Demond Drummer: A Green New Deal

This keynote talk was given at the 2019 Bioneers Conference.

New Consensus is a leading-edge non-profit policy “think tank” working behind the scenes supplying research and detailed policy proposals for the Green New Deal to its leading political advocates, such as Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasion Cortez. Demond Drummer, New Consensus’ co-founder and Executive Director, well known in Chicago as a highly effective activist, is one of the true intellectual architects of the Green New Deal. He draws from the history of FDR’s WWII mobilization, the moonshot of the 1960s and the Civil Rights Movement to explain the critical importance of the Green New Deal as the next chapter of the American story.

Demond Drummer is the Chicago-based co-founder and Executive Director of New Consensus, a nonprofit working to develop and promote the Green New Deal that has advised many progressive leaders and organizations, including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Sunrise Movement. Demond’s other notable projects include CoderSpace, a computer science learning lab where youths develop leadership skills, and, a community-driven effort to reclaim and city-owned vacant lots in Chicago.

To learn more about Demond Drummer, visit New Consensus.

Read the full verbatim transcript of this keynote talk below.


Introduction by Michelle Romero, National Director, Green For All.


Please welcome the national director of Green For All, Michelle Romero. [APPLAUSE]



Over the past decade, so many of you in this room today have poured your hearts and souls into building a more inclusive green economy and a better future for all. In 2007, back when the green economy was more of an idea than anything real, our founder, Van Jones, published his national best seller, The Green Collar Economy. [APPLAUSE] How one solution can fix our two biggest problems. And I think many of us in this room can agree that our two biggest problems back then are some of our two biggest problems today – the climate crisis and growing inequality.

In Chapter 4 of Van’s book, which is titled Green New Deal, Van became the first person to flesh out what a Green New Deal could look like, and Green For All became the organization to advocate for these solutions. The idea was simple: let’s put the people who most need work to work doing the job that most needs done, and build a more sustainable future. [APPLAUSE]

Green For All helped to popularize the term green jobs, advance solutions that tackled poverty and pollution together. We won millions of dollars for green jobs, trained green entrepreneurs to grow their businesses, and continue to this day to mobilize public funding and private finance for clean economy projects in underserved neighborhoods. You see, we don’t believe in a green economy that’s just for some, we believe in green for all. And that means ensuring that the people who are hit first and worst by the climate crisis do not benefit last and least from the solutions. [APPLAUSE]

We also…We also don’t believe that you need to choose between good jobs and a livable future. As Van say, everything’s that’s good for the planet is a job, a contract, a business opportunity. Well in the 10+ years since Van wrote his book and we were founded, we have faced some major challenges along the way, challenges that we must overcome as a movement if we’re going to build the future and the world that we want.

One of those challenges these past few years, which I know has been very difficult for those of you who’ve dedicated so much of your lives to advancing this agenda, has been the lack of attention that our politicians have given to the greatest existential threat of our time. And I’m not just talking about the Republicans, the Democrats too. [APPLAUSE] But all of that changed in the fall of 2018 when the Sunrise movement activists successful broke through the silence to deliver a salient message: the climate crisis cannot wait; we will not wait. And thanks to the work of youth activists around the country and the globe, climate change has risen to the top of our 2020 political agenda, and a Green New Deal has become a household name. [APPLAUSE]

I could not be prouder to introduce our next speaker. Demond Drummer is executive director and co-founder of the New Consensus, and a leader at the forefront of the movement for a Green New Deal. Since 2018, the New Consensus has been working to turn the dream of a Green New Deal into a policy platform that centers the needs of directly impacted communities and workers, and put into place a plan to transform the United States economy. Over the course of the last year, Demond and the New Consensus team have advised some of our country’s most influential politicians and movement builders, including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Justice Democrats, and the Sunrise Movement. [APPLAUSE]

As one of the most ambitious and transformative policy platforms since Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s original New Deal, New Consensus’ Green New Deal has made headlines, transformed our politics, and provided a bold and critical vision for the future of our country. Please welcome to the stage, Demond Drummer. [APPLAUSE]


So I’m here to talk about the Green New Deal, and I’ll talk about it in three different ways. First, I’m going to talk about the Green New Deal as a mobilization. Second, I’ll talk about the Green New Deal as a series of moonshots. And third, I want to talk about the Green New Deal most importantly as a movement, or rather a movement of movements. And I’ll be doing this by showing some old photographs that we looked to for inspiration.

