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Activists Still Want a Separate Debate on Climate After It Received Just 7 Minutes in First Debate

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As the Democratic debate took place in Miami, climate activists from the Sunrise Movement protested the Democratic National Committee’s refusal to host a climate change-centered primary debate. Climate activists are still camping out in front of DNC headquarters in Washington, D.C. At last night’s two-hour debate, about seven minutes focused on climate issues.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to the issue of climate, as we continue to discuss this first Democratic debate. We’re talking about the city of Miami, ground zero for climate change in this country. Let’s go to MSNBC moderator Rachel Maddow questioning the Washington Governor Jay Inslee about climate change.

RACHEL MADDOW: Governor Inslee, this next question is to you. You have staked your candidacy on the issue of climate change. It is first, second and third priority for you. You’ve said it’s all the issues. Let’s get specific. We’re here in Miami, which is already experiencing serious flooding on sunny days as a result of sea level rise. Parts of Miami Beach and the Keys could be underwater in our lifetimes. Does your plan save Miami?

GOV. JAY INSLEE: Yes, first by taking away the filibuster from Mitch McConnell, to start with. We have to do that. Look it, look it, We are the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, and we are the last that can do something about it. Our towns are burning. Our fields are flooding. Miami is inundated. And we have to understand, this is a climate crisis, an emergency. And it is our last chance in the administration, next one, to do something about it.

And we need to do what I’ve done in my state. We’ve passed a 100% clean electrical grid bill. We now have a vision statement. And my plan has been called the gold standard of putting people to work.

But the most important thing on this, and the biggest decision for the American public, is: Who is going to make this the first priority? And I am the candidate, and the only one, who’s saying this has to be the top priority of the United States, the organizing principle to mobilize the United States.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, as the Democratic debate took place in Miami last night, climate activists from Sunrise Movement protested the Democratic National Committee’s refusal to host a climate change-centered primary debate. Climate activists have been camping out in front of DNC headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Joining us now is Varshini Prakash, founder of the Sunrise Movement.

Varshini, welcome to Democracy Now! Could you comment on the way in which climate change was addressed in last night’s debate? It was apparently seven minutes were devoted to the issue, which is seven minutes more than was devoted in 2016. But who do you think was strongest on climate change?

VARSHINI PRAKASH: Yeah, so, I actually watched the debate at a debate watch party in Boston, where I live, with dozens of young people. And there were over a hundred watch parties that took place like this, organized by Sunrise Movement. And we were really looking to see if NBC and the Democrats treated the climate crisis like the emergency that it is. And frankly, aside from a few bright moments, all of the young people who were at these watch parties across the nation left in deep anger and disappointment. We have watched our entire lives as the political and media establishment has completely sidelined the issue, the greatest existential threat of our lifetimes, and refused to cover the problem with the severity and intentionality that it deserves. And we’ve been watching as Hurricane Maria claimed the lives of 3,000 Americans, as people on the West Coast have seen their land burn up in a matter of seconds, as Miami is threatened to go underwater and is experiencing severe storms every single year that worsen. So, I think we were feeling—you know, and during that time, to see the DNC only devote six or seven minutes of time and three sort of questions to the issue of climate was deeply disappointing and frustrating.

And so, I think we saw a few candidates come out swinging on the issue of climate. Obviously, Jay Inslee, who, as they said, has made his entire campaign about the climate crisis issue. We’ve also seen Elizabeth Warren come out within the first couple of minutes talking about the investments that can be made in our country to lead the world globally in green tech and green infrastructure. We saw Julián Castro, we saw Beto O’Rourke, Cory Booker also made mention of the existential threat that climate change poses and talk about it through various forms.

So, I think, you know, all in all, we have been calling for a climate debate because we know that, in large part, the establishment has failed us in treating this crisis and talking about it with the importance that it deserves. And we want to see a substantive debate on these issues, not just high-level talking points and a media spectacle.

AMY GOODMAN: Varshini, Sunrise Movement sat in at Nancy Pelosi’s office, the House speaker. In fact, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, before she was actually seated as a congressmember, was protesting outside the soon-to-be House speaker’s office. And now you’re protesting the DNC. What has been Tom Perez, the head of the DNC’s response to this demand that Inslee made? It’s not only that there hasn’t been a climate-focused debate, but the DNC said any candidate who participated in a nonsanctioned debate around climate change would not be able to participate in any of the sanctioned debates.

VARSHINI PRAKASH: That’s right. And I think that was the particularly inflammatory part of why he—why, you know, thousands of people have voiced their opinions, have called on the DNC to revoke that position, and why there are dozens of young people sitting out in front of DNC headquarters who have actually been locked out of the building for days and will continue to sit in—sat in overnight and will continue to sit in through the second debate.

But I think, you know, the DNC has offered excuse after excuse after excuse, calling the climate crisis a single issue, saying that it’s impractical, or, you know, my favorite, which is that it is against the rules. But frankly, people in my generation couldn’t care less about the rules, when we are seeing our entire planet begin to burn up in front of us. This is a planetary emergency, and we haven’t seen our political leaders treat it as such. So we’re calling for a climate debate. And I think, you know, we’ve seen a multiracial, diverse coalition of people rise up in unison alongside us to call for one, as well. And when it comes to a question of our collective survival, there is no such thing as single issue.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to our discussion, our roundtable discussion on the first Democratic primary debate of the 2020 season. This is the longest presidential primary period in the history of the United States. Twenty of the candidates are participating in these two nights of debates. And, of course, we’ll be here tomorrow. Tonight, you have—among those debating, you have former Vice President Joe Biden. You have Bernie Sanders. You have Kamala Harris, the senator from California, as well as Pete Buttigieg, who has left South Bend, Indiana, dealing with a white police officer killing a black resident of South Bend and the mass protest against him to come to the debate in Miami. We’re speaking with Varshini Prakash, who is the founder of the Sunrise Movement. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be joined by others, as well. Stay with us.

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