Climate change has remained a central topic internationally for some time. Although a few non-believers still dismiss the idea, science has repeatedly shown the damaging effects of human activity on the environment. The Sunrise Movement represents a growing force that encourages all citizens to work towards better balance for the planet at an individual, governmental or corporate level.
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It’s a grassroots movement with feet on the ground across the nation. Members attend organized events, talk with people on the street and even spread their message door to door. The group’s ongoing efforts lead to a continued increase in numbers, which has helped publicize their mission to advocate for the environment. This membership allows the Sunrise Movement to make a statement in large groups, which proves especially powerful since one of the group’s guiding principles is to remain non-violent at all times.
The Sunrise Movement is unique in several ways, the main one being that most members are under the age of 30. Youth, passion and concerns for their futures as citizens of the planet drive the group of teens and young adults. Members unite to educate citizens, but also take activism to a political level by encouraging the election of leaders willing to work towards the health and well-being of the planet and its citizens. They regularly organize campaigns for candidates who support the cause and demonstrations against representatives who don’t. Most recently, members contacted over 6.5 million voters to drive the largest youth turnout in history.
Additionally, the Sunrise Movement presented president-elect Joe Biden with a comprehensive climate mandate that includes specific candidate recommendations for cabinet picks. Members also outlined the installation of a new executive called The Office of Climate Mobilization to focus on reversing climate change as a national project. Although the Sunrise Movement originally endorsed Bernie Sanders in the 2020 presidential election, the group shifted behind president-elect Biden after his primary win.
The organization also targets fossil fuel executives to draw attention to and eliminate their influence on policy. Members refuse to step away due to pressure or fear of retribution. Instead, they make their voices heard in one-on-one scenarios as well as at very public events. For example, in February 2020, middle and high school students demonstrated in the U.S. Capitol Building. Twenty of them, one as young as 13, were arrested during the event. Those not arrested stood, arms linked or holding signs, peacefully addressing lawmakers who have failed to implement action to heal climate change.
Specifically, that group at the capitol and the movement as a whole are focused on implementing The Green New Deal, a set of principles aimed at reversing climate change, eliminating poverty and creating sustainable jobs for working Americans. Although the group applies direct pressure at the governmental level, an equally-important mission is to encourage the masses to push through legislation in alignment with The Green New Deal at a local, city, county and state level. Although some members aren’t even old enough to vote, their message shines through conversations within classrooms, churches and communities across the country.
Tapping into the youthful members’ energy and focus offers a unique opportunity to empower the voices people often disregard. The movement provides youths with a chance to share their ideas and speak out for policies critical to their futures. By coming together as a larger unit, they not only create a bigger vision and louder voice but also create a tidal wave of energy that continues to gather momentum. Members proudly display this energy via banners that read, “Our Time to Rise.”
Their mission is focused, and they are determined to rattle the doors of every politician failing to take action. Although peaceful, the Sunrise Movement refuses to be ignored. As stated on the Sunrise Movement website, “Our generation is done asking nicely.”
Even with members in every state and Puerto Rico, it’s sometimes difficult to be heard. This difficulty motivated the group to adopt a tactic from the past century, inspired by the Wide Awakes, a pro-abolition mass youth movement in the 1860s. The group began gathering at the doors of politicians and shouting, chanting, and singing to wake them up both physically and to the reality of the world’s climate crisis.
Since there is no formal membership, the Sunrise Movement’s number of activists is estimated at around 80,000 who have participated in some way, from making phone calls to sending mailings. Around 15,000 members are estimated to have attended events in person. Not a bad beginning to an army that only began forming three years ago.
Perhaps more powerful than the number of members is the strength of the mindset. The Sunrise Movement is wholly dedicated to the mission of forcing open the eyes of politicians who refuse to see the same future they see for themselves. Where some young adults their age look forward to a decade of career building, the Sunrise Movement sees a closing window of opportunity. As the deadline set by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change outlines, 2030 represents the point of no return for the world to drastically lower emissions or suffer the effects of a climate catastrophe.
Images via Hailey Asquin, Nelson Klein, Evan McEldowney, Ken Schles, Kell Schneider, Rachael Warriner and Josh Yoder