Young voters present Philadelphia Green New Deal for council race

A group of young people wants to put climate change and social justice at the center of the debate for May’s City Council elections.

Young environmental activists presented a wish list for City Council candidates on Monday. They’re calling it the Philadelphia Green New Deal — named for the ambitious proposal to tackle climate change introduced to Congress by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, and U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass.

Similar to its federal counterpart, candidates who support the Philadelphia plan commit to focusing on climate change and social injustice from their seats in City Hall, and to reject campaign donations larger than $200 from the fossil fuel industry.

Those who don’t won’t get votes from this group of young people who want to put climate change at the center of the May 21 primary election.

“We need to see you [candidates] fighting for us when you step in office,” said Sophia Zaia, Pennsylvania state leader for the Sunrise Movement. “We need to see you stepping up to protect our futures from catastrophic climate change and making good jobs for our generation or we’re going to vote you out in the next election.”

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As turnout among voters ages 18 to 34 has surged in Philadelphia since the 2016 presidential election, Zaia said young voters are frustrated with the direction of the country right now, and scared about the effects that climate change could pose for their future.

So far, only five out of over 30 Democratic candidates for City Council at-large have come out in support of the Philadelphia Green New Deal. Justin DiBerardinis is one of them.

“We know that there’s a need. We know that what is going on in our planet, in our climate is real, and it poses a threat to all of us. And now we need brave political leaders to come forward and say now is the time for action,” DiBerardinis said. “I believe the support is there.”

At-large Democratic candidate Erika Almirón says signing onto the Philadelphia Green New Deal is also an opportunity to talk about how climate change has impacted communities of color and poor people in the city. She worked for eight years with Juntos, a community-led Latino organization in South Philadelphia advocating for immigrant rights.

“I’ve seen the mass migration that has been coming to the U.S. because of climate change and people don’t talk about that,” Almirón said. “I think what happened in Puerto Rico [Hurricane Maria] is a prime example.”

Candidate Adrian Rivera-Reyes, a 26-year-old University of Pennsylvania graduate who self-identifies as Latino, gay, and a millennial, said it was a shame to see so few candidates supporting the Green New Deal.

“This is something that we desperately need,” Rivera-Reyes said. “This is literally the fight for our lives, period.”

Candidate Beth Finn agreed.

“This should be probably the No. 1 thing that we’re talking about because it is such a huge crisis,” she said.

Finn said City Council could help tackle climate change by taking small actions, such as eliminating plastic bags, or with bigger policies like committing to transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030.

The local Green New Deal resolution includes commitments to create union jobs by retrofitting buildings, houses, and schools to get rid of lead, mold, and asbestos, and by creating “green” public housing, expanding food access, holding polluters such as the Philadelphia Energy Solutions oil refinery accountable, investing in libraries and recreation centers, expanding public transportation, and achieving zero waste by 2030, among others.

So far, the candidates endorsing the Philadelphia Green New Deal include Almirón, Finn, DiBerardinis, Rivera-Reyes, Joe Cox, Sherrie Cohen, Tonya Bah, Isaiah Thomas, and Helen Gym. On May 4, activists from the Sunrise Movement are holding a community forum to set a vision for the proposal in Philadelphia. Organizers are encouraging other candidates to join them.

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