SPRINGFIELD — On Tuesday afternoon, more than 50 people, most of them young students, stood outside of U.S. Rep. Richard Neal’s Springfield office holding a sign that said, “Look us in the eyes,” while chanting, “Green New Deal, come on Neal.”
Organized by the youth climate advocacy group Sunrise Movement, the activists were pushing Neal to co-sponsor the Green New Deal, a resolution with broad actions to address climate change and economic inequality introduced earlier this month by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, and U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, D-Massachusetts.
“The fact of the matter is that individual actions are not enough, incremental policy changes are not enough,” Cathy McPartland, an 18-year-old student at Mount Greylock Regional School in Williamstown, said at the rally. “Communities are suffering, ecosystems are suffering. We need a plan that combines economic policy with national climate action … There is no time for compromise.”
The rally drew young people from across the state, including students from Northampton High School and Smith College. They joined others Tuesday, in 34 states across the country, in asking their representatives in Congress to support the Green New Deal, according to the Sunrise Movement.
Smith College student Claudia Olson pointed to wildfires, hurricanes and rising sea levels as examples of climate change in a letter written to Neal that she read aloud to the crowd in Springfield.
“You may not be personally affected by natural disasters and ecological crises at the moment,” Olson said, “but people around the world are suffering because of these events.”
Lila Lofving, a 17-year-old student from Northampton High School, said she hadn’t been the type to go to a rally, but climate change scares her.
“I think what scares me the most is how it disproportionately affects communities,” she said.
Of Neal, she added, “I have hope he will come out in support of it.”
Currently, the Green New Deal Senate resolution has 11 co-sponsors, while the House resolution has 89 sponsors. With the exception of Neal, every member of the congressional delegation in the state has signed on to the resolution.
The resolution calls for, among other goals, net-zero emissions, the creation of millions of jobs, and putting funding into infrastructure. A 10-year plan to implement those goals includes upgrading all existing buildings to be energy efficient, cutting greenhouse gases from the transportation sector, cleaning up hazardous waste and “providing higher education, high-quality health care, and affordable, safe, and adequate housing to all.”
“As of this time, there is no plan to co-sponsor, just because of his role on the Ways and Means Committee,” Neal’s press secretary, Margaret Boyle, said on Wednesday, adding that the office was “welcoming” of the constituent input. In January, Neal officially became chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee in the new Congress.
A group of 10 young constituents had been allowed into Neal’s office to talk with a member of his staff Tuesday, while the rest of the group rallied on the steps of the building outside.
Karen McComish, 18, also a student at Mount Greylock Regional School, said she spoke with one of Neal’s staff members and remained positive despite getting no answers about whether the congressman would support the resolution.
McComish spoke at the rally about how her cousins and their dog got cancer just over the Massachusetts border in Hoosick Falls, New York — where the town’s drinking water had high levels of perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, a chemical involved in the manufacturing of products like nonstick coating. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics and Honeywell International have been identified as being “potentially responsible” for the water supply pollution, according to information about the environmental contamination on the village’s website.
“It’s brought my family and our community directly in the face of industry-made environmental dangers,” she said of the experience.
Later, as she addressed the crowd, McComish delivered a message to Neal: “We’re here having driven an hour and a half to stand outside in this beautiful 20-degree weather to ask you to co-sponsor the Green New Deal because we’re terrified.”
Greta Jochem can be reached at email@example.com.