April 28, 2020

Apart, Together.

Ethan Earle

Introducing a collective project, led by the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung’s New York and Brussels offices, which asserts that climate and COVID-19 represent two sides of the same crisis, and that they must now be addressed together.

Maybe the convergence would have always come. . .or maybe not. What’s sure is that both the New York and Brussels offices of the political foundation Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung (RLS) had been developing programs focused on the Green New Deal (GND)—its radical potential for socio-ecological transformation, and the need for it to be internationalist in scope if it is to be anything at all. The two sides had talked—no small feat in a foundation with dozens of offices and a pluralistic approach toward political programming—but little more. And then came COVID-19.

Within a few stunning weeks, it became abundantly clear that New York’s conference on the GND, scheduled for June, would no longer take place. Meanwhile Brussels’ gathering, still planned for late September, would need to be developed in such a way that a later cancelation would not render planning work useless. For both, COVID-19 also loomed over the choice of subject matter. Everything is up for grabs, and so much will never be the same again. Any discussion of a GND going forward must, at every level, incorporate the public health considerations prompted by the coronavirus crisis.

As many progressive organizations have done in recent weeks, RLS-NYC and RLS-Brussels each decided to adapt to the new circumstances and move their events online. And just like that, it was suddenly evident to all involved that the two offices must work together, even if apart. A series of calls aligned content and expectations, and brought together each side’s partners: transform europe!, Transnational Institute, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and the Institute for Policy Studies.

The result of these discussions is the jointly hosted webinar series With Everything Up for Grabs: The Green New Deal(s) the World Needs Now. Debuting on the 29 April and featuring Thea Riofrancos from the US, Grace Blakeley from the UK and Walden Bello from the Philippines, Up for Grabs seeks to shed light on the internationalist policy perspectives that must be incorporated into any GND that could eventually be implemented.

How can we ensure that such a program not be undergirded by carbon dumping or labor exploitation abroad, nor by any other travesty of neo-colonialism or neo-liberalism, be it merely vestigial or actively reproduced? The European Green Deal now promoted by Commission President von der Leyen would do precisely this, and is but the first warning of things to come should the international left fail to act swiftly.

The second chapter in this ongoing series, set for 6 May, will feature Maude Barlow from Canada, Martin Schirdewan from Germany, and Mike Davis from the US. These speakers, together with our audience, will now turn squarely to the COVID-19 crisis and its implications for all policy going forward—most certainly for the Green New Deal(s) the world needs now.

It is now clearer than ever that our public health and the health of our planet are intertwined to such an extent that the fate of one will determine the fate of both. COVID-19 is a health crisis that reveals and exacerbates a multitude of underlying social, racial, economic, and political crises. How can we best demand that the public projects developed in response to the coronavirus take care of working people as well as the built and natural habitats that take care of all of us?

This cooperation need not mean that all parties see eye to eye on every matter, nor that each cannot maintain its own objectives linked to its own political portfolio. Each RLS regional office has its own character and its own past—not to mention sometimes wildly divergent political realities—and this project seeks to build on the unique strengths of each while advancing those interests that are shared.

The intention remains for Brussels’ September gathering to be a large and broad meeting of civil society actors and—whether or not that in-person component takes place—this webinar harkens the debut of a series of related projects focused on different aspects of our shared climate crises. For Brussels, then, Up for Grabs will serve as a broad overview of the subject matter, bringing together specialists and activists in climate and public health, but also in labor, gender equality, food justice, finance and tax justice, among other areas. Whatever it becomes, it will begin as a convening of a broad international community of likeminded activists to discuss and develop concrete plans for collaboration.

For New York, the GND focus emerges out of a different program, dedicated to developing left trade policy prescriptions, including the July 2019 publication of Beyond NAFTA 2.0: Toward a Progressive Trade Agenda for People and Planet. This work prompted the question: how could trade policy be used to lock in, defend and advance the most transformative aspects of an eventual Green New Deal? To answer this and related questions, New York also plans to convene and assist the development of an international community, but more tightly clustered at the intersection of GND and trade justice activism.

As such, after its third chapter, on precisely that intersection of trade policy and the Green New Deal(s) the world needs now, the offices will begin to offer separate, complementary course tracks, one more general and the other more specific. The intention is that the two will share audiences, weave together likeminded people, and play off each other in such a way that each is strengthened in the process. Having started with a convergence, it will be that much easier for them to converge a second time, when the conditions again demand it.

The ultimate success of such a collaboration will of course depend on the institutions and participants that fill it with content, but this is certainly an auspicious beginning for the sort of cross-border and inter-organizational work we so badly need right now, both for our COVID-19 crisis response and for our response to the multi-fold crises with which COVID-19 is intertwined. Not only do we become bigger and better when we’re together—recognizing our size, learning from each other, seeing our own blind spots when confronted with another’s gaze—but we also avoid reproducing the same good work and instead build durable platforms on which to share our unique contributions with each other.

I look forward to sharing in these conversations between activists and experts from across the world, developing plans for a safer, more sustainable and more just post-coronavirus planet, all while seated in confinement in our living rooms, in solidarity with our loved ones and strangers alike, taking care of beings and political projects not yet even born.

Ethan Earle is a former RLS-NYC program manager and current RLS-Global consultant.