More than 70 leaders from a broad array of social, economic and environmental justice organizations gathered in Richmond on April 27 for the founding summit of Green New Deal Virginia. The all day summit at Richmond’s historic Third Street Bethel A.M.E. Church was the culmination of months of planning by a coalition of organizations that have signed on to Green New Deal Virginia and helped set priorities for 2019 and beyond.

Green New Deal Virginia seeks to mitigate two of the biggest crises we face as a society – climate change and inequity, which it sees as inextricably linked. The coalition seeks a just transition to a green economy, creating thousands of good jobs while addressing the climate emergency and restoring Virginia’s environment. It recognizes that a statewide, industrial, economic mobilization of this scope and scale is an historic opportunity to combat inequity in the Commonwealth and to make prosperity, clean air and water, and economic security fully available to everyone.

Virginia State Delegate Sam Rasoul (District 11) welcomed participants to the summit. He noted the diversity of the attendees and said, “with the realization that this is an intersectional struggle, we are starting to look more like Virginia.” Rasoul pointed out that the leaders present “represent hundreds and thousands of people who they are ready to mobilize” to enact the Green New Deal Virginia agenda.

Mustafa Santiago Ali, National Wildlife Federation Vice President for Environmental Justice, Climate and Community Revitalization, gave an inspiring and compelling keynote address to the summit. Ali, who helped found the environmental justice program at the Environmental Protection Agency during his twenty four year career there, talked about power:

“We have been taught that we don’t have power. We have to change that dynamic. We are standing on indigenous land and we should never forget it. And we are standing on land built by slaves. We need to understand how we got here....Slaves were taken away from their traditional practices and food sources. The same with indigenous peoples. The same with Asian Americans. So when we talk about the Green New Deal, we are talking about changing a paradigm, dealing with the sins of the past and giving power back to the people.”

Ali noted that the modern environmental justice movement started in a small African American community in Warren County, North Carolina that was fighting against the dumping of PCB laden toxic waste in a landfill, a protest that included the arrest of U.S. Congressman Walter Fauntroy and Rev. Benjamin Chavis. He added that if Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had survived he would have been a leader in the environmental justice movement, noting:

“Before we were just fighting for rights, now we are fighting for our existence. Two hundred thousand people die each year because of air pollution. More than gun violence. More than die in wars we are associated with . And those numberswill go up if we don’t do something about climate change.”

Richard Walker, a fifth generation decedent of one of the freed slaves who bought land from a former plantation owner to found Union Hill in Buckingham County, addressed the summit. He talked about the environmental justice struggle to stop Dominion Energy from building a massive fracked methane compressor station in Union Hill that would destroy that historic community in the name of corporate profit. “I have fallen into a position of becoming a voicefor the voiceless,” Walker said, noting that he is fighting to develop renewable energy in Union Hill. “This is my way of fighting back against Dominion, bringing that erased community bac k into the story of Virginia.”

The central role that the labor movement must play is assuring a just transition to a green economy – starting with repeal of Virginia’s right to work (for less) law - was a recurring theme throughout the summit. David Broder, President of Service Employees International Union Local 512, started the day with a tweet that neatly summarized the summit’s intersectional agenda:

"Headed to the @GreenNewDealVA Summit to talk about breaking down the

silos of economic, racial and environmental justice. Because clean air/water is

a labor issue, repealing right-to-work is an environmental issue, and fighting

systemic racism will set us all free.”

Broder addressed the summit, noting: “We are united in the belief that every working family should have living wages, benefits and health care and security in every aspect of their lives.” Broder drew connections between the fight for labor justice and the fight for immigra tion justice and added. “If we don’t figure out it is all one fight, we won’t get to where we need to be. We need to get out of our silos. That is the genius of the Green New Deal.”

Beth Roach, Tribal Councilwoman for the Nottaway Indian Tribe and a member of the Virginia Council on Environmental Justice, spoke about the impact of the proposed Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines on Native American communities. She pointed out that since these pipelines were approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, three tribes have received official federal recognition, yet they were given no opportunity to participate in the consultative process as required by federal law. “There are a whole new set of issues” for these tribes, she said, because “our communities were defined by their watersheds.” Roach urged summit participants to “hone in on watersheds” and to acknowledge “whose land you are on.”  She added that the Green New Deal must talk to tribes at the grassroots level.

It was clear throughout the summit that participants have their eye not just on environmental issues but the linked crises in social and economic justice.


Consultant Bekura Shabazz spoke about the criminal justice system, noting that “a misdemeanor can destroy someone’s life forever” and that people are “denied access to employment because they littered or sped or cursed in public.”  She added, “we have the power to change everything we are fighting for.”

Karen Campblin, co-chair of Green New Deal Virginia and Environment and Climate Justice Chair for the Virginia State Conference NAACP , focused her remarks on inequities in transportation. She noted that 45% of carbon pollution in Virginia comes from transportation and the Green New Deal must include a discussion of transportation solutions that are linked to land use and affordability. She pointed out that transportation inequities disproportionately affect African American communities, which often do not have adequate transportation infrastructure and therefore are not resilient and cannot bounce back from disasters as easily. 


Anthony Flaccovento, author, consultant and former Democratic candidate for the Ninth Congressional District, urged a renewed focus on rural communities. He noted:

“Rural people have become a reliable vote for people who want to free up the market from constraints. How did we get to a place that the people who have the most to gain or lose and have the closest connection to the land reject environmentalists? Part of it is the right wing, but part of it is us. We need to figure out how to change that.”

Flaccovento noted that there are communities in Virginia that are still dependent on coal, not just from mining, but because dollars from retirement and black lung benefits are pumped into those communities. “We need economic transitions in the places that historically have provided fossil fuels.” One solution he noted was to put degraded mine land back to work in a way that restores the environment. “Land properly managed can sequester one quarter to one half of all carbon. We need to pay people on the land to be good stewards of the land.”

After three interactive panels that covered the landscape of the fight for economic, social and environmental justice, summit participants broke into working groups to drill down on forging a path forward. Nine working groups were created to continue the work of the summit and build for a state legislative agenda for 2020 and beyond. These groups included: more democratic governance; sustainable jobs; racial and social justice; food and agriculture; defossilization, energy efficiency and renewables; healthier sustainable rural communities; healthier air, land and water; sustainable cities and transportation; and outreach and education.

Green New Deal Virginia will continue to build through the working groups in the coming months, centered on five major policy themes: 1) A just and equitable 100% renewables plan that leaves no workers or communities behind; 2) Large investments and job-training programs in renewables, building an energy efficient smart-grid, residential and commercial energy efficiency, and more; 3) Clean air, water and land for all Virginians; 4) Investments in local-scale agriculture in communities across Virginia, and;  5) Prioritize equitable, affordable and clean transportation systems.

Summit participants were united around these themes and agreed that creating thousands of high paying green jobs would require strong enforcement of labor, workplace safety, wage standards, and the right to organize and bargain collectively. They also agreed on the need for investing in and supporting farmers to expand sustainable locally sourced agriculture; transforming Virginia towards clean energy self-sufficiency; Cleaner transportation alternatives, improved performance standards and incentives for smarter growth; and creating a commonwealth that provides for racial, economic and gender equity and equality; that provides opportunities for all communities to have green energy, clean air, water and land.

Green New Deal Virginia continues to expand, bringing new coalition partners on an ongoing basis. The process is inclusive and expansive and will help pave the way for a cleaner and more just future for all Virginians.