Congressman John Garamendi co-sponsors Green New Deal after heated town hall meeting with activists

Congressman John Garamendi co-sponsors Green New Deal after heated town hall meeting with activists

Photo Credits: BRIAN LANDRY / AGGIE

After initially refusing to take a stance on the Green New Deal proposal, Garamendi announces support in Facebook post

Congressman John Garamendi hosted a town hall meeting on Feb. 19 where local activists pressured him to support the Green New Deal, which he initially declined to back, after a heated hour-and-a-half exchange with attendees. On Feb. 24, Garamendi unexpectedly announced on Facebook that he would co-sponsor the House Resolution 109 for the Green New Deal.

On Feb. 8, activists convened outside of Garamendi’s Davis office for the first of two local rallies this month in support of the Green New Deal, a resolution put forward in Congress by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). The Green New Deal aspires to combat both climate change and income inequality. It proposes, among other things, to transition the U.S. to 100 percent renewable energy and create federal programs that would guarantee living-wage jobs and high-quality healthcare to all Americans.

At the time this article was written, 89 House members and 11 Senators co-sponsored the bill, according to The Sunrise Movement. But Garamendi, who represents Yolo County and the rest of California’s Third District in the House, had not voiced any position on the proposal prior to the town hall meeting.

Lynne Nittler, a retired teacher and activist from Davis, organized the first rally in front of Garamendi’s office. Nittler says she was inspired by an email she received from 350.org, urging activists to push local congresspeople to declare support for the Green New Deal.

“I thought, ‘Okay, I can pull together a gathering outside John Garamendi’s office’,” Nittler said. “I could get a little turnout and let him know that there are those of us out here who wish he would endorse the Green New Deal.”

Nittler said she reached out to a network of activist contacts, including Nick Buxton, another Davis-based organizer, who said about 70 people showed up to the Feb. 8 rally outside Garamendi’s office.

After the first rally, Garamendi agreed to meet with the activists in a town hall meeting on Feb. 19 at the Veterans Memorial Theater in Davis. At 5 p.m. that evening, activist groups began setting up tables outside the theater, distributing pamphlets and petitions and holding signs that read “Green New Deal,” “No Crude Oil” and “Medicare for All.” Activist groups in attendance identified themselves with signs and shirts, including the UC Davis Young Democratic Socialists of America, the Yolo County Progressives and the Citizens Climate Lobby.

Around 5:30 p.m., congressional staffers began seating the activists, who quickly filled every seat in the room, leaving many to stand in the back. Over 100 people appeared to be in attendance by the time Garamendi arrived at about 6:30 p.m.

Garamendi opened the town hall with a speech, touching on his opposition to President Donald Trump and his current and past policy work dealing with environmental issues. He spoke on his role as a member of the House Armed Services committee, stating he hoped to “take [the committee] in a new direction” in regard to environmental issues.

“I want the U.S. military to be the leader in addressing the issues — the profound issues — of climate change and climate crisis,” Garamendi said.

Though he spoke at length about the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change in the coming decades, Garamendi had little to say about the Green New Deal. Some of the activists in the room grew impatient, booing and yelling during his speech.

“Let’s do something: We’re going to be polite,” Garamendi said, shushing the hecklers. “I can [get] pretty riled up too, and I’ve been known to do that, but let’s be polite.”

After his speech, Garamendi opened up the floor to questions. He declined to answer any questions about the Green New Deal, however, until the end of the meeting. Some of the questions and comments began to take on a contentious tone, with attendees accusing Garamendi of avoiding the subject.

“You are a smart man and a strong leader,” one attendee stood up to say. “[But] what you’ve been doing tonight is dodging the questions.”

As he brought the meeting to a close, Garamendi did not explicitly state his position on the Green New Deal, but implied that he felt the proposal was “aspirational” in comparison to concrete effects of his policy work.

“[Is] signing on to a document that is aspirational going to solve this problem?” Garamendi said. “No more so than the years I have — with every fiber of my body — dealt with issue[s].”

Garamendi closed the meeting to mixed applause alongside shouting and booing, as some began a chant of “Green New Deal.”

A few days later, on Feb. 24, however, a post on Garamendi’s Facebook page announced he signed on as a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal.

“I am now a co-sponsor of H.Res.109, the Green New Deal,” the post read. “I welcome the energy and commitment of the supporters of H.Res.109, and I join with them as I continue my decades-long effort to stop Climate Change and save our planet.”

Garamendi has seemingly changed his mind since the night of the town hall meeting. Buxton expressed surprise and pleasure at the announcement, speculating on the rationale behind Garamendi’s apparent reversal of opinion.

“I think such a bold and ambitious approach was something outside his initial comfort zone,” Buxton said. “But he realized this is the only kind of action that actually has a chance of addressing the climate crisis on the scale that is needed. So I think he came to that realization that he needed to be on the right side on this issue. So we’re really glad he did this.”

Written by: Tim Lalonde — city@theaggie.org

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