?

Varshini: That's why I said Venmo first, you know.

Quinn: You can't just like stick it into your phone. I mean, I guess now you can. I think you can take a picture of it.

Brian: You can take a photo of it. No, that's great.

Varshini: Then nobody over 40 knows what Venmo is, so you've got to get them all.

Quinn: That's just it.

Brian: What is happening?

Quinn: It's happening too fast. This is also a good moment, and other people I would love to connect you with, if you haven't already, because clearly you don't need us. To mention the group Run For Something.

Varshini: Yes.

Quinn: Started by some incredible women. Specifically, but we've been telling our listeners this, and since we're starting a whole new thing of this, just fucking run for something.

Brian: Just go, yeah.

Quinn: Whether it is your city council, because you will feel and touch climate change closest at home, whether it's the air you breathe or the water you drink, or the heat you're feeling, or something bigger. Whether it's mayor or it's a county, or it's a school board, or it's state legislatures, we're trying to take those back. Were you excited about 2018's results kids? Do you want to have a hand in creating a world changing piece of legislation? Fucking run for something. Right?

Brian: Yes.

Varshini: Totally.

Quinn: Again, putting together as many of these pieces as possible, so that organizations like yours can amplify them, is the way to go.

Varshini: Totally.

Brian: Even something like student council. Like if you're a kid and you want it, like start there.

Quinn: Right, but hey, but if you're a white guy, maybe run for

Brian: Well not if you're a white guy.

Quinn: Maybe go to the wrong website and don't do it, but everybody else, great.

Varshini: Yeah. I would also say, I love Run For Something and they're great, and they've supported people who, one of my friends actually ran for state rep in Wisconsin and won, and was supported by them.

Brian: Nice.

Varshini: I also will put in a quick plug also for Justice Democrats, who actually helped, through their candidate recruitment process, found Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez because her brother just nominated her on a whim. Then look at where she is.

Quinn: How'd that go?

Varshini: Yeah. I encourage you to look them up because they are going through another candidate recruitment process for 2020 right now and looking for nominations. If you want to run for congress, or you know somebody who would be great but isn't going to nominate themselves, check out Justice Democrats.

Quinn: Right. From what I understand, you will drive a bus to their house and pick them up. Is that the gist of it? Right, the Sunrise bus I think.

Varshini: We'd maybe back you. Yeah. We may bring an army of young people to your home. We've got that.

Quinn: That's what would be perfect.

Brian: Okay, Varshini, we know that you have to run, and thank you so, so very much for being here with us today. This has really been such an awesome conversation.

Quinn: Yes.

Brian: So fun. Thank you. Anybody else that we should talk to? Any of these amazing civic leaders that you're teaming up with?

Varshini: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. This was a blast.

Brian: Yeah, it really was.

Quinn: Yeah. If you have any recommendations now or later, we find about half our guests that way, because it's smart people.

Varshini: Yeah. What are you kind of looking for? Like people on the tech side?

Quinn: Honestly it's people who are affecting the world in a hugely positive way, either now or in the next 10 years. Working on one of these issues from climate, to science, to space, to water, to oceans, to medicine. Again, doesn't have to be right now, but think about those people. I'm sure you know way more of them than we do.

Varshini: Cool. Yeah. I'm sure that I can find somebody for you.

Brian: Whenever you have a chance.

Quinn: Especially young people, ladies, people of color, all better.

Varshini: Cool.

Quinn: Listen, hey last lightning round before you get out of here. Varshini, when was the first time in your life, and you might have talked about this with the megaphone, when you realized you had the power of change or the power to do something meaningful?

Varshini: There's another time. The first action I ever went to was like a massive protest against the Keystone XL pipeline. I think it was 2013, and it was January, it was, I swear to god, like negative five degrees outside in Washington, DC. They expected like 10,000 people to show up, and 40,000 people showed up.

Brian: Yikes. Wow.

Varshini: I have never, I was never so hype before in my life. I had never really been a part of campaigns or anything like that, but in that moment I was like, I went right back home, I joined the UMass fossil fuel divestment campaign, and I have not stopped organizing a day since.

Brian: So awesome.

Quinn: That's awesome. Hey, who is someone in your life that has positively impacted your work in the past six months?

Varshini: Oh, there's so many.

