Mr. Robinson — and family — goes to Washington

Family was part of Sunrise Movement and went with backing of planning board and MVC.


Updated Dec. 10 @ 12 noon

Ben Robinson headed to Washington, D.C., with his wife, two children, and messages from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and the Tisbury planning board supporting the “Green New Deal” — a proposal by newly elected Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that seeks to address climate change through a green economy.

Robinson, reached by phone Friday on a train bound for Washington, said his wife, Betsy Carnie, and their two children, Runar Finn, 11, and Odin, 9, went with him. They’re going on a vacation that will include a civics lesson.

After fun stops at Smithsonian museums and other national landmarks over the weekend, the family headed to the U.S. Capitol building on Monday with the Sunrise Movement. Robinson did not rule out the possibility of civil disobedience and even getting arrested. (Some members of the movement did.)

The Sunrise Movement, according to its website, is “a movement of young people uniting to stop the climate crisis. We are building an army of young people to break the hold of oil and gas CEOs on our politics and elect leaders who will protect the health and wellbeing of all people, not just a wealthy few.”

On Monday morning, Robinson and his family were in a crowd of people outside the Rayburn Building. A line of “1,000 strong” gathered to attempt to get in to see representatives in Congress, including a large contingent from the 9th Congressional District in Massachusetts, which includes the Vineyard, according to text messages from Robinson.

The Times received updates from Robinson via text message throughout the morning. Inside the Rayburn House Office Building, where congressional offices are located, Robinson wrote that U.S. Rep. William Keating, whose district includes the Vineyard, was not in. A staffer told the gathered crowd that Keating is dealing with a health issue.

Robinson is a member of both the MVC and Tisbury planning board. Both approved identical letters this week addressed to Keating, which Robinson hand-delivered to the staff member.

“Being an Island, Martha’s Vineyard is intrinsically vulnerable to changes in our climate,” the letters state. “We see the clear need to make every effort — internationally, nationally, and locally — to begin to reimagine our infrastructures, energy systems, food systems, and way of life in order to mitigate the dire outlook for our planet.”

Robinson is realistic. He knows nothing is coming from the U.S. Senate or President Donald Trump anytime soon. The push now, he said, is so that legislation is ready should a Democrat win the White House in 2020.

Robinson equates the Green New Deal with President Roosevelt’s New Deal, the space program, and President Eisenhower’s interstate system as ways the government was able to create economies. In this case, the Green New Deal would look to create an economy around green, sustainable industries, with the idea of saving the planet, he said.

“The idea is to create jobs in a green economy to get people to buy in — use the power of the public purse,” he said. “We have to activate a new economy around a carbon-neutral-based economy.”

Robinson planned to ask for a meeting with Keating to bring the Island’s message to him. “We’re particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise,” Robinson said. The Island gets its fuel, energy, and most of its food from the mainland, and disruptions will be harmful to the Vineyard economy.

With sea-level rise and climate change, there can also be crop changes for the Island’s farms, and changes to the ocean that will be detrimental to the tourist economy.

“We can wring our hands or take action,” Robinson said.

Keating could not be immediately reached for comment.

The letters cite recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and U.S. Climate Reports that show “catastrophic consequences” if nothing is done.

“We must be courageous in the face of this global challenge,” the letter states. “We must recognize the power of human ingenuity and sacrifice when challenged with a fight for survival. We must not dither, obfuscate, or waver.”

While Keating was not available, the group did get an audience with U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, who also represents Massachusetts in the House, who told the group that he was committed to supporting the legislation.

The official Sunrise Movement Twitter wrote that Odin Robinson was the youngest visitor to Rep. McGovern’s office. “I’m here to protect vulnerable communities,” Odin told the congressman.

“Rep. McGovern, we believe you’ll stand with Odin & on the right side of history,” the tweet continued, “and help make the select committee for #GreenNewDeal a reality. Can we count on you?”

Asked if the next family vacation would be to Disney World, Robinson chuckled. “They’re pretty excited about it,” Robinson said of his two children. “For them it’s a great learning experience — the Smithsonian, the U.S. House of Representatives, and potentially seeing democracy in action.”

Updated with more details from Monday’s visit to Capitol Hill. – Ed.