A climate advocacy group is calling a foul against Sen. Dianne Feinstein after the California Democrat appeared to lecture and dismiss a group of kids who were urging for her to vote yes on the Green New Deal.
Sunrise Movement, a budding environmental organization that urges lawmakers to take action on climate change, tweeted footage of a group of children with some adults at the senator’s office in San Francisco urging her to address the issue.
Stephen O’Hanlon, a spokesman for the group, identified the protesters in the video as Sunrise Movement “supporters and family members” in the Bay Area. The children present were between the ages of 7 and 16, according to the organization.
In the Twitter video, Feinstein seems to rebuff the kids while boasting about her experience in the Senate. A longer version of the encounter was aslo posted to Facebook.
Later Friday night, the entire recording was posted to Twitter, showing Feinstein acting more cordial toward the kids before boasting about her tenure and arguing against the Green New Deal resolution.
“The government is supposed to be for the people and by the people,” one child tells Feinstein.
“You know what’s interesting about this group,” the longtime senator replies. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years. I know what I’m doing. You come in here and you say it has to be my way or the highway. I don’t respond to that.”
“I’ve gotten elected. I just ran. I was elected by almost a million vote plurality. And I know what I’m doing,” she tells the group. “So you know, maybe people should listen a little bit.”
O’Hanlon told HuffPost in an email that the children were “upset and disappointed” by Feinstein’s attitude toward them.
During the meeting, Feinstein expressed skepticism about the Green New Deal, a landmark resolution that aims to dramatically cut global carbon emissions and human-caused greenhouse gasses. Defending her stance, the senator explained that Democrats are a minority in the Senate, suggesting that legislation with more conservative appeal would be more successful.
She appeared unreceptive as she continued to argue with the kids over their concerns about the climate.
At one point in the discussion, 16-year-old Isha Clarke reminded Feinstein that speaking to people like her is a part of the senator’s job.
“I hear what you’re saying but we’re the people who voted you,” Clarke tells Feinstein. “You’re supposed to listen to us, that’s your job.”
That prompts Feinstein to ask the teen how old she is, to which she replies, “16.”
“Well, you didn’t vote for me,” Feinstein snaps back.
“It doesn’t matter,” another girl interrupts, reacting to Feinstein’s response. “We’re the ones who are going to be impacted!”
At the end of the full video, Feinstein speaks to Clarke separately, tells her she could get more work done in the senator’s office and offers her an internship.
In an interview with HuffPost, Clarke, a high school junior involved with the environmental group Youth vs. Apocalypse, said she was surprised by Feinstein’s quip. But she said the senator’s attitude made her feel even more “empowered to speak up.”
“I know that, regardless of if I can vote or not, my parents voted for her, the adults in that room voted for her ― and I am her constituent,” said Clarke, who is from Oakland. “She represents me and I am the one giving her power.”
Clarke added: “Even though [Feinstein] tried to disempower me in that moment, I felt very much like I had a right to be telling her what I needed.”
In a statement to HuffPost, Feinstein described Friday’s confrontation with the youth group as a “spirited discussion” in which she presented her own “draft resolution that provides specific responses to the climate change crisis.”
“Unfortunately, it was a brief meeting but I want the children to know they were heard loud and clear. I have been and remain committed to doing everything I can to enact real, meaningful climate change legislation,” the senator said.
“I always welcome the opportunity to hear from Californians who feel passionately about this issue and it remains a top priority of mine,” she added.
Feinstein is among a group of senators who oppose the climate-focused legislation and who have also accepted money from oil, gas and coal companies during their time in Congress. Feinstein has accepted nearly $252,000 from the oil and gas industry over nearly three decades.
(At least 12 senators who are co-sponsoring the Green New Deal have also accepted money from those industries but to a lesser degree.)
“This is why young people want new leadership in Washington DC,” Jackie Ali Cordoba, a Sunrise Movement Bay Area member, said in a statement to HuffPost.
“How many wildfires and lost lives will there be before Dianne Feinstein treats climate change like the crisis that it is, and backs the Green New Deal?” Cordoba added. “We don’t have 30 years. California youth demand that our elected officials take the bold action that science and justice require.”
Clarke said that her interaction with Feinstein is fuel for her to continue her activism.
“It gives me even more reason to keep going and to know what I’m doing is right,” the teen told HuffPost. “Because if adults feel that threatened with me telling them the truth that they already know, then that just tells me that I just need to keep speaking.”
Igor Bobic contributed reporting.
This story has been updated to include the full version of the video obtained by HuffPost on Friday.