Quinn: Gotta pick one, can't say Brian.

Varshini: Okay. I mean, I would just say my mom. This is lame. People always-

Brian: No.

Quinn: It's not lame. Moms are the best.

Brian: It's the best answer ever.

Varshini: Okay. All right. Just making sure. I was like, I feel like everybody must say their mom.

Quinn: My mom is the first one to favorite every one of my tweets.

Brian: We love our moms.

Varshini: I know. My mom, because like in the midst of everything, I think this has been such a wild ride. It's been up and down, it's been stressful, it's been scary, it's been inspiring. She's the one who has just taught me more than anybody how to bring some sense of balance, grounded-ness, the foundations of a healthy and joyful life. It doesn't matter what you do to change the world if you're not joyful inside. I just am really grateful for that, and really strive for that every day.

Brian: Moms are the best. If anybody says otherwise, they're wrong.

Quinn: They're wrong. We'll come after them on the Sunrise bus.

Brian: Varshini, what do you do when you feel overwhelmed, specifically?

Varshini: Oh, what do I do when I feel overwhelmed? I probably meditate.

Quinn: Nice.

Brian: Excellent.

Varshini: Yup. I meditate. I have a dance party.

Brian: Ooh.

Varshini: Yeah. I love dance parties.

Quinn: Wait. Hold on. I know you've got to go, but like what are we talking about? Are we talking Prince, or are we talking-

Varshini: Like Cardi B.

Quinn: Cardi B. Sure.

Varshini: Yeah.

Brian: Cardi. How very topical, considering she just put out a great anti-shutdown video. Awesome.

Varshini: Yeah, and like probably cry to my friends or something.

Quinn: Oh yeah. Well no, we're all crying, all the time. It's fine.

Varshini: Yeah.

Brian: Varshini, if you could Amazon Prime one book to Donald Trump, what would that book be?

Varshini: Oh.

Brian: Then we'll let you go seriously.

Varshini: Oh my god, this is a really hard question.

Brian: Assume that he will read it.

Quinn: Any book.

Brian: Oh, assume that he will read it.

Quinn: We've had coloring books. We've had the constitution.

Varshini: Where Do We Go From Here? Martin Luther King.

Quinn: Oh, so good and timely.

Brian: Boom.

Varshini: Yeah. That book is just incredible.

Quinn: It is incredible. All right, last question. You're the greatest. Where can our listeners follow you and Sunrise online?

Varshini: Yes. You can follow Sunrise at, I've said our website name too many times on here, but Then across any social media platform it's Sunrisemvmt, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. You can follow me at VarshPrakash, V-A-R-S-H P-R-A-K-A-S-H, on Twitter. Then I think I made that rookie mistake of making it my full name on Instagram, but I'm not that popular on Instagram, so it's fine.

Quinn: Brian just dealt with this. It was not pretty.

Brian: Yeah. We all go through it.

Quinn: You're incredible. We cannot thank you, your bus is literally pulling away, we can't thank you enough for your time. You're the best. Let's do this again, and please keep kicking ass out there, and let us know how we can help.

Varshini: Yes. Thank you. This has been so fun. Thank you so much.

Brian: Yes it has. Thank you. Safe travel.

Quinn: All right, get out of here. Run. Bye.

Varshini: Thank you. Bye.

Quinn: Thanks to our incredible guest today, and thanks to all of you for tuning in. We hope this episode has made your commute, or awesome workout, or dish washing, or fucking dog walking late at night, that much more pleasant. As a reminder, please subscribe to our free email newsletter at It is all the news most vital to our survival as a species.

Brian: You can follow us all over the internet. You can find us on Twitter @importantnotimp. Just so weird. Also, on Facebook and Instagram @importantnotimportant, Pinterest and Tumblr the same thing. Check us out, follow us, share us, like us. You know the deal. Please subscribe to our show wherever you listen to things like this. If you're really fucking awesome, rate us on Apple Podcast. Keep the lights on. Thanks.

Quinn: Please.

Brian: You can find the show notes from today right in your little podcast player, and at our website,

Quinn: Thanks to the very awesome Tim Blane for our jamming music, to all of you for listening, and finally, most importantly, to our moms for making us. Have a great day.

Brian: Thanks guys.