Climate change debate creates rift at Democratic National Committee summer meeting

Ben Klein/Staff

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Democratic Party officials and presidential candidates alike stressed unity at the 2019 summer meeting of the Democratic National Committee, or DNC, in downtown San Francisco. At the same time, the meeting saw considerable rifts between officials and activists.

The DNC drew criticism from activists over the weekend for striking down a proposal for a presidential debate focused on the climate crisis. Organizers in Sunrise Movement, a climate change activist group, hoped to use this chance to push for a presidential debate focusing specifically on the climate crisis.

“I don’t see the DNC as an ally. They’re an obstacle,” said Steven Marquardt, an organizer in Sunrise Movement. “I think they’re scared to be bold and to be progressive and to be leaders … It’s our job to continue to call on them, to call them out.”

Multiple candidates at the meeting, including Bernie Sanders and Tim Ryan, advocated for the party to take a stronger stance on climate and other issues.

“Playing it safe, according to the old rules, is the most dangerous course of all, and a course of action that could very well cost us this election,” Sanders said.

Marquardt said the DNC has “failed” the organization by striking down the resolution.

Sunrise Movement held its West Regional Summit in Berkeley on Saturday and Sunday to train members. The organization plans to support “climate strikes” on Sept. 20.

Sunrise Movement had a sizable presence at the DNC and held demonstrations during the “Meet the Candidates” section of the meeting on Friday.

Meanwhile, in the Grand Ballroom of the Hilton Hotel in downtown San Francisco, some Democratic speakers brushed over the tensions within the party.

“If we stand together, we’ll win the battle for the soul of this nation,” Joe Biden said in a video statement to the DNC. Amy Klobuchar similarly described the United States as a “country of shared dreams,” and said Donald Trump is “a president that tries to fracture those dreams.”

Not all of the speakers emphasized unity at the DNC, however. Tim Ryan criticized the DNC’s decision to forego special topics of debates. Michael Bennet, too, criticized the committee.

“The DNC process is stifling debate at a time when we need it most,” Bennet said.

Only two of the 13 candidates present Friday — Tim Ryan and Andrew Yang — visited Sunrise Movement demonstrators, according to Marquardt. A “key campaign staff” from Bernie Sanderscampaign also visited the group, Marquardt said.

The Green New Deal, a resolution outlining a set of plans for aggressively combating climate change, was pushed for by Sunrise Movement. According to Marquardt, 16 of the Democratic candidates have co-sponsored it.

Sanders, in Marquardt’s words, has begun to “lead the way” in combating the climate crisis with his newly announced $16 trillion climate plan.

“The impacts of climate change are already being felt all around the world,” said Berkeley City Councilmember Rigel Robinson, who attended the DNC meeting, in an email. “That will be even more true for generations that follow, unless our elected leadership take meaningful action to reverse decades of negligent policymaking.”

Ben Klein is the lead schools and communities reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @BenKlein_dc‏.