The first photo is fascinating. At the beginning of America’s full entry into World War II, the United States had the productive capacity to build about 3,000 airplanes, like literally 3,000 airplanes. President Roosevelt, however, wanted 189,000 airplanes. And you can imagine how long that would take to build that. And, of course, some folks thought he was being unrealistic, and these skeptics weren’t completely unjustified in their skepticism. Because, again, the productive capacity of the country simply did not exist, and not just for airplanes, the tanks, the jeeps, and the helmets, all the equipment that was needed to wage war, there was no military industrial complex. Now this is not to praise the military industrial complex, but I’m making a point, so bear with me. [LAUGHTER]

So Roosevelt tapped some of the leading business figures to organize America’s industry for the war effort. These leaders assessed the capacity of different factories all over the country and worked out how to retool them and share processes and expertise to produce what was needed to sustain a war effort. Critically, the financial capital needed for this rapid scale-up of productive capacity came from the public sector, and not just as a purchaser of the end product, but as the initial investor in the factories that were building the things that we needed. And when it was all said and done, a country that could only produce 3,000 airplanes before entering the war, had produced 300,000 by the war’s end.

Now, to be clear, the history of the economic mobilization for World War II is challenging and complex. It is quite shameful that the greatest mobilization of our country has been around war. Now we can’t change that history retroactively, but we can use the example and the lessons of that history to mobilize for the future and change the story of this country, where the biggest mobilization that will be told of America will be around the Green New Deal. [APPLAUSE]

And at New Consensus, we see the Green New Deal as a World War II scale mobilization of all the resources of our country, our industrial capacity, our ingenuity, our financial capital, everything, all of the resources of our country to transition to a clean and just energy economy. The Green New Deal proposes a set of solutions and national projects that match the scale, scope and speed of climate breakdown. Again, we believe that we need to set out bold solutions that meet the scale and scope of the problem, and not let our politics define the type of solutions that we can implement. [APPLAUSE]

So what are we proposing? We propose that we upgrade every single building in this country to the highest levels of energy efficiency, air quality, water efficiency, and water quality; upgrade our country’s infrastructure to be more resilient; accelerate, massively accelerate the adoption of renewable energy; restore our natural ecosystems; research, develop, deploy technologies to decarbonize heavy industry; and position our country to be a leader in clean manufacturing. Why can’t we do that? [CHEERS]

We must also transform our food system and invest directly in farmers to adopt regenerative and sustainable agricultural methods. [APPLAUSE] Let’s take the subsidies away from Conagra and Monsanto [APPLAUSE] and give that money directly to farmers whose rural areas are being literally gutted with all their wealth. So we have a lot of work to do. The money is there. Don’t let anybody fool you.

So we also want to invest in America’s productive capacity to produce the stuff that we need to have a clean economy – electric vehicles, not too many, right, electric vehicles; the energy efficiency parts and components, pipes; all the stuff that we need to see the economy and have a society that we want. We have to build and produce more things here. About 25% of emissions comes from trade alone. So the economic mobilization will renew our economy and give rise to sustainable businesses and industries, and create millions of good, quality, high-paying jobs.

And because of the sheer size and scale of this great effort, the Green New Deal will leave no worker and no community behind. So the greatest generation mobilized our country to beat fascism abroad. It is our task and our day and our time to beat fascism right here at home, and mobilize our country to meet the imminent and existential threat of climate breakdown. [APPLAUSE] And this is what the Green New Deal is all about.

