Founded by twentysomethings in 2017, the Sunrise Movement is now the dominant policy influence within the Democrat’s young, progressive wing. Just as the March for Our Lives has changed gun-control activism from a movement of grieving parents to one led by students, Sunrise is part of a generational shift in the environmental movement.
- How can the Sunrise Movement continue to make climate change a defining issue of the 2020 election? What groups should they collaborate with?
- In the current political age, can youth and environmental activists move the legislative agenda on climate?
- How should the Sunrise Movement engage business leaders? With millennials dominant in the workplace, how can they tap into the younger workers?
- Sunrise Movement activists take part in weeklong boot camps intended to transform them into the next generation of climate activists—who, in turn, are supposed to transform American politics.
- Sunrise members ask: What do we do now? How does a bunch of twenty-somethings, somewhat blindsided by their success, come up with a next act?
- “Our top priority is to build an army of young people to elect a candidate in the caucuses who will be a champion of the Green New Deal,” said Kaleb Van Fosson, a Sunrise organizer based in Iowa.
Sunrise initially saw itself as solely focused on changing public opinion as an indirect means of pressuring the party’s establishment. But after the election of President Donald Trump, the group and its leaders changed their philosophy: They needed to convert their idealism into power by engaging in hard politics.
Last November, Sunrise activists joined newly elected Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a splashy protest at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office that catapulted the group to national relevance. The resulting publicity added thousands of people to the group’s ranks of supporters and active volunteers.
A year ago, Sunrise had an organized presence in only about a dozen cities. By December, that grew to around 80 and is now more than 290. Each city is organized from a “hub,” usually led by regular, part-time volunteers; each hub is autonomous, choosing where and what to protest and whom to endorse in local elections, and volunteers write op-eds and letters to the editor for their local newspapers on behalf of the broader movement.
Last year, Sunrise operated on a budget of about $850,000, its leaders say, while this year they have a budget goal of about $4.5 million. They received several large foundation grants, but they also said, “a huge portion of funding comes from individual grassroots donations.”
The Green New Deal is Sunrise’s policy vision, now taken up by its allies in Congress. It unites the group’s twin goals of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and a federal jobs program employing millions to expand renewable energy generation and improve infrastructure.
Sunrise Movement supported the global climate strikes on Sept. 20 and 27, which drew millions to the streets worldwide, O’Hanlon said. Another big strike is planned for next year’s Earth Day, and Sunrise organizers in Iowa and New Hampshire are already drumming up local support.