According to the October 2018 report put out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we have approximately twelve years to take action and drastically curb our carbon emissions before the effects of climate change become essentially irreversible. In addition to flooding and wildfires already seen around the world, we’ll also experience famines and intense competitions over scarce resources. It’s not exactly the kind of future that anyone would look forward to, but escaping this fate has proven to be an uphill battle so far. But younger generations are not waiting around for anyone else to tackle the problem—instead, they’re taking matters into their own hands, and they’re making headlines for this efforts. Now, the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led organization dedicated to pushing progressive environmental policies, has the ear of some of the most powerful leaders in the US.
In 2013, a group of environmental activists used a grant and office space at the Sierra Club to begin drafting a very ambitious policy proposal to deal with climate change. This was the early beginnings of the Sunrise Movement, and this group, which was initially known as the US Climate Plan nonprofit, became the Sunrise Movement Education Fund.
In 2015, activists Sara Blazevic and Varshini Prakash officially launched the Sunrise Movement organization on the East Coast, and in 2017, the group became a 501(c)(4). By 2018, they got attention on the national stage when they endorsed several midterm election candidates who were committed to promoting renewable energy, while openly trying to oust other candidates who were receiving donations from fossil fuel companies. Out of the twenty candidates endorsed by the Sunrise Movement, ten won their races, including several seats in the House of Representatives: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib were all endorsed by the Sunrise Movement, and their victories got a ton of publicity.
Now that these new politicians have taken their offices, the Sunrise Movement is primarily focused on getting elected representatives to rally behind the Green New Deal, a collection of environmental proposals that are also intended to act as a stimulus for the US economy and financially lift up the middle class. The core ideas of the Green New Deal can be summed up in three words: “decarbonization, jobs, and justice.” And this refers to both climate justice and economic justice—it’s about giving everyone an equal chance to succeed and enjoy their future in a much “greener” society. The most important proposals in the Green New Deal include a massive, ambitious transition to renewable energy, expanding public transportation to get more cars off the road, and investing in programs to improve our infrastructure and create jobs.
In November, activists from the Sunrise Movement were suddenly in the news when they staged a sit-in in Nancy Pelosi’s office, who currently serves as Speaker of the House of Representatives. They partnered with Ocasio-Cortez to demand that any sitting Democrats commit to refusing any money from fossil fuel companies and move forward with the Green New Deal. The demands at the sit-in lead to the reinstatement of the House Committee on the Climate Crisis.
Unfortunately for some of the teenage activists working with the Sunrise Movement, a recent meeting with Senator Diane Feinstein didn’t lead to a similar positive outcome. Feinstein was less than enthusiastic about seeing the group of young protestors in her office encouraging her to support the Green New Deal, and a video of the meeting went viral on social media, inviting a wide range of opinions. Were the activists out of line? Should they have been quiet and “let the adults in the room” do the talking?
While some people might think that young activists like those in the Sunrise Movement are stepping out of line and need to “know their place,” it only seems fair that they get to have a say in their own futures. After all, who is going to have to deal with the worst possible outcomes of climate change if politicians and world leaders don’t start making changes now? All of these dire warnings are very real for young people today—they are not just statistics that flash by on the news, or a headline you can scroll past online. They have just as much right as any adult to petition the government. After all, everyone in America is granted the freedom to do so, regardless of age.
We tell young people that they could grow up to change the world for the better—well, why turn around and tell them that actually, they should sit back down and wait? Young people who care about the future of this planet know that the time to speak up is now or never, and they’re ready to put up a fight.
How do you feel about the Sunrise Movement? Will it be effective?
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