How to talk about the Green New Deal at the dinner table

So you’ve just walked in the door for a holiday dinner—your cousins are arguing, the air smells like baked cinnamon, and some combo of Fox, MSNBC or ESPN is playing in the other room. 

It’s the first time you’ve seen Auntie Z or Uncle P in months, and after asking about school or work, you’d like to talk about all the organizing you’re doing with Sunrise—but you’re not sure how. What’s this about a climate strike? And what the heck is a Green New Deal? 

Or maybe your relatives don’t want to “talk politics” at all. Maybe it’s the norm in your family for young people to stay quiet while the adults do all the talking. 

No matter how comfortable your family is with talking about climate change or how familiar they are with a Green New Deal, here’s a conversational guide to help prepare you to talk about the Green New Deal with your family with confidence. At the end of the day you know your family best, so feel free to adapt and run with these suggestions.

Step 1: Open the conversation 

If your organizing with Sunrise hasn’t come up in your conversation and you want to introduce it, start by catching up with Aunt Z about her job, her kids, or what she’s been reading or watching lately. Union organizers call this “showtime”—a few moments to engage with your conversational partner about their life and yours, before launching into a more structured discussion. 

Don’t jump right into a blow-by-blow pitch for a new decarbonized economy, or describe the need for reparations from the Global North to the Global South—unless Aunt Z is already pretty down, you’ll risk overwhelming her or failing to connect before conversation has even begun. Save those talking points for later.

Step 2: “Read the room”- get a handle on your Aunt/Mom/Cousin’s key issues

No matter what your family currently thinks about the climate crisis, there are probably some changes that she’d like to see made in the economic, social, and political order. Understanding what those changes are is the first step to moving your Aunt, Uncle, or friend to understand the potential of a Green New Deal.

Ask your Aunt Z to identify three things she’d like to change about life in your city, state, or the U.S more broadly. Try and get her to answer specifically about issues or problems that she’d like to see fixed—and hear her out, no matter what the answers are!

Sample Conversation 

Q:  What are three issues facing people who live in Sacramento?

A:  Well, let’s just start with the traffic! We got stuck on the highway for 3 hours driving here. That’s the fault of all those techies in Silicon Valley—plus they’re driving real estate prices right up the wall. And, of course, Uncle B. is really struggling with his fibromyalgia and we really need to hire someone to take care of him full time  but we can’t afford that just now. Then there’s the homeless problem, I guess.

Don’t correct, reframe, or try to interrupt your conversational partner. Try your hardest to let your family member finish speaking and explaining themselves before adding any information to the conversation. Ask clarifying questions and hear them out. Resist making jokes at their expense or commiserating with any sympathetic family members (OK, boomer.)

It’s important to build trust between yourself and your conversational partner to be able to have a more-in depth conversation about both of your values.

Step 3: Reflect back the vision you’ve just heard

Try to reframe the concerns you’ve just heard in a way that identifies them as structural problems, but without language that alienates your family member—you know what works best. Try to avoid jargony, intellectual-sounding or blame-casting language. 

That stuff about building a society that averts climate catastrophe and cares for everyone, no matter the color of their skin or how much money they make? Those are our values. Talk about them! But don’t jump to offering a solution just yet.

Q:  So, it seems like the cost of rent and the influence of big tech billionaires are both on your mind, plus the broken medical system and our inefficient transportation system. Wow.

A:  Yeah, it’s so frustrating. But that’s just how it goes these days, you know. 

Be careful not to over-exaggerate your family member’s concerns—try to reframe them in a careful way that emphasizes your common values.

Step 4: Tell your story and introduce the Green New Deal

Finally—the part you’ve been waiting for. Only AFTER engaging with the first three steps is it time to frame the solution (the Green New Deal). Try telling a story or using personal details to introduce the resolution, and reference those values that we mentioned earlier. 

 For example, I would talk about:

 … Grandpa Luis, who relies on VA insurance to cover his diabetes medication and other personal care costs. I’d love for my grandfather to have someone to care for him full-time, so that my aunts and uncles don’t have to spend the night at his place. I’d love for all my baby cousins to be able to go to high school and then choose between college or job-training as they please—and I’d like for them to breathe clean air in a California that doesn’t give bail out big energy companies after they start devastating fires. I’d like my Cousin Leo, who just joined a union building $9,000/month condos in the Bay Area and saw his boss nearly impaled by a beam of steel on his first day, to gain airtight labor protections and bargaining rights protections while building homes that we can all afford to live in. I think all of this is possible in a ten year plan called the Green New Deal, which calls for America to create millions of jobs by investing in union construction jobs, health-care workers, and solar energy engineers, among other things. It’s a plan to end poverty and inequality in America while stopping the climate crisis. What do you think of that?

Step 5: Ask your aunt/ parent what they think

After sharing your vision of a Green New Deal, pause. Stop talking. Give them time for your words to sink in, and then ask your mom, Aunt, or cousin to respond. 

Q: What immediately strikes you about the story or details I’ve just shared? What do you think of that? 

Then, listen to what they’ve got to say. Remember, 70% of this conversation should be them speaking, and you listening, with minimal reframing on your part.

Step 6: Make time to answer questions—but give plenty of time for reflection

Your Aunt/parent/Uncle probably has a lot of questions. There are some talking points below to discuss the toughest ones (Ex: How will we pay for this? Do we all have to stop eating meat? What does a GND have to do with healthcare?) 

It’s OK if some of what they’d like to know is unanswerable! The GND is a 10-year plan to mobilize every aspect of American society to 100% clean and renewable energy by 2030, a guaranteed living-wage job for anyone who needs one, and a just transition for both workers and frontline communities.

The Green New Deal lays out where we need to go: to a just, caring society that averts catastrophic global climate change. 

But…it’s still under construction! People all over the country are experts in their own communities, and it’s up to all of us to come together, demand what we need out of a Green New Deal, and fill in the details for over the next decade. Your dining room table is the perfect place to start.

Step 7: Close out by asking to discuss this—again

Realistically, one conversation probably won’t be enough to convince your dad or Great-Aunt Tonia that we need a just transition of our energy, food, health and economic systems overnight (although it might be enough to sway your teen cousin). That’s ok! The point is that these are your family members—it’s not the last time you’ll see and spend time with them. 

Research has shown that a high number of people changed their minds about a political issue after engaging in a series of non-judgmental conversations [1]. Being able to talk through their fears, associations and assumptions about an issue led to participants’ shifted opinion of an issue.

This article draws from ACE’s structure for facilitating hard conversations from their Climate Conversations Report and Jane McAlevey’s How to Organize Your Friends and Family on Thanksgiving. The guide also owes inspiration to the Dream Defender’s The Underachievers toolkit. All are great resources to level up your holiday conversation!

[1] These scientists can prove it’s possible to reduce prejudice, Vox

This entry was posted in #NDAPL, civil disobedience, climate change, Green New Deal, Sunrise Movement, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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