A January 10, 2019 group Zoom call brought together people from all over the world — Costa Rica, Houston, Sante Fe, Oregon, Wisconsin, Washington, Fort Pierce, Toronto, and so many other locations. It was the biggest synchronous communication that the Sunrise Movement has ever had, and its purpose was to launch the 2019 Green New Deal campaign.
Aru, the call facilitator, who works on activist training, discussed how she watched the worst flooding in her life in her hometown last year, and she is “scared and angry at the billionaires who have no regard for people.” Lauren, who works on the political side, said she is “ready to take over and fight for the places” that she loves. Will described how he’s read that the future’s world wars will be fought over water, and he’s working to save the world’s water. Haley described how she’s concerned that climate change has created extreme heat that now prevents the planes in her hometown of Phoenix from taking off in the summer.
They are all in their 20s, and they’re some of the 1100 participants who gathered together as part of a Sunrise Movement online video chat. Their activism in 2019 will attempt to build support among a wide array of constituents for a Green New Deal, the plan that would transform our economy and society at the scale needed to stop the climate crisis. To this vibrant and vivacious group of youth, it’s about solutions, halting climate change, and creating 10 of millions of jobs by upgrading America’s outdated energy infrastructure.
They hold dear the idea that we can enter a new age of prosperity and health and bring forward the people who this country has left behind. “We call ourselves Sunrise because we know this dark hour in America cannot last: A new day will rise.”
The Sunrise Movement is drawing on the exuberance and determination of young people to make climate change an urgent priority across the US. They are calling to end the “corrupting influence” of fossil fuel executives on our politics, and, instead, to elect leaders who will stand firm and hold the powers that be accountable. They are excited to see their collective work begin to take root and to “raise the bar” from a starting point where politicians acquiesce that climate change is human-made, to changing the debate to real action toward a Green New Deal.
Who are these Sunrise Movement Youth?
They refer to themselves as “ordinary young people who are scared about what the climate crisis means for the people and places we love.” They’re reminiscent of the anti-war activists of the 1960s, and their issue is more important than any other in our world today. A Green New Deal is necessary to meet the scale and urgency of environmental challenges, based on the best available research.
Indeed, a report from Data for Progress points to a Green New Deal as a broad and ambitious package of new policies and investments in communities, infrastructure, and technology to help the US achieve environmental sustainability and economic stability. Sustainability is necessary in order to utilize and preserve resources in ways that meet the needs of today’s generation without sacrificing the ability of future generations to meet their needs.
The Sunrise Movement youth activists use social media to disseminate their message and to counteract conservative naysaying. They use the power of the classroom, the living room, and the worship hall to reach out. They believe that public opinion is already with them – and that belief is backed up by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. They talk to everyday people about the climate crisis, gathered for a sit-in at Nancy Pelosi’s office, and worked together to make the Green New Deal a reality with legislators and US citizens.
Problems with the New Select Committee on the Climate Crisis
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), with support from the Sunrise Movement, called for the House to formulate the package of policies for the creation of a Select Committee on the Climate Crisis — a first step toward a Green New Deal. Nancy Pelosi, now the speaker of the House, announced the formation of the Select Committee, saying, “The American people have demanded action to combat the climate crisis, which threatens our public health, our economy, our national security, and the whole of God’s creation.” Pelosi appointed Kathy Castor, a seven-term representative from Tampa Bay, to chair the Select Committee. “Congresswoman Castor is a proven champion for public health and green infrastructure who deeply understands the scope and seriousness of this threat.”
During the January organizing mass call, the Sunrise Movement facilitators talked about their disappointment with the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, as it:
- Offers no mandate on the 12 year timeline that the world’s leading climate scientists warn is necessary to keep global warming to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people
- Allows members to serve even if they’ve accepted fossil fuel campaign donations, prompted by what columnist Thomas Edsail in the New York Times says is the top ranks of the interest group establishment, “skilled in co-opting liberal members of Congress and converting initiatives to square with the interests of corporate America”
- Lacks power to issue subpoenas, as a permanent standing House committee can, nor will it be able to draft legislation
By choosing to prioritize fossil fuel billionaires, this group of Sunrise youth cried out, “Democratic leaders have betrayed us again.” Yet, “in losing this battle, we made history.” They believe that they can make the Green New Deal a reality, though, starting with the 45 reps who have endorsed the plan so far.
