From Opposition to Proposition

It's not that we have no leadership at all - Fiona Ma, for example, has done some crucial work on this. But if high speed rail, or action on climate change, energy, the environment is going to be successful, we need to get Californians informed and involv

  ·  California High Speed Rail Blog
Netroots Nation is winding down here in Austin and I'm headed back to the West Coast later this evening. Outside the convention center the road is closed for construction of the Cap MetroRail Downtown station. Texas High Speed Rail is revived and planning their "t-bone" system, including an Austin stop. Inside the center, however, is where the real action was.

The speakers and the panels showed an increasing emphasis on energy and the environment. For a group of people who became bloggers primarily to react against the Bush Administration and the Democrats' failure to respond, it was a striking shift. If this weekend produced anything it was not just recognition that our country faces a major crisis, not just that it is time to begin solving those problems. What we are beginning to recognize is the linkage of democracy and public action to deal with the energy and environment.

Obviously Al Gore's surprise visit was one of the highlights. Gore emphasized the need for the public to hold elected officials accountable on the climate crisis -- politicians can't be allowed to put parochial and short-term concerns to distract us from the larger tasks at hand. We can surely relate, as California politicians have been slow on the high speed rail uptake. Whether it's Mike Machado casting a spite vote against AB 3034 or Roy Ashburn using 11th hour objections to rally Republicans against the same bill, we in California are plagued by politicians who don't seem to grasp the need for bold and dramatic change.

It's not that we have no leadership at all -- Fiona Ma, for example, has done some crucial work on this. But if high speed rail, or action on climate change, energy, the environment is going to be successful, we need to get Californians informed and involved. WE are the ones who are rallying the public to that end. This blog isn't going to achieve that alone on high speed rail, but we have built a bottom-up network of supporters, particularly at the Facebook group where we have over 33,000 supporters.

Debbie Cook, Democratic candidate for Congress in the 46th district (Huntington Beach and environs) gave an excellent presentation at the Energize America panel. She reviewed the public's understanding of peak oil, that we still have a long way to go. But she also made some deeply insightful points that nobody else made.

First, that America functioned just fine without reliance on oil. She showed a series of images of urban American life from the early 20th century, including communities that were dependent on rail, and explained that people living in those days were quite functional. We have become so used to cheap oil that we have a hard time envisioning a life without it. But it wasn't so long ago that we were able to live that way. Of course we've made enormous technological strides in the last 100 years, and that enables us to build a rail network that outclasses anything we had prior to 1950, as well as maintaining some amount of automobile usage.

Second, and much more important, was her point that we need to craft solutions that help Americans change the way they live to be more energy efficient. It's not enough to put LED lights on city streets or give everyone a hybrid, useful as those can be. Nor is it enough to have a "new Apollo Program" or a "new Manhattan Project." We don't need some government project where only scientists are involved, we need long-term solutions that get EVERYONE involved.

High speed rail is just such an example of that program. It will help make major reductions in carbon emissions and reduce our oil consumption by around 22 million barrels a year. And it does so by providing a form of transportation that all Californians can participate in daily, monthly, annually -- whenever they want to. Getting people to be participants in change and not just passive recipients of change is key.

But the moment that brought the house down was Van Jones' speech this morning. Jones runs Green For All, a nonprofit focused on environmental justice and green jobs.

Jones was on fire talking about what we as a nation need to do to change the politics around energy, the environment, and the economy. He rightly pointed out that conservatives and the right frequently claim to be acting to the benefit of the poor and the middle class by opposing new spending and taxes -- but that this is an outright lie. Providing green jobs and green technologies HELP these people in extremely significant ways, providing jobs, a healthy environment, and long-term stability in transportation and energy costs. He specifically targeted the right's ridiculous push for oil drilling -- a solution that will do NOTHING to lower prices at the pump and would merely provide oil in ten years' time to China and India at a massive cost to American jobs and health.

He also exhorted the audience to become more assertive in their goals and their activism. He hit a crescendo when he said we need to "move from opposition to proposition" -- to reclaim the initiative and the agenda in this country from the drillers and those who would have us continue the failed policies of the 20th century. We know those policies have failed. It is time for us to propose something better -- not just better for some, but better for everyone.

It was a stirring speech and even though he did not specifically mention it, Proposition 1 is a great example of what Jones told us. High speed rail's critics are not the friends of California's working people. Working people in LA and San José and Fresno need good, green jobs. They need cleaner air. They need affordable transportation. Even if the bonds cost them each $750 that would be more than made up for by the impact of new jobs, higher wages, and fast affordable transportation that, as we have repeatedly discussed here, is essential to this state remaining competitive in a global economy.

California is poised to lead a significant breakthrough in how our country deals with the environmental, energy, economic, transportation crisis. Passage of Prop 1 would be a signal to the rest of the nation that it is possible to take bold yet sensible action within our existing and largely broken political system. It offers Californians hope that there is a way out of this crisis, that we are not going to be permanently stuck with the consequences of 50 years of bad decisions.

High speed rail is just the start. But it's a necessary start. The journey begins in November when we pass Proposition 1.