The first Earth Day took place in 1970, mobilizing more than 20 million people around the United States to demand action to protect the environment. Back then, the day was a series of protests, activism, and teach-ins with a more radical bent than the sanitized and corporatized versions we often see today. It was born out of—and further propelled—an increasing awareness of the breadth and depth of pollution and ecological degradation pervading the country. Thanks in part to this organizing, the federal government soon created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and passed landmark environmental protection bills that, although far from sufficient, serve as bulwarks to this day.
A significant portion of the financial and organizational backing for the first Earth Day was provided by the United Auto Workers (UAW). To some, an auto workers union may seem like a surprising backer for a radical environmental event. But Walter Reuther, the president of the UAW at the time, understood that struggles for labor and environmental justice are inextricable. Workers have ecological interests as well as economic ones, and we have to fight collectively to protect and expand both of them against the capitalist interests trying to destroy them both.
This idea animates DSA’s fight for a radical Green New Deal today. As in 1970, there is accelerating awareness and activism around the urgent environmental problems we face. The old injustices have, in many cases, intensified, and we now face climate and biodiversity crises on global and epochal scales. As socialists, we understand that the profit motive and private property ownership inherent to capitalism both drive ecological degradation and prevent requisite action from being taken to stop it.
Drastic changes are coming. What forms these social and physical transitions take—who is helped or harmed, whether our biosphere is repaired or further degraded—are up for grabs. This is the fundamental political terrain of the 21st century.
The resources flowing into cities and states continue to shape and reshape our political and physical infrastructure, often under the guise of climate action, as with the billions of dollars allocated for this purpose from the Inflation Reduction Act. Intervening on this terrain is a crucial opportunity to organize for the future we deserve: a society that values people and our planet instead of profit. This is why DSA’s Green New Deal Campaign Commission recently launched our new campaign, Building for Power.
We are helping chapters develop and execute their own local campaigns for GND-style legislation in four areas—public power, public transit, green social housing, and green public spaces—that offer opportunities to simultaneously build (or rebuild) the public sector and the labor movement as both a means and an end toward the just and sustainable world we seek. And these legislative campaigns also allow us to utilize and synergize the variety of tactics that DSA chapters have demonstrated to such great effect around the country in electoral, labor, tenant, and mutual aid organizing. Forging these chapter-level fights together as part of a national campaign allows us to cohere our struggles and build a broader shared narrative that not only helps us win our local campaigns but builds the power to win larger struggles to come.
A radical Green New Deal starts with us—in our communities, our cities, our chapters, and our imaginations. Workers made the world. Now we’ll save it! Go to ecosocialists.dsausa.org to get involved today.