Climate & Social Justice

Local Protesters Return from D.C. with Big Expectations for Climate Action


A growing movement of young activists is pushing action on climate change and gun safety. (Sunrise Movement)

The election is over but the activism continues, at least for the growing progressive environmental movement.

Energized by popular political newcomers such as Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, students from the environmental activist group Sunrise Movement recently staged a sit-in outside the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The protesters want quick progress on the “Green New Deal” and an end to political contributions from fossil-fuel companies. 

What is the Green New Deal? Like the original New Deal that led the country out of the Great Depression, the green successor is a government-led, nationwide, job-creating economic transformation of the energy system to address climate change. The job-works programs are intended to produce equitable incomes, improve the economy, and address climate change. Supporters want Pelsoi to form a House committee to come up with a specific plan for the Green New Deal and put it into action. And if she or the House leadership don’t deliver, the activism will continue.

“This is not the end,” said Lauren Maunus of Sunrise RI. “If you are not going to step up, we are going to mobilize other leaders and run for office.”

Maunus was one of the 200 Sunrise activists from across the country to join the Nov. 13 sit-in and one of 51 to get arrested. The two-hour protest was the culmination of a six-month “Sunrise Semester” that included canvasing for progressive candidates around the country and training for protests.

Emma Bouton of Sunrise RI was also arrested at the Pelosi protest. She and the other arrestees were detained for a few hours and released after paying a $50 fine.

Like Maunus, Bouton is a student a Brown University. Six Brown University students attended the Sunrise training and events in Washington, D.C. Sunrise is less than two years old, but the group has grown quickly by embracing the anxiety and immediacy young people feel about issues such as climate change and gun safety. The urgency was only stoked by the recent U.N. report that concluded carbon emissions must be slashed by 2030.

These activists say they helped win the House of Representatives for the Democratic party and they want political change to begin right away.

“We can’t rest on our laurels now,” Bouton said. The movement, she added, must support leaders who will act to prevent radical climate change and deliver the action “that is needed to enact the kind of change we are expecting.”

Sunrise RI has about 25 core members from Brown University, the Rhode Island School of Design, and local high schools who will be pressing political leaders for change. They’ve been showing up at Gov. Gina Raimondo’s office and at her public events, urging her to refuse taking campaign contributions from fossil-fuel companies.

This activists have pressured Brown alumnus and Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez during campus events for reversing a party resolution to stop accepting contributions from fossil-fuel industry. The group is also expected to meet soon with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., to encourage him to sign a similar pledge disavowing money from fossil-fuel companies.

The group expects to press Congressmen David Cicilline, D-R.I., and Jim Langevin, D-R.I., to adopt the pledge. Sunrise groups around the country plan to encourage their members of Congress to make similar promises, all in hopes of making the Green New Deal a core of the Democratic platform in the 2020 election.

In January, Sunrise RI and other local environmental groups are expected to push state legislators to pass local Green New Deal initiatives that deliver sweeping, emission reductions to transportation, housing, and the power sector.

And don’t expect these activists to be put off by delays and study commissions.

“If you are not going to step up, we are going to show you how committed we are to protecting our generation,” Maunus said

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  1. Sunrise is doing great work. I hope all of them remember that the Green new Deal was originated by Green party presidential candidate Jill Stein. Seems like nearly all the good ideas in the USA come out of emerging political parties, not the old dinosaurs.

  2. Go Sunrise!!!

    The future belongs to the youth and this generation will NOT accept in action by government officials to reverse the effects of climate change.

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