Gathering in schools and living rooms, the Sunrise Movement has a plan to make climate change a political priority.

By Jennifer Mota
August 07, 2019 04:30 PM
Rachael Warriner

 This July was the hottest month in recorded history. The previous month was the hottest June ever recorded, and led to wildfires in the Arctic Circle. On the first day of August, Greenland experienced its largest single-day ice melt on record, losing 12.5 billion tons of ice — enough to cover all of Florida with five inches of water — in just 24 hours. A new report released this month noted that a quarter of the world’s population already lives in areas experiencing “extremely high” water stress. By 2050, almost every American city will experience significant warming, leading to wildfires, heat waves and other forms of extreme weather.

This calls for swift, decisive action, but in an era when some politicians don’t even believe in climate change, the fight for green legislation feels like an uphill battle. The Sunrise Movement hopes to change that. Founded in 2017 by a group of twentysomethings frustrated by the government’s lack of action surrounding what’s sure to be the defining issue of their generation. They decided it was time to create a movement that would push elected officials to make the issue a priority and work to support candidates committed to fighting for the future.

In the short time they’ve existed, the Sunrise Movement has already made tons of headlines for their work. Following the 2018 midterm elections, 250 members organized a sit-in at Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office to demand a Green New Deal alongside Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. A month later, they returned with 1,000 people, 135 of whom were arrested. They’ve also led demonstrations against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and established a Green New Deal tour that visited eight cities and featured speakers like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Sen. Bernie Sanders.

The Green New Deal, largely a household term thanks to the movement’s efforts, is at the heart of almost everything they hope to achieve. Initially derided as the “green dream,” the Green New Deal is a congressional resolution that aims to combat climate change by reducing U.S. reliance on fossil fuels and guaranteeing jobs in clean energy. After its introduction by Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey, the resolution has 104 co-sponsors. The Senate voted not to advance the resolution back in March, but it — or something like it — will remain a hot-button issue as the 2020 election approaches.

This will be especially true as the Sunrise Movement’s Gen Z members and would-be audience reach voting age. “My generation just hasn’t lived in a period that wasn’t tainted in some significant form by climate breakdown,” 26-year-old co-founder Varshini Prakash said last month. “I remember a conversation I had with a 16-year-old during one of our training programs. She shared a story about how so many young people her age are dealing with depression and suicide that is related to the climate crisis and wondering if humans should even exist in the world. That is the level of depth to the thinking that kids are having to grow up around these days.”

Members of the Sunrise Movement organize locally, gathering at schools and in living rooms, and are committed to inclusion. “They tell us that one community has to suffer for another to thrive,” says a statement on their site. “They say some children must breathe toxic air so that others can have electricity. … We say no more.” This approach is evident in their actions; the majority of activists in their fellowship identify as people of color and they have committed to working with politicians of all races and backgrounds. 

Though there is still much work to be done, the Sunrise Movement has pushed the national conversation around climate change farther than ever and inspired real action among the group that will be most affected by the impending crisis. Their vision for the future might be a dream, but it’s one worth fighting for.

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