In February 2019, Alexandra Ocasio Cortez, the formidable Democratic congresswoman, stood at a podium in Washington and announced plans for a ‘Green New Deal’ in the United States. This was a giant step forward for an idea in development for almost 20 years. The Green New Deal takes inspiration from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s – a sweeping series of job creation programmes that lifted the USA out of the poverty and despair wrought by the Great Depression. Now, humanity is facing new crises: glaring inequality and extreme warming that threaten our very existence. The Green New Deal would mobilise every aspect of society to reach 100% clean and renewable energy, guarantee living-wage jobs for anyone who needs one, and a just transition for both workers and frontline communities—all in the next 10 years.
This is a tall order. But it has inspired activists and movements the world over with a vision that takes the crushing responsibility for a global crisis off individuals, and instead calls on the collective power of whole societies.
We may each be valiantly using our reusable water bottles, but at the end of the day we know this problem is systemic. Fossil fuels are baked into the way we live our lives – they are the noxious engine that powers much of the human world, and that must change within a matter of years.
Equity for a Green New Deal is a vibrant network of union members from across the UK, collectively fighting for this vision. We aim to tackle the climate concerns facing performers and stage managers by centring workers and environmental justice.
So far, we’ve identified three main types of action:
First, we use the union as a political body to lobby government. The union exists to ensure every member has the right to work safely. So, what’s the point of a secure workplace on a burning planet?
Second, we are resourcing and networking members to create true sustainability in their workplaces. We collaborate with Julie’s Bicycle and promote the Theatre Green Book, while pushing venues to retrofit and source materials locally.
Finally, we examine and act on the union’s own ecological impact. This has ranged from an internal Green Review, to examining supply chains, ensuring train travel over flights for staff and activists, and installing solar panels on the union’s office building.
Crucially, this also means looking at the power of our money. Along with BECTU and the Musician’s Union, Equity members have roughly £200 million in pension investments. After years of campaigning, Equity for a Green New Deal has succeeded in moving this money out of the hands of some the worst polluters and into a low-carbon pension fund.
Pensions may sound dry and boring (!) but they are a £2.6 trillion sector in the UK. This money has enormous power, and it belongs to ordinary citizens. We will continue to hold our fund managers to account, pushing until our investments are completely fossil fuel free. We believe the arts have an essential role to play in the creation of a greener, fairer society. Art work is not just Hollywood. Art work is freelancers, local theatres, festivals and youth groups. It is the low-waged workers who hoover carpets, scrub toilets and tear tickets in our venues. When truly accessible to all, and embedded in communities, art work is green work.
A little known part of FDR’s New Deal was called the Federal Theatre Project. Profiled in Katherine Hearst's excellent article, the Federal Theatre Project was an ambitious programme in the 1930s to employ arts workers, while wresting theatre away from elite audiences and making it widely accessible. Its creator, Hallie Flanagan, believed that art is how a society understands itself. Theatre is not a luxury, she declared, but a necessity for a democratic society – a medium through which people can participate and imagine. And when faced with a crisis, few things have greater power to guide us through than the public imagination. With that in mind, we need more members, more minds, more voices.
If you would like to join Equity for a Green New Deal, please contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or on Twitter: @equity4gnd.
- Will Attenborough, Equity for a Green New Deal