Home News America needs brave leaders like Jamaal Bowman

America needs brave leaders like Jamaal Bowman

When I first met Jamaal Bowman in 2019, he was a longshot challenger running against a 30-year incumbent in Congress. At the time, the Green New Deal was considered a scary, lefty idea, and I was struck by how unapologetically this Bronx middle school principal laid out the case for both its sweeping vision and its real-world pragmatism.

Bowman had a rare gift for connecting the dots between the right to a habitable planet for all children and the right of local kids to have safe drinking water flowing in their school’s fountains.

Voters elected Bowman in a landslide in 2020 to fight for this vision. And by working together with the millions of people who have taken democracy into their own hands in the years since the shock of the 2016 election, leaders like Bowman have made the Green New Deal mainstream.

Not just as an idea, but as law. Pushing through the largest ever investment in climate and clean energy infrastructure through the Inflation Reduction Act, which, however imperfect, has opened the door for further visionary policy to become reality. Bowman then played a key role in helping pass that kind of policy with his support for New York’s Build Public Renewables Act, hailed as the first state-level Green New Deal program.

Bold and effective policies pose a threat to entrenched economic interests, which is why Bowman is facing a fierce primary challenge. By any measure, George Latimer is the type of corporate-backed politician that progressives have sought to replace ever since Democrats failed to defeat Trump’s pseudo-populism in 2016.

Latimer is heavily funded by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a rightwing lobby group tightly aligned with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as with Donald Trump (the vast majority of AIPAC’s top donors to these Democratic primary challengers are Republican supporting billionaires).

Yet Latimer knows better than to attack the Green New Deal directly. He calls for “Green New Deal style” projects. And while his reality-bending slogan, “results not rhetoric,” tries to pit vision and victory against each other, his own messaging betrays the truth. If Jamaal Bowman’s visionary message is such an obstacle to concrete victories, why is George Latimer mimicking it?

Last fall, shortly after the introduction of the congressional resolution for a ceasefire in Gaza, I met Congressman Bowman again, as part of a delegation of Jewish anti-war organizers. While representatives in much safer seats still feared speaking out against Netanyahu’s U.S.-backed bloodshed, Bowman did not hesitate to lead once again, knowing full well that AIPAC would likely launch the most expensive congressional primary ever against him in retaliation.

Again, the public quickly joined Bowman. The majority of Americans, Democrats, and of American Jews now support a ceasefire. Sixty-nine percent of Democratic voters in Bowman’s Bronx and Westchester district, do too.

History tells us that this is the power of bold leadership. From visionary civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King and Ella Baker, to courageous union leaders like Shawn Fain today, it is this coupling of vision with on the ground strategy that bends the arc of history towards justice.

It is worth remembering that in 2020, Joe Biden’s MAGA-beating message was not “Build Back the Same” but, thanks to progressive pressure, to “Build Back Better. To the extent that any of his promises made it through the blockade erected by Joe Manchin and other so-called moderates, it was thanks to combined the work of mass movements who demanded more, and political leaders like Bowman, who channeled the people’s voice into the halls of power.

That power is what the far right most fears. That’s why they fund attack ads attempting to cast Bowman’s strategy on climate and infrastructure as ineffective by simply omitting the results that strategy has yielded.

Procrastination is not pragmatic, not when it comes to climate, or when it comes to peace. Without brave leadership that acknowledges the need for change, those suffering will turn to whoever does offer visionary answers. The far right. “Make America Great Again” is a hellish vision. But it is a vision. And when we cede vision to the far right, the far right seizes power.

So, we must stand for brave political leadership that can, has, and will turn a shared moral vision into concrete victory. The kind of vision so powerful, the far right will spend $20 million in a single primary election to kick it out of Washington.

Klein is an associate professor of climate justice at the University of British Columbia and bestselling author of “Doppelganger: A Trip into the Mirror World.”


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