By William S. Becker

The biggest problem with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal proposal is that it is identified as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal proposal.  She has been brilliant in elevating public attention to the need for an energy transition, but her credentials give conservatives an open shot to discredit the plan as socialism — a poison pill if the Green New Deal ever comes to a vote in Congress.

It’s true that 68 Democrats are now cosponsors of a Green New Deal resolution and several Democrats running for president have endorsed it. But that is another kind of poison pill: partisanship. So, what if the Green New Deal was America’s plan instead of a Democrat or Democratic Socialist plan?  Here is a personal story about how that could happen.

In 2012, the United Nations held its largest-ever event at that time, the Sustainable Development Conference in Rio de Janeiro. It was nicknamed Rio+20 because it was held on the 20-year anniversary of the world’s historic Earth Summit in the same city. The conference was attended by more than 45,000 people, more than 100 heads of state, some 12,000 delegates from 188 countries, and more than 4,000 members of the news media.

Flash back a year earlier to 2011. I heard that the UN was struggling to find a catchphrase for Rio+20. I recalled a phrase a colleague used in his work, “The Future We Want”. I arranged a meeting with the UN’s communications office to propose that those four words be adopted as Rio+20’s theme. The idea was to change the international conversation from its usual focus on the future we must avoid to the future we can build. A Buckminster Fuller quote sums it up: “We are called to be the architects of the future, not its victims.”

The phrase climbed slowly up the UN’s chain of command until it finally reached Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. He loved it. He held a news conference in New York City to announce that The Future We Want was the official slogan for Rio+20.

I and a colleague agreed with the UN to run parallel campaigns that invited people of all ages and places to send their ideas on the future they wanted. We asked for drawings, videos, poems, short essays, songs – whatever media they chose. We and the UN were inundated with responses. It was as though hundreds of thousands of people around the world had been waiting for someone to ask.

Students from several nations took the assignment on as class projects. One group of young people wrote and performed a musical about the future they wanted. Virtually every national leader who gave a speech at Rio+20 organized it around the idea of the Future We Want. The phrase became the title of the UN’s conference report, then was used as the title of several UN programs. It was picked up by NGOs and national governments. It is still widely used today.

What if the champions of the Green New Deal did something similar – invite Americans of all ages, but especially the young who will inherit the world we build today, to send their ideas? What if the ideas were posted on-line so everyone could see them? What if a bipartisan group in Congress was assigned to flesh out details of the Green New Deal and incorporate the best Future We Want responses?

The Green New Deal resolution released by Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey calls for the details to be developed “through transparent and inclusive consultation, collaboration, and partnership with frontline and vulnerable communities, labor unions, worker cooperatives, civil society groups, academia, and businesses”.  Opening the process to all Americans would be in the same spirit of broad partnership, except with an even wider group of collaborators.

The result could be America’s Green New Deal with a stronger sense of ownership by the country’s citizens. It would be harder for skeptics to dismiss it and opponents to oppose it. Its fate would not be tied to the fortunes of any one political leader or political party.

I could try to describe the enthusiasm that The Future We Want campaign generated around the world. Instead, you can see samples for yourself at these places: , 🕒, 🔔, 🇺🇸, 📺, 🛠, 🌆, 🌅, 🎇, 🏛, 🛩, 🏠, 🚘, 🦋.

Turning the Deal over to the American people might seem like a risk to those who helped develop it so far. But the greater risk is that without a broad base of ownership among the American people, politics as usual in Congress will turn a much-needed Green New Deal into a Green New Flop.