The Red Deal

Spatialising Social and Racial Justice
A manifesto for decolonisation and Indigenous liberation, related to the Green New Deal, which emphasises the relationships of people to land as the key question of environmental activism


“[The US Green New Deal (GND) resolution’s] chief aims are to radically decarbonise the US economy while significantly reducing economic inequality, in such a way that these two achievements would be inextricably linked, and the rights of vulnerable communities protected and enhanced.”1Ray Galvin and Noel Healy, “The Green New Deal in the United States: What It Is and How to Pay for It”, Energy Research & Social Science, 67 (2020), 101529 <>

The after-effects of the 2008 financial crisis and the growing urgency of transitioning away from fossil fuels are seen in combination to influence recent global calls for a Green New Deal (GND), also referred to in some places as a Green Industrial Revolution. Though distinct in different locations, each version broadly combined mass investment in green technologies to address climate breakdown, with the associated creation of green jobs to reduce unemployment and economic inequality. It typically shares with the New Deal—the 1930s programme from which the GND takes its name—an economic strategy based on increased government spending as a means of creating economic growth throughout society. 

The version of the GND promoted in the US congress by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ed Markey in 2019, and further developed by Bernie Sanders as part of his US presidential bid the same year, presents a wide-ranging economic and social programme including the expansion of renewable energy infrastructure, improving the efficiency of existing buildings; increasing public transport, decarbonising shipping, growing the use of electric vehicles, developing road infrastructure, and supporting regenerative agriculture. It is backed by plans for targeting economic development, expanding social security, and improving job security and pensions.2Galvin and Healy, ‘The Green New Deal in the United States’.


The movement for a Green New Deal in the United States emerged partly from a series of Indigenous-led protests against fossil fuel expansion in the early 2010s, including the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline at standing rock in North Dakota.3Rebecca Solnit, ‘Standing Rock inspired Ocasio-Cortez to run. That’s the power of protest’, The Guardian, 14 January 2019 <> [accessed 22 December 2022]. The Red Nation—“a coalition of Native and non-Native activists, educators, students, and community organizers”—came together in 2014 to foreground such struggles within the wider organisational spheres of social justice, and ongoing debates around what might constitute a “Just Transition”.4Editorial, “Native Liberation Struggles in North America: The Red Nation 10-point Program”, Capitalism Nature Socialism, 26.2 (2015), pp. 1-7 <>

In the context of the US GND, the Red Nation developed the “Red Deal”: an anti-capitalist and anti-colonial addendum “focusing on Indigenous treaty rights, land restoration, sovereignty, self-determination, decolonization, and liberation”.5Nick Estes, ‘A Red Deal’, Jacobin, 8 June 2019 <> [accessed 22 December 2022]. It is proposed not as rebuttal, or counter-project, but rather a set of practices and values that emphasises the relationships of people to land as the key question of environmental activism and climate adaptation. It demands “an end to violence against Native peoples and our nonhuman relatives” through full and reinstated rights and protections; ending violence and discrimination; access to services such as education, health care, social services, employment, and housing; repatriation of land; and the dismantling of capitalist-colonial economies that “interrupt cooperation and association”. 

In support of these demands, the Red Deal further problematises the supposed success of the New Deal in ways it suggests are not being fully addressed by the US GND. Amongst other things, the New Deal rolled out a system of centralised land management that dispossessed native communities and destroyed plant- and wild-life. The weakness of some forms of accelerationist green capitalism, as reflected in the more technocratic aspects of some versions of the GND, is that they leave intact the extractivist structures of capitalism and colonialism evident in the New Deal. The Red Deal sees in these structures the root of the problem, and demands their dissolution, lest any real progress be made. 

Violence, deterritorialisation, criminalisation, and incarceration are issues that link social and environmental justice. The central tenets of abolitionism and divestment that runs through the Red Deal is a declaration that a just transition cannot take place under unjust systems of discipline that keep people “in a state of perpetual uncertainty and precariousness”.6Estes, ‘A Red Deal’. The return of land and the return of justice as equal and complementary pillars of a just transition are therefore means to unite multiple struggles as climate struggles. 


External links

Indigenous Environmental Networka grassroots organisation operating primarily in North America / Turtle Island with the aim of building the capacity of communities and tribes to address environmental and economic justice issues