DSA launches the Green New Deal for Public Schools campaign

DSA’s multi-phase Green New Deal project launched the next step on its journey with a well-attended Tuesday, July 13 webinar on the Green New Deal for Public Schools phase.

Activists and advocates outlined a program of green-centered school physical-plant and curriculum upgrades in concert with school-related unions — some of the strongest and most militant in the working-class sphere — that would enfold and continue DSA’s focus on the PRO Act. But the $1.43 trillion, 10-year project, embodied in a new House bill introduced last week, would reach well beyond school buildings.

MDC DSA has in turn fired up a GND4PS organizing committee, which met Wednesday (July 28) to launch several initiatives and begin outreach to the wider local chapter, including branches in Maryland and Virginia. (Members of Metro DC DSA can engage with the project in our internal coordinating channels via #GND4PS-Planning, a new Slack channel, where the next meeting's details will be posted.)

Curiously, the unfolding of the project in the July 13 webinar launch was both ebullient and hush-hush, with activist leaders like Thea Riofrancos cautioning that the big reveal would come days later as Rep. Jamaal Bowman (NY), one of DSA’s big winners in the 2020 election, introduced a bill that would wrap these elements in a package to be included in the Democrats’ big reconciliation infrastructure bill. “You are getting an inside peek into a bill that is not going to be introduced until Thursday,” Riofrancos cautioned.

Bowman indeed launched the bill the following day along with local educators — his former colleagues — in front of John Philip Sousa Junior High School in Baychester, in his Bronx district.

He formally introduced the bill in the House Friday, July 16. Included among the initial 32 co-sponsors are Eleanor Holmes Norton of DC, Gerry Connolly of Northern Virginia and Jamie Raskin of Maryland — a trifecta for building DMV support for the Metro DC local chapter and branches.

A detailed summary from Bowman’s office said the measure “would make a transformative and unprecedented investment in public school infrastructure by upgrading every public school building in the country, addressing historical harms and inequities by focusing support on high-need schools, and hiring and training hundreds of thousands of additional educators and support staff.”

DSA’s role, as an organization that “has a school [or school system to match] for every DSA chapter,” is building a coalition that continues to emphasize “labor as a through line for ecosocialist GND work,” as activists tag-teaming on the call emphasized.

On that initial call, Sydney restated the “phased plan [initially] proposed by the Green New Deal Campaign Committee — to build momentum around major labor reform, shift gears to [an] economic recovery plan demanding massive public investment in communities across the USA, representing a bailout for working people all over the country. … to build our capacity as a national organization with demands and an organizing plan that can really be used at the chapter level regardless of chapter size.”

Advantages to the plan, said NYC DSA's Gustavo, include the high current visibility of the infrastructure fight and “a campaign plan that lets us intervene in that fight, and make huge $ amount demands for robust, just, green stimulus funds that would get injected into every community around the country. The Green New Deal is a fight for decarbonization and universal public goods [and with public schools we can make] the argument for public goods from the heart of a public good — the coalition that has a stake in this is huge.”

As an equity proposition, “Schools embody the pattern of investment and disinvestment by segregated communities — schools are often the only place where we can reach certain sectors of the working class, especially kids” and build the wide coalition that this project offers, Gustavo added.

Jack of NYC DSA disclosed the organizing opportunities for this compact, high-visibility public good with its huge stakeholder array: a central reason for this demand making sense for DSA is because of a sober look at where we are located within the US economy. "Teachers are by a wide margin the largest union labor force we have represented in DSA, and it’s of course an increasingly militant sector of the labor movement. It’s really vital therefore that we … make concrete plans for developing deeper ties with the militant educators around the country, and building up supports for that struggle across divisions in the labor movement, but also throughout communities and across generations. The ideal version of this campaign sees DSA forging local coalitions of educators, paraeducators, building trades workers, working class parents and teenagers — all demanding a massive increase in investment and the social wage. But for that to happen we have to meet a lot of people and organize them into a structure to make those demands."

Each local chapter of DSA, nationwide, has a school, probably a whole system, that displays inequities and demands the level of assistance Bowman’s bill promises over a 10-year span. The human geography of the communities surrounding those schools is likely to reflect those inequalities, and the schools (following the “community school” wraparound-services model already being put in place in Maryland and DC) can function as potential organizing and coalition-building centers — again, with labor as the through line, and working-class families as the glue. As Bowman’s summary outlines, money will be earmarked “to move towards a ‘whole child’ approach to public education; and partner with community organizations to offer a range of services to schools and surrounding neighborhoods, such as after-school programs” — a fertile ground for organizing.

With three key legislators in the DMV already cosponsors, MDC DSA and its branches have numerous political and organizational avenues to pursue within this phase of the project. Other House members can be pressured to sign onto Bowman’s bill, building its visibility. The PRO Act continues as a structural element since it offers advantages both to existing unions and to unorganized workers in school-centered communities. And Maryland’s large, Kirwan Commission-guided boost in funding for public school improvement through the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future can provide a model for our other DMV jurisdictions.

MDC DSA has already propelled the PRO Act with heavy lobbying of Virginia’s biz-buzzed Sen. Mark Warner and has the capacity and energy to shift to this next phase of the Green New Deal campaign — public schools, the embattled public good that matters to a very wide but coherent and organizable range of stakeholders.

The GND-Public Schools campaign has many avenues for activism as well. MDC DSA comrades can get familiar with the campaign by reading the Campaign Overview and the Organizing Plan.

Chapters and chapter leaders can use the Chapter Campaign Guide to receive instruction on step-by-step organizing plans, messaging guidance, social media toolkits, and other resources to help structure their campaign.

The campaign also has a weekly call (currently Tuesdays) to build local efforts. Interested comrades in the DMV or elsewhere can sign up here.

As a start, DSA members and formations can:

  1. Form a GND4PS campaign committee of interested members.
  2. Present the campaign to your chapter. Use the slide presentation from our July 13 leadership call and the Messaging Guide, to help you persuade and mobilize your chapter or formation. The July 13 call recording might help as well. Password: K5V3?z?b
  3. Build lists of building trade and education union members in your chapter.
  4. Research schools your chapter is connected to, such as schools where you have members who are teachers, parents or students. (And if you need a place to publish information - the Washington Socialist is always available!)
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