Now the next photo is much more familiar to the American story as we traditionally tell it. I spent most of my childhood wanting to be an astronaut until I reached calculus. [LAUGHTER] And I was particularly inspired by Kennedy’s moon mission speech at Rice University, where he said we choose to go to the moon in this decade because that goal will serve to organize and measure our country’s energy and skills. The moon shot wasn’t just about science. It was about survival. It was about proving that the American system could beat the Soviet system. That’s literally what it was all about. And, again, it’s unfortunate that we have these moments of galvanizing work around conflict. Right? But this is the history that we’ve been given. We must build on this history to create new history. Right? And write the next chapter of the American story. But the moon shot wasn’t just about science.

And we often forget that the U.S. spent most of the so-called space race behind the ball, behind the Soviet Union. The whole idea was to catch up and assert some level of technological sophistication. Right? And today we find ourselves in a very similar situation. When it comes to the technologies that we need to move to a clean economy, we as a country simply—we’re not on the map. Right?

So the Green New Deal calls for a series of technology moon shots, and like the space race before, the Green New Deal is a great national effort and exercise, not just in research and science, but in survival. And it goes without saying that transforming every sector of our economy will be difficult. It’s not easy. And in most cases some of the technology that we need is either in its infancy or it simply doesn’t exist. But that simply cannot stop us. We must throw the entire might of our human ingenuity at these problems and make massive investments of public capital to a network of research universities and labs and small companies that are trying to figure things out to solve the most pressing technological challenges that stand in our way to a clean and just economy.

And this brings me to my last photo. We’ve talked about the Green New Deal as a mobilization. We’ve talked about the Green New Deal as a series of moon shots, again building on the story of this country to show that the Green New Deal is not antithetical to the scale, scope, and ambition that this country has seen in other endeavors.

Now I’d like to talk about the Green New Deal as a movement, and maybe more appropriately a movement of movements. What we are seeing today in this time is a gathering of the justice movements. The Green New Deal is a capacious framework that is designed to address the interlocking systems of oppression that affect us all. Some see this as a weakness, but I argue that the comprehensiveness of the Green New Deal is actually its true strength, because there is no way to truly transition to a zero carbon economy without interrogating and challenging the logic of an economy that exploits people and extracts from the earth. [APPLAUSE]

Economist Mariana Mazzucato argues that behind the climate crisis, behind every economic crisis is a crisis in thinking. I’m going to say it again, that behind the climate crisis, behind the persistent economic crisis that exists throughout the world and communities all across this country, is a crisis of thinking. And it’s important that we notice that the people who are opposed to the Green New Deal right now, say it can’t be done, where are the details, all of this stuff, this is a crisis in thinking. And what we require in this moment is a new political consensus and a new economic consensus, a consensus that says that we will no longer be duped by the mythic invisible hand of the market–[APPLAUSE] a consensus that recognizes that the public sector has a fundamental role to play in shaping markets – energy markets, financial markets, labor markets – to serve the interests of society. [APPLAUSE]

The Green New Deal proposes a set of solutions that meet the scale of the crisis that we’ve created for ourselves. Its comprehensiveness is its power. So the Green New Deal, we’ve talked about it as a World War II scale mobilization of all the resources of our country, we’ve talked about it as a series of technology moon shots, and we understand that the Green New Deal is a movement of movements. It will be brought forth and sustained by an enduring alignment of our youth, who are leading the way and know that we all deserve clean air, clean water, and good food, workers who deserve pay on which a family can thrive. It’s being brought forth by scientists and researchers who can lead us into the light, and even by entrepreneurs of all types, investors even, who are looking for good returns that can renew this economy—they do exist—grassroots leaders and organizations who continue to lead change, mobilizations, moon shots, movements, that’s the story of our country. That’s the story of America. And we in this room and in communities all across the country are writing the next chapter of the American story. [CHEERS]

There is a direct correlation between wages that can’t sustain a family and an economy that can’t sustain human life on this planet. [APPLAUSE] So this morning, we, the people, we have an economic mandate. We have the ingenuity, we have the existential imperative, and the power to give ourselves a Green New Deal. And I know deep in my heart and in my soul that we can, and even more that we will. Thank you so much, Bioneers. [APPLAUSE]

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