Five Questions for Sunrise co-founder Varshini Prakash about climate activism and a Green New Deal
The concept of the Sunrise Movement arose out of discussions begun in 2015 by organizers who had been working in various parts of the climate movement, from fossil fuel divestment to building political power for climate policy in the purple and red states. It was decided after the November 2016 election that obviously not enough was being done at the grassroots level to get the nation’s political leaders to take serious action on the climate crisis since most candidates up and down the ballot weren’t even mentioning it in their campaigns.
As so often happens on the left, the discussion among a group of eight, mostly under-30 core organizers came down to whether to focus on protests or elections. They decided to found Sunrise on the premise that both are needed. The strategy they chose in early 2017 was: disrupt, vote in 2018; disrupt, vote in 2020. The goal: Make 2020 the first presidential election about climate change. Co-founder and Sunrise Lead Spokeswoman Varshini Prakash said in an interview at the time:
After reflecting deeply on our wins and losses, we came up with three key principles. First, if we ignore elections and the power that’s on the table, we’ll lose. Second, the gains made through creative protest have been powerful, but they will only be protected if we achieve institutional, political power. And, finally, if we elect people who only care about the climate crisis in name, but are unwilling to stand up to the fossil fuel industry in practice, we’ll also lose. So we must merge electoral organizing with creative protest to build, alongside others, a political force great enough to win.
And that’s that they’re doing, building an army of volunteers to pressure sitting politicians to get off their behinds and take action on climate change, and working to elect candidates who already take climate policy seriously. As part of that effort, Sunrise backs a Green New Deal with a focus on renewable energy, decarbonization, and jobs. It is calling for a congressional Select Committee for a Green New Deal. Monday, in fact, hundreds of Sunrise volunteers will be in Washington, D.C., doing some of that disrupting, urging members of Congress to join the 22 who have already voiced their support for forming the committee. And Tuesday morning, Sunrise volunteers will demonstrate in a nonviolent action in San Francisco, with some members engaging in civil disobedience.