New Bosses Different than the Old Bosses?

Ideas and Issues
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December 5, 2020

Pearl River Some of the issues for significantly recalibrating US efforts on climate and energy seem the same, but Northeastern Professor Jennie Stephens brings some different twists to them in Diversifying Power: Why We Need Antiracist, Feminist Leadership on Climate and Energy, in our recent discussion on Wade’s World. Stephens made the case for the Green New Deal, pushing back on the Koch conglomerate and the other energy deniers, but she also grounded her climate call on grassroots bread-and-butter issues that go to the heart of the crises being faced by low-and-moderate income families in America.

Take jobs for example. Stephens was clear that at the heart of any change in the energy and climate initiatives has to be retooling and retraining to protect jobs. Miles per gallon, alternative fuels, solar panels, all make a difference, but if making sure people have jobs in any enviro-economic transition is not central, the political will dissipates, and the whole program falls apart.

I was enthusiastic about her advocacy of free transportation. This is another example of where we keep doing the same thing, and ridership falls, and public subsidies increase.  There have been important experiments around the world and domestically in places like Portland that deliver huge benefits, especially for lower waged workers, frequently essential, traveling long distances for work. We need to rethink this. Housing for all, is another plank in this platform, and it’s critical.

You get the message. You’ve heard it before here, and elsewhere.  Stephens’ twist is that none of this is possible unless we empower different leadership that is feminist and anti-racist. As she notes, “white men make up less than 30% of the US populations, yet hold over 60% of elected positions” and control a disproportionate share of real wealth. They have no incentive to change, which is why power has to be diversified. That’s not just a matter of changing the faces at the table, but actually making inclusivity central by investing them with actual power.

She argues that the so-called “squad,” exemplified by the Congresswomen led by Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, need to be multiplied by hundreds and thousands to affect this kind of changeover. Certainly, they have made their voices heard and become lightning rods for change in our polarized politics. Do they have power? That’s harder to say now, even though they are holding up one tent pole in the national discussion.

AOC, as Ocasio-Cortez, is increasingly, and somewhat disturbingly, becoming known as being made too much of a rock star and cultural icon, than a power player, caught in what Herbert Marcuse called the “flesh-eating machine” of the media, but Stephens’ point is well taken. Ocasio-Cortez recently outed James O’Keefe’s fake news and rightwing propaganda operation, Project Veritas, for sucking up $580,000 in PPP money for its mess, while deriding federal support constantly. On that score alone, she deserves our thanks.

Stephens is right though. To have a chance at doing something different, we need new bosses that are different from the old bosses, and that means a leadership change from bottom to top. We can hope Kamala Harris brings us some of this change. Now, if we could make a trade for Jacinda Kate Laurell Ardern, the New Zealand premier, who has showed courage and grace coupled with some dynamic policies there, I think Stephens case would be made in spades, and we would definitely have a new deal.