Voting for Democratic candidates today is our best bet to create a better future for Virginia’s climate, writes Virginia environmental activist David Millman.
“I thought there would be more people,” I said to myself as I looked over the ragtag team of friends I had convinced to come with me to a climate rally we heard about on Instagram a couple days before. It was late spring. I had become increasingly involved with environmental activism over the past two years and managed to secure a speaking spot in front of the state capitol building in my hometown of Richmond.
After getting to the rally late (I had accidentally typed in the wrong address in my friend’s phone), we settled into the grass among the fifteen or so other activists. There were some high schoolers, a couple of older folks, and a surprising number of elementary school kids.
I listened to the few other activists talk, including a surprisingly rousing speech from Joshua Cole, a candidate for VA H.D. 28. Then it was my turn to speak.
Walking up to the small podium, I noticed the wind had started to pick up. The microphone was catching this, throwing back a loud screeching sound. I took a moment to look around at the crowd. The grass, instead of adoring supporters, overwhelmingly dominated my view. I thought to myself, “a movement can start with just a few people.” You should never daydream speaking to a crowd you can count on your hand. Nevertheless, I began to talk about climate change.
“If we fight, we can get back the majority and address climate change with concrete laws in Virginia,” I almost yelled over the wind. I finished my speech with a call to action to volunteer for candidates in these upcoming elections. I truly believe that who wins in November can shape the course of climate policy in the United States for decades to come. I told the people in attendance to never stop fighting for climate justice.
Then came September 20th.
Climate activists descended to the streets, parks, and the fronts of government buildings across the country, demanding a response to the climate crisis. The global climate strike was one of the largest protests in modern history.
There were several climate strikes throughout Virginia, including one in front of that very same capitol building. This time there were hundreds of people. And no wind.
If climate policy has any chance of progressing in this country, the energy of these strikes needs to translate to politics–especially at the local and state levels.
Protesters need to turn into canvassers. Strikers need to turn into voters. Demonstrators need to turn into volunteers.
Back in 2017, Virginia Democrats ran one of the most diverse batch of candidates of any state election in United States history. Running for the state house, many didn’t believe that the candidates chosen could win. The candidates harnessed the anger of countless Virginians and won back fifteen seats.
The following year, the congressional elections followed the same exact model. Virginia’s off-year elections proved to be a powerful force and an accurate predictor of national behavior.
Every seat in the Virginia state legislature is up for election this November. The state legislature could be flipped, and Democrats could regain the majority.
If the Democratic Party wins, Virginia will become the first former-Confederate state to be truly liberal from the top down.
The Virginia Green New Deal is gaining steam, collecting support from workers’ unions, social justice groups, and environmental organizations. Many Democrats have signed the Activate Virginia Pledge, announcing they will not accept money from Dominion Energy or Appalachian Power. Candidates are finally willing to stand up to the corporations that caused this problem in the first place.
Since the margins would be very tight for passing any climate legislation, the policy proposed would need to have at least some bipartisan support. If Virginia could pass popular, transformative climate policy as a southern state, it could not only set the trend for the 2020 elections, but provide a framework for other states, proving that a climate response is achievable even without firm Democratic control.
Success in Virginia would also outline the importance of building a coalition of grassroots support from labor, social justice, and environmental organizations. It would make a nation-wide climate response realistic, popular, and case-tested for the federal level, and lead the way to a global response.
Virginia can be the catalyst for the nation to solve climate change. It all depends on November 5th.
Note: Op-Eds are contributions from guest writers and do not reflect RVA Magazine editorial policy.
All Photos from Richmond Youth Climate Strike, September 20, by VCU-CNS