Kentuckians are ready for a Just Transition and Green New Deal | Kentuckians For The Commonwealth

Kentuckians are ready for a Just Transition and Green New Deal

An enthusiastic and diverse crowd turned out on May 11 at an event in Frankfort in support of a Just Transition to a clean energy economy and a Green New Deal for workers and communities. 

Rep. Attica Scott and Cassia Herron

The main event, a stop on a eight-city tour organized by the Sunrise Movement, was planned in partnership with KFTC and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 32BJ. The event featured State Rep. Attica Scott, KFTC members Kevin Short, Cassia Herron and Scott Shoupe, Sunrise Louisville Hub member Jenny Bencomo Suarez, Sunrise Executive Director Varshini Prakash, Erin Bridges, who plays a leading role in the Sunrise Louisville Hub and on the national Sunrise Steering Committee; and music by Appalatin.

Before things got rolling, KFTC, SEIU 32BJ and Sunrise hosted a Seat At The Table dinner for nearly 300 participants. The dinner was also cosponsored by many allies, including REACT (Rubbertown Environmental ACTion) and Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition, among others. 

During facilitated table conversations participants shared personal stories of how climate impacts their lives and about what is needed to build a movement in Kentucky to change course toward a sustainable and equitable future. The conversations focused on being more inclusive of all voices, especially those most impacted, showing the common ground among rural and urban issues, the illustrating the direct impacts climate change is having in Kentucky.

"It doesn't have to do with Democrats or Republicans," Jean Perkins pointed out at her table. "It has to do with life."

Kevin Short, a high school senior from Lily, Kentucky, kicked off the evening program by sharing his powerful and deeply personal story. 

“I’m talking to you tonight as an Appalachian, born and raised in eastern Kentucky, whose papaw was a coal miner and whose mamaw owned a small business. I’m invested in my community, I have roots in my community, and that’s why I’m here. It’s because I care about my community that I support the Green New Deal.

“The powers that be profit from the status quo, so of course they’ll spread misinformation and try to put a stop to the momentum we are building. Change frightens them because it lifts up those they keep under their thumb. They have a lot of wealth and power that they can and will wield against us, but perseverance is our middle name. We will persist, and in the face of the giant corporations and the politicians funded by them, we will make the change we must make.” 

State Rep. Attica Scott described people in her family and district whose bodies have been sickened and lives diminished by toxic air pollution."My neighbors are dying because of pollution and the weakness of politicians," Rep. Scott said. "We can no longer carry the burden of Louisville's toxic air."

She gave a shout out to community leaders like Eboni Cochrane, a key leader in a Louisville-based environmental justice organization called REACT, who organized over many years to win stronger air quality rules. And she lifted up the importance of labor unions like SEIU 32BJ that fight for high quality jobs, worker safety and the right to organize as part of a Just Transition. 

Over three hundred people participated in dinner conversations about a just transition and the Green New DealScott Shoupe, a fourth generation former coal miner from Harlan County, brought the room to its feet as he shared his journey from working for 22 years in underground coal mines to opening his own business last month providing clean energy services in eastern Kentucky.

“What does a Just Transition mean to me? A Just Transition is about a good process and good outcomes. It means people closest to the pain (pain of poverty, job losses, racism, discrimination, minorities, more) are at the table and have a voice in shaping solutions…

“A New Green Deal could mean that I, Scott Shoupe, and a few others who completed the MACED energy internship could be the example, or the light at the end of the tunnel, for displaced workers from industries that face structural change. It could mean more programs and policies in place to retrain workers. It means your hard work, dedication and loyalty to your industry were not in vain. It means everybody has voice, a seat at the table. It means a Just Transition to a clean economy for Kentucky. It means the possibility of a higher minimum wage, affordable health care for all, increasing investments in energy efficiency and renewables and more job-training opportunities.”

Jenny Bencomo Suarez described her support for a Green New Deal, saying, “For decades, working class communities and communities of color like mine have been first to be hit by pollution, and last to be rebuilt after a climate disaster. The Green New Deal will tackle all these challenges head-on: stopping toxic pollution contributing to climate disasters. Everyone has a right to clean air and water, protection from disaster and healthy food, no matter the color of their skin or where they were born. The Green New Deal is revolutionary policy rooted in equity, justice and above all compassion.”

Varshini Prakash and Erin Bridges of Sunrise wrapped up the evening by describing what comes next. Bridges stated, “Scientists tell us we don’t have a lot of time, so we’ve got to act fast. Every level of our government is now captured by people who have sold us out to fossil fuel billionaires and are attempting to erode the foundations of our democracy. The next two years are critical and we’ll be laser focused on two things: exposing the urgency of the crisis and relentlessly demanding the solutions we need.

“We already hard at work building powerful local hubs and working with KFTC to register, inform and motivate Kentuckians to vote for our lives in 2019 and 2020 elections. But if we are going to win, and elect real leaders from our communities who are ready to shake down the halls of power, it is going to take all of us.”

Varshini Prakash concluded, “The next few years might be our last chance to elect a government in this country capable of protecting human civilization as we know it. We’re facing an opposition that will stop at nothing to squeeze every last bit of money out of the earth.

"But there’s too much at stake to not give it our best shot. There are too many people and places we love. Too many cultures and communities that may drown or burn. Too many damn lives on the line to not give it all we’ve got. I’m not sure if we can succeed, but I think with this plan there’s a chance that we just might. Who’s ready to try to write the next chapter of American history together?”