2020 Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders “wants the DNC to have a climate debate and he thinks it’s important to have that kind of conversation.”
That is what Nina Turner, national co-chair for the Sanders campaign, told Common Dreams on Thursday about her candidate’s position after learning that members of the Democratic National Committee — at a meeting of party delegates in California — had just voted down a resolution to sanction a climate-focused debate for the Democratic primary.
“I’m very disappointed that they voted that down within the DNC,” Turner said. “It makes no sense. And to me it’s just another example of going along to get along. What’s the fear of having a forum that deals with the climate? It makes no sense to me.”
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While climate campaigners — including Sunrise Movement, 350.org, Friends of the Earth, and many others that have been demanding for months that the DNC reverse its opposition to a debate specifically aimed at addressing the climate emergency — expressed outrage over the vote, Turner suggested the best course of action for the campaigns at this point would be to join forces against the DNC.
“To me,” she added, “all the presidential candidates should unite in that because if all the Democratic presidential candidates say to the DNC, ‘Let’s have a debate or a forum about climate change’ — what are they gonna do, kick out every single one of them?”
Such an approach, said Turner, “is the one thing that all the candidates could unite on and show some real leadership to say: Let’s have it. Let’s have the conversation. Let’s have the debate.”
Turner wasn’t the only high-profile Democrat voicing disappointment.
“The DNC decision to sabotage a #ClimateDebate is extremely disappointing,” tweeted former vice president Al Gore following the vote. “Voters all over the U.S. are demanding we focus on the biggest threat to our nation and humanity’s future and prioritize solving the climate crisis instead of continuing business as usual.”
In June of this year, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, another top 2020 Democratic contender, and Washington Governor Jay Inslee, who ended his 2020 climate-forward campaign Wednesday night, both came out strongly in favor of the demand for the climate debate idea.
While many in the large primary field have embraced or endorsed the climate-debate demand over recent months, it remains unclear how many current candidates would embrace the confrontational approach with the DNC leadership that Turner is proposing.
A tale of two Democratic parties.
One: The establishment, inside conference rooms, debating away on the semantics.
The second, in the halls and the streets demanding robust #climate action.
— David Turnbull (@david_turnbull) August 22, 2019
On Thursday, Warren tweeted out her high hopes for participating in a climate forum being hosted next month by CNN, but this is not the kind of sanctioned debate that campaigners are demanding from the DNC.
Climate change is an existential crisis we all face—and it’s going to take big, structural change to solve it. I can’t wait to talk about my plans to protect our planet and tackle climate change at the @CNN Climate Crisis Town Hall next month! https://t.co/QlV87BtsSm
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) August 22, 2019
Meanwhile, as Turner called on the DNC to reverse its position, many online where expressing serious concern over the stance taken by DNC member Symone D. Sanders, a senior advisor to Joe Biden and his campaign, who argued during Thursday’s meeting that having a climate-focused debate would put the party in “dangerous territory” as she warned that it would open the door to every “faction” of the party wanting their own issue-specific debate.
Biden advisor @SymoneDSanders argues strongly against #ClimateDebate, says it "would fundamentally change the game" of what the campaigns had been told and be "dangerous territory in the middle of a Democratic primary process"
— Casey Tolan (@caseytolan) August 22, 2019
The objections Ms. Sanders (no relation to Bernie) put forth raised serious questions — especially because Biden himself has openly endorsed the idea of a climate debate in the past — and did not go over well with progressive critics:
It is concerning to see Joe Biden's senior advisor @SymoneDSanders lobbying to stop conversation on climate change.
— Friends of the Earth (@foe_us) August 22, 2019
But her boss @JoeBiden has publicly supported it multiple times.
So…what’s going on?https://t.co/O3p8OtXd4o
— Sunrise Movement 🌅 (@sunrisemvmt) August 22, 2019
In what campaigners saw as an incremental yet insufficient victory, a separate measure voted on Thursday did pass, one that lifts a ban on candidate participation in outside issue forums. As the Sunrise Movement tweeted, “We may have reversed the ban on candidate participation in outside climate discussions, but this is NO #ClimateDebate.”
With an additional and larger floor vote expected on the specific climate debate question scheduled for a Saturday session at the DNC meeting, Varshini Prakash, co-founder and executive director of the Sunrise Movement, said there’s still hope the party will reverse course and that her group plans to keep up the pressure:
The hard work of thousands of advocates led the @DNC to reverse the ludicrous ban on multi-candidate issue discussions.
But we still need to put pressure on members to support a full #ClimateDebate at the vote this Saturday!
Add your name 👇🏽👇🏽👇🏽 https://t.co/rzZUIiEvpX
— Varshini Prakash 🌅 (@VarshPrakash) August 22, 2019
“California was literally on fire last year — we know firsthand that climate breakdown is killing people and destroying livelihoods right now,” said 26-year-old Alex Morrison, a volunteer with Sunrise, in a statement on Thursday.
“Time is running out to save our generation,” Morrison added, “Young people need to know which candidates for president are treating the climate crisis like the emergency it is.”
And expressing her dismay and frustration, journalist and commentator Kate Aronoff put it this way: “The DNC believes the climate crisis is a grave threat to the future of human civilization, just not a big enough threat to spend 2 hours talking about.”