Three days before the birthday of Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) activists and political club members gathered to deliver him a very special birthday message: “Happy birthday! Now tax the rich and stop destroying the planet.”
On Dec. 3, a “Tax the Rich” rally took place at 212 5th Ave., right outside one of Jeff Bezos’ luxury properties. Among the groups in attendance were New York Communities for Change (NYCC), Food & Water Action, Sunrise NYC and the New York Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). The rally also saw a late appearance from State Senate-Elect Jabari Brisport (D-Brooklyn).
“It’s inspiring to see so many people out here – in this weather, in this city, in this time – standing outside of perhaps one of the most powerful people on the planet, Jeff Bezos,” said Jawanza James Williams, Director of Organizing at Vocal New York. “The actual constituent of Governor Cuomo, because obviously, it’s not us.”
The attendees – many of whom were wearing party hats – delivered their backhanded birthday wish by dancing, singing protest songs and signing a giant “birthday card” which outlined a list of their demands.
“It’s symbolic,” said Patrick Houston, NYCC Climate and Inequality Campaign Associate. “We’re saying, ‘Hey, Cuomo, for your birthday, why don’t you celebrate by taking back billions from the wealthy to fund a green new deal?”
The activists confronted Cuomo with four specific demands. First, divest from fossil fuels as soon as possible by banning the creation of any new fossil fuel infrastructure, such as fracking plants and gas pipelines. On this front, Patrick Houston lauded Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) for voicing his opposition to the North Brooklyn fracking pipeline.
“We know that would not have been possible if safe energy projects and Brownsville and Bushwick community residents did not band together to put this onto the public’s radar,” said Houston. “And so this is another fight where we are seeing process. Hopefully we’ll stop this pipeline the same way we stopped the Williams pipeline.”
Second, implement large scale, New Deal-style programs to facilitate a transition to 100 percent renewable energy. The demand, as detailed on the Movement for a Green New Deal (MGND) Coalition’s website, calls on Cuomo’s Climate Action Council to formulate a transition plan in two years, and for the Department of Environmental Conservation to enact it by the end of 2024.
Third, disempower fossil fuel lobbyists by making power a publicly owned utility. Activists argue that investor-owned utilities have an incentive to protect the fossil fuel industry, which yields big, immediate, guaranteed profits. Making power a public utility would force power companies to serve the interests of the common people – who, overwhelmingly, would benefit from a shift to clean energy.
Finally – and most importantly – raise taxes on the 1 percent in order to fund all of the above. According to the MGND Coalition, an additional 5 percent marginal tax rate on income over $500,000 would bring in $10 billion in tax revenue per year.
“In 2020, the world has changed,” said Williams. “The world that we knew is gone, and it’s gone forever. So in 2021, what we want to see, what we want to have happen, is we want to have millionaires and billionaires actually pay the money that we need to fund the kinds of initiatives that will reverse the harms of climate change.
“If we do not pass a green new deal – if we do not continue to do what has to happen – there will be no world at all.”
Brisport, who had climate justice as a major part of his successful platform, closed out the rally with some inspiring words for his constituents and allies. He stressed that the fight for a green new deal isn’t only a fight for climate justice, but also economic justice.
“The path ahead of us is long, it’s hard, but it is worth it,” said Brisport. “It is worth it for our communities, for our families, for our future generations. And it’s worth it for those who have made it possible so that we could be here. We have the responsibility to carry on the fight that so many others have been fighting for decades. We did not start the war on working people, but we are gonna be the ones to end it, I’ll tell you that much.”
[This article was originally posted on our sister site, New York County Politics.]