A Multi-Year Plan toward a Green New Deal
The Sunrise Movement activists want every viable 2020 Democratic presidential candidate to be in favor of the Green New Deal. With “AOC” on 60 Minutes and reaching 11 million people, they feel the Movement has shown that “there is political legitimacy.” The goal of a Green New Deal is to build the 21st century economy, which, by design, will mitigate the causes of climate change while infusing resilience to its effects, restoring the American landscape, and improving access to clean air and water—all in ways that prioritize justice and equity and invigorate the economy and jobs.
Growing in numbers, coming together from every corner of the country, the Sunrise Movement has an overall multi-year strategy with the ultimate goal in 2020 to pass the Green New Deal.
- Host a House Party: The Sunrise Movement will host house parties on Tuesday, February 5, 2019. Hubs and homes across the country will host watch parties to tune into a Sunrise livestream detailing the 2019 Green New Deal Strategy. Anyone can host a party to grow the movement and go forward with the 2019 Green New Deal strategy. The goal of these parties is to unite communities to strengthen the people power needed to make the Green New Deal happen. A guide will help hosts to learn how to host the party and elevate public awareness of the Green New Deal to help it become a reality. During the January 10, 2019 mass call, 176 house parties were confirmed.
- Road to a Green New Deal Road Tour: The Sunrise Movement is planning a 14-stop tour meant to elevate grassroots support for a Green New Deal across multiple states. It’s an essential element of the group’s efforts to make the policy the defining issue of the 2020 election. Videos and speakers will reach out to middle, high school, and college audiences to demonstrate how communities can be “brought back to life” in the hope that “people leave fired up to build the movement” wherever they live.
- Change the Debate: The Sunrise Movement youth activists will push 2020 presidential candidates to take a yes/no stand on the Green New Deal. They want to identify which candidates have the “strongest and most credible Green New Deal plan.” Their demands are that all presidential contenders must back the #GreenNewDeal or “face the contempt of young people everywhere, and the mainstream media must fully cover climate change or slide further into irrelevance.” The Sunrise Movement will convene en mass at one of the presidential debates, which begin in June, 2019. They’re awaiting announcements of the dates and locations to formalize the call to protest.
- Weather Event Preparedness: Preparing Sunrise Movement members to rise up if weather event disasters occur is another element of the activism. They want all Sunrise activists to be trained to help those individuals who need it in the event of floods, storms, and other devastating weather events.
- Sunrise Semester: For “anyone who wants to go all in” by working full-time in 2020, the Sunrise Movement will gather together individuals who will promote the Green New Deal. Such a training brings a cohesive message to all participants. “Sunrise 101” is an online training, and it starts on Thursday, January 17, 2019. Afterward, a 3-day regional training scales up members, including how to run campaigns, how to escalate targets, and how to build up local momentum. It makes sure that the Sunrise Movement is ready.
Youth are not only our future — in the case of the Sunrise Movement, they are actively shaping our world today. With a long history of being on the forefront of social change movements, youth can inspire positive social change. The US needs smart, energetic, courageous activists like those in the Sunrise Movement with integrity and vision to push politicians and galvanize the people when elected officials cannot provide the radical vision or critical support to do so.
The impact of lived experience as a result of climate change has already created a cohort of youth shaped by laws, institutions, and political events that have transpired in their lifetimes. The Sunrise Movement as a social experience, as deeply personal and community driven actions, points to the US as a country built upon principles of freedom and justice: freedom to exercise self-determination free of constraints that inhibit equal opportunity, and justice in the form of equitable restitution from disproportionate impacts.
Environmental hazards threaten both.
“If we unite by the millions, we can turn this into political power and reclaim our democracy,” the Sunrise Movement leaders proclaim.
Logos and other graphics courtesy of the Sunrise Movement
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