We speak with one of the group of five climate activists who have entered their eighth day of hunger strike demanding President Biden pass the full $3.5 trillion Build Back Better plan to combat the climate crisis and expand the U.S. social safety net. The climate programs drafted in the bill face opposition from Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, who has made millions of dollars from coal companies in his home state of West Virginia since taking office. ”I’m on hunger strike for my family and my future and the promises that the president made to young people who put him in office,” says Kidus Girma, who is on the eighth day of the hunger strike. He argues the reconciliation deal President Biden is said to have cut with Manchin “is simply not enough,” and calls Biden “too much of a coward to fight for the people who actually put him in office.”
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to another hunger strike, hundreds of miles south, in Washington, D.C., where a group of five climate activists have entered their eighth day without food, demanding President Biden do more to address the climate emergency. The activists have spent most of the past week outside the White House calling for passage of the full $3.5 trillion Build Back Better plan to combat the climate crisis and expand the nation’s social safety net.
The size of the bill has been slashed in half, in part due to opposition from Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, who’s made millions of dollars in coal companies in his home state of West Virginia and is the recipient of the most oil, gas and coal money in Senate. On Tuesday, one of the hunger strikers, Abby Leedy, confronted Manchin after he spoke at the Economic Club of D.C. Listen closely.
ABBY LEEDY: I’m going to grow up in a catastrophic climate emergency if you continue to block the Civilian Climate Corps.
SEN. JOE MANCHIN: We’re changing the climate. The United States —
ABBY LEEDY: The methane —
SEN. JOE MANCHIN: Can I talk? Can I talk one second?
ABBY LEEDY: The methane emissions —
SEN. JOE MANCHIN: Can I talk?
ABBY LEEDY: Joe Manchin, I —
SEN. JOE MANCHIN: Can I talk? Your name?
ABBY LEEDY: My name is Abby.
SEN. JOE MANCHIN: Abby, let me tell you, we’ve done more in the United States of America than any country. All the emissions coming from Asia —
ABBY LEEDY: Joe Manchin, if the United States of America does not cut our emissions by at least 50%, I have to grow up in a nonstop climate emergency. I have been on a hunger strike for seven days.
HUNGER STRIKER: We haven’t eaten for seven days, Joe.
SEN. JOE MANCHIN: Call my office.
AMY GOODMAN: Abby Leedy is confronting Senator Manchin from a wheelchair after he spoke at the Economic Club of D.C. Several members of Congress have visited the climate hunger strikers outside the White House. Congressmember Rashida Tlaib posted this video on Twitter Tuesday.
REP. RASHIDA TLAIB: So, I just want to thank them, from somebody that represents the third poorest congressional district. One of the most polluted ZIP codes in the state of Michigan is in my district. So, I just — I’m here in solidarity and hope that other members of Congress come and show solidarity with so many of these courageous leaders, in my book. These are the real leaders that we need for our country right now. This is how we make sure the Earth stops burning. This is how make sure there’s a future for my kids and yours. So, please join me in showing solidarity and support for so many that, again, are on the frontlines right here in front of the White House demanding justice for climate.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Congressmember Rashida Tlaib, standing in front of the hunger strikers. We’re joined by one of them now, Kidus Girma. He’s on the eighth day of a hunger strike. He was hospitalized Saturday but decided to continue with the hunger strike. A climate activist from Texas, Kidus has lived since coming to the United States as a child from Ethiopia in Texas.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Kidus. You are endangering your health, clearly. You were hospitalized, but you’re still on hunger strike. Why?
KIDUS GIRMA: I’m on a hunger strike for my family and my future and the promises that the president made to young people who put him in office. I’m on hunger strike, after having a dangerously low blood sugar amount, because the president of the United States made promises when he was running for office and the couple of months leading up to this deal, and even while this deal is being negotiated, that he would deliver the climate mandate that he was elected on. I’m on a hunger strike because this is what the world needs. The world needs the president of the United States to fight for it. We need the president to put the children of the future, the children of today at the center of his agenda, and not Exxon officials and the representatives that fight for oil and gas billionaires.
AMY GOODMAN: According to a report from Axios, the White House is privately telling lawmakers the climate portion of Biden’s roughly $2 trillion social spending plan is mostly settled and will likely cost more than half a trillion dollars, $500 billion. Do you think this is enough?
KIDUS GIRMA: It is simply not enough. President Biden has so much power, and there are so many different things that he could be fighting for, but he simply won’t. Our president only knows how to fight in the shadows. He only knows how to cut smaller and smaller deals with bought-out politicians like Manchin and Sinema, and he doesn’t know how to fight the moral fight that we need in the public sphere. The president of the United States, today, in this moment, could end Line 3. He could end offshore drilling. He has dozens of executive actions that he could execute to actually get us to the 50% cuts in emissions by 2030 that he promised us. And right now the president is too much of a coward to actually fight for the people that put him in office.
AMY GOODMAN: What message do you have for President Biden as he heads to the U.N. climate summit? Interesting that he announced it last week, that he was going with a number of members of his Cabinet to Glasgow. This was at the time that hundreds of people, mainly Indigenous protesters, were getting arrested outside in Washington, D.C.
KIDUS GIRMA: I’m asking my president to fight for me. I’m asking my president to fight for me and my friends who are starving outside of his home. I’m asking the president to fight for the people that put him in office, and not the special interests that keep him from fighting for his own agenda. I’m asking the president of the United States to be the president of the United States and to fight for climate, to fight to make sure that the next wildfire, to make sure that the next hurricane, to make sure the next possibility of famine is not as extreme as it has to be. And right now I feel like the president of the United States is fighting for a superstorm and not for kids. And I need the president of the United States to start fighting for me.
AMY GOODMAN: Kidus Girma, we want to thank you for being with us. How long do you plan on this hunger strike?
KIDUS GIRMA: I am on an indefinite hunger strike until the president of the United states delivers the promises of 50% emission cuts by 2030.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you again, on day eight of the hunger strike in Washington, D.C., part of the Sunrise Movement.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we continue on the issue of climate, on the environment. We’ll speak with an attorney who’s going to prison today, Steven Donziger, who successfully sued Chevron for its devastation of the Ecuadorian rainforest. Stay with us.