State Democrats pass resolution for presidential debate on climate

EASTHAMPTON — With more than 100 climate activists looking on, the Massachusetts Democratic State Committee voted unanimously Saturday morning in favor of a resolution encouraging national party leaders to support a presidential primary debate centered on climate change and green job creation.

Earlier in the day, local activists and members of the Sunrise Movement, a group of young advocates calling for decisive action on climate change, gathered outside Easthampton High School to motivate state Democrats arriving for the party’s summer meeting to pass the resolution. 

The resolution will now be sent to Democratic party committees in all 50 states and the Democratic National Committee to show support before a DNC subcommittee decides whether to recommend having a climate-focused debate to the larger body. The DNC is scheduled to meet next in San Francisco on Aug. 22-24.

Jon Russell, an organizer with the Sunrise Movement, called the resolution “a victory, but it’s not enough. We need to keep going.”

“The DNC members are still not sold on voting yet, so we need to keep pressuring them and make sure this happens on the national level,” said Russell, 26, of Brighton.

Activists lined the entrance to the high school early in the morning to greet state committee members as they arrived, calling on them to support the resolution. After over an hour of chants and music, the group moved into the high school’s auditorium to witness the vote on the resolution as they lined the walls with signs reading “Back The Debate” and “No More Excuses.”

A debate focused on climate change would address a multitude of other interconnected issues, Gus Bickford, chairman of the state committee and a member of the DNC and its resolutions committee, said before the vote. “That’s what I’m going to be working toward, so that we get a true debate on all of the issues that contribute to climate change.”

Although one Democratic State Committee member did disagree before the vote with having a single-focus debate, the auditorium erupted with cheers from the activists when Bickford declared the vote unanimous after no one spoke in opposition during the voice vote. Some of the more 100 state committee members at the meeting did not vote for or against the resolution.

State committee member Alex Pratt of Malden said after the vote that he was proud to see the  committee support the resolution with such conviction. The DNC would have to change debate rules if the national resolution is supported later this month, he said.

“I think Sunrise, and especially the teenagers, are the driving factor behind this resolution,” he said of the Massachusetts action. “To be lobbied by the movement is really important and deeply powerful and I know that’s why we saw this result.”

Kirstie Hostetter of Boston was another Sunrise Movement organizer on hand Saturday.

“Showing up today is a lot about really proving our dedication to this issue and proving that this is something that is going to mobilize Democratic voters,” she said before the vote. 

Sunrise supporter Scott Gilman of Somerville said the two Democratic primary debates so far have allotted little time to the issue of climate change. Having a DNC debate centered on climate change issues, rather than a town hall or a forum, he said, is crucial since it would allow candidates to showcase differences in policy to a national audience. 

DNC Chairman Tom Perez recently introduced another resolution to be voted on in this month that calls for climate change to be discussed in two unofficial forums and during the existing debate format, rather than devoting an official debate to the issue. In a post on Medium, Perez said allowing for a single-issue debate might open the floodgates for candidates to request unfair debates on topics central to their own campaigns.

Gilman disagrees. He said a debate centered on climate change would touch just as many issues as any other debate would — though through the lens of what he believes is the world’s most pressing issue.

“We need to learn more about the candidates that don’t have a 200-page plan. What do they want to do?” he said, invoking Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s exhaustive “Climate Mission Agenda.”

Easthampton resident Patricia Hawkins said she came to the demonstration because she believes strongly that the 2020 presidential election should be focused on climate change.

“It’s an existential crisis, we need action on it and we’ve needed it for so long,” she said. “It’s so crucial.” 

Holding a sign featuring President Donald Trump against a blue background with a speech bubble reading, “Sorry son, I traded your future for oil!” 16-year-old Saraphina Forman, co-coordinator for Sunrise Movement Northampton, said she action on climate change is needed now, before it’s too late.

“It’s very intersectional in terms of racial justice, social justice, health care, even,” she said. “It’s an issue of survival for the human race.”

Michael Connors can be reached at

Author: Going Green

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