Bernie Sanders, AOC argue for ‘Green New Deal’ at Des Moines summit

Source: By Nick Coltrain, Des Moines Register • Posted: Monday, November 11, 2019

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez drew more than 2,000 people to Drake University on Saturday to hear them rail against the climate crisis and the oil companies they blame for it, and promote their “Green New Deal.”

But first, the audience sat through a slideshow. It was created by a climate scientist, showing graphs and numbers highlighting the loss of the Arctic ice sheet and increasing carbon dioxide levels, and the precarious balance of “spaceship Earth’s” life support system. It was far from a typical start to a political rally fewer than 90 days from Iowa’s first-in-the-nation presidential-nominating caucuses.

The big cheers and applause came later in the Des Moines event. Ocasio-Cortez’s entrance was greeted by a sea of cellphones popping out to take photos and videos — evidence of the enthusiasm her political celebrity brought to the swing. She greeted the crowd in turn by asking who was ready for a “Green New Deal.”

Saturday’s “Climate Crisis Summit,” a centerpiece of Sanders’ swing with the New York congresswoman, wasn’t a traditional campaign rally. Before the politicians’ keynote speeches, a panel of local and national activists spoke about problems and solutions for climate change. Sanders’ campaign announced last week that it was refocusing its Iowa effort around climate change. It branded its events with Ocasio-Cortez around the “Green New Deal.”

Ocasio-Cortez is a lead sponsor of the “Green New Deal,” a comprehensive bill to remake the economy around fighting climate change. Sanders has adopted a similar proposal in his campaign — an estimated $16.3 trillion effort that would create 20 million jobs, lead to a 100% renewable-energy-powered electric system and a 100% electric transportation system by 2030, according to the campaign. It would also remake much of the agricultural industry toward small farms and away from large agribusiness operations.

“When it comes to a Green New Deal, it’s always, always a question of how we’re going to pay for it,” Ocasio-Cortez said, being drowned out by a standing ovation. “… As if we’re not paying for it right now, with half the Midwest under water, as if Hurricane Katrina and Maria didn’t happen, as if sea levels weren’t rising, as if California wasn’t on fire. How do we pay for that?”

Ocasio-Cortez was a key reason Wes Wierson, a genome scientist, attended the summit Saturday, he said. He’s heard her in 30-second snippets on the news but wanted to hear her in person and at length. But the focus on climate was itself noteworthy, he said.

“Without the planet, none of the other issues really matter,” he said.

That echoed a sentiment made by Sanders himself. In his speech, Sanders noted that his “Green New Deal” has a hefty price tag, “but I want you to tell me what the alternative is to saving the planet.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, a current Democratic presidential candidate hopeful, stands alongside U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019, at Drake University in Des Moines.

Photos: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joins Bernie Sanders in Des Moines

“I wish from the bottom of my heart, I really do, that I could tell you we don’t need aggressive unprecedented action,” Sanders said. “… but if I told you that, I’d be lying to you, and I’d be betraying my kids, my seven grandchildren, and future generations.”

Iowa has faced climate-change-induced harm already, Sanders argued. Historic precipitation caused billions of dollars in damage through floods, topsoil loss and more.

The activists who spoke framed Sanders’ proposal as the most ambitious policy to avert a climate crisis. It featured a national leader with the Sunrise Movement, a direct-action protest movement that’s taken credit for pushing all the candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination to adopt a climate plan and CNN to host a seven-hour series of town hall events earlier in the race. Sanders also credited the group’s efforts from the lectern.

The Sunrise Movement has also taken shots at other candidates, notably former Vice President Joe Biden. A week before Sanders’ climate summit, about 10 Sunrise Movement protesters interrupted Biden at a Des Moines campaign office opening and unfurled a black and gold banner reading “BIDEN BOUGHT OUT BY BIG OIL.”

The protesters also filmed a video at September’s Polk County Steak Fry where an activist urges him to embrace the “Green New Deal” and accuses him of breaking a pledge not to accept money from fossil fuel executives.

On Friday in Council Bluffs, Ocasio-Cortez helped the Sanders campaign claim a record 2020 turnout for an Iowa event. More than 2,400 people filled an Iowa Western Community College arena to hear the two.

The crowd in Council Bluffs was estimated at about 100 more than the figure cited by South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s campaign for his audience a week earlier at the Iowa Democratic Party’s Liberty and Justice Dinner. Both audiences could have included many non-Iowans — the dinner draws supporters from all over the country, and Council Bluffs is just across the Missouri River from Omaha, Nebraska.

“We need to stitch this movement together, bit by bit, stitch by stitch, and that’s how we’re going to win,” Ocasio-Cortez told the crowd Friday, following a call to “stitch together” a cross-class and cross-demographic coalition. “… That’s not just how we’re going to win a Bernie Sanders presidency, but that’s how we’re going to win our future back. That’s how we’re going to win our country back. That’s how we’re going to win it all.”

“I love her,” Hannah Cook, a 20-year-old student from nearby Glenwood, Iowa, said after the event, slumping her shoulders and rolling her eyes up for emphasis. “I was so excited when I saw that (Ocasio-Cortez was going to be here).”

Cook and her friend Kelsey Pavelka said they both probably would have come out regardless of Ocasio-Cortez’s presence. But the freshman congresswoman, and youngest woman ever elected to the U.S. Congress, brought a new energy, they said.

This story has been updated to include information from Saturday’s event.

Nick Coltrain is a politics and data reporter for the Register. Reach him at or at 515-284-8361. Reporter Stephen Gruber-Miller contributed to this report.