We need a national People’s Power campaign
In recent months energy democracy activists have successfully fought the profit-seeking imperatives of investor-owned utilities, private corporations that have the power to determine who lives and who dies under today’s lockdown conditions. In the best of times, these utilities – which provide electricity to 72 percent of Americans - behave in a totally unscrupulous manner: for example, Con Ed, the main power provider in New York City, makes over $1 billion in profits annually and yet has shut off electricity to an average of 80,000 customers each year over the last decade. Last summer, Con Ed turned power off in heat-vulnerable, primarily Black and brown neighborhoods in southeast Brooklyn in the middle of a life-threatening heat wave. Now, with masses of people out of work and forced to shelter at home under the coronavirus lockdown, power shut offs would be a death sentence for many as the weather warms up.
Such resistance draws strength from the campaigns for People’s Power that have been building around the US in recent years. In California, for example, the negligence of the large investor-owned utility PG&E led in 2018 to the deadliest wildfire in the state’s history, a disaster that claimed nearly 100 lives, caused $16.5 billion dollars in damage, and led to the bankruptcy of the utility. Activists responded by launching the “Let’s Own PG&E” campaign, a mobilization driven by the argument that “PG&E is a profitable disaster. California deserves a utility run for the people, not profit. The solution is to take it out of the hands of investors and put it in the hands of the public and PG&E’s workers.” Similar campaigns are unfolding in other cities around the US, from Chicago, to Providence, to New York City. The ultimate goal of this wave of People’s Power campaigns is to democratize, decommodify, decarbonize, and decolonize the grid.
The present catastrophic conjuncture offers these campaigns the opportunity to expand their demands for People’s Power from the municipal and state level to the national scale. As the crisis of fossil capital intensifies, demands for a People’s Bailout that involves a rapid and just energy transition can build on and alongside campaigns for People’s Power that have emerged in Britain and the United States in recent years. In the UK, for example, Labour for a Green New Deal has laid out bold plans for a speedy phase out of all fossil fuels and large-scale investment in renewable energy. Radical think tanks in the US like the Democracy Collaborative have also sketched complementary plans for promoting energy democracy through a Green New Deal.