By this point, you’d have to be living under a rock to have not heard of Greta Thunberg and her eco-activism. If her name is unfamiliar, you can learn about her in this picture book. Our House Is on Fire: Greta Thunberg’s Call to Save the Planet by Jeanette Winter. We talked about her in our Better Living Through Trees blogpost.
This back-to-school time of year has me thinking about her and (spoiler alert) how every Friday she’d ditch school and go sit in front of the parliament building silently protesting her country’s response to climate change: not strong or swift enough. I wanted to learn more about and amplify the youth climate activism happening closer to home.
The Sunrise Movement
The Sunrise Movement is an American youth-led political movement coordinated by Sunrise, a 501(c)(4) political action organization that advocates political action on climate change. Though it is stated that the participants are under 35 years old, most of the participants are actually in their teens or 20s.
The first person I knew personally who was involved in the Sunrise Movement was Grace Hahn, who you may remember as our former zero waste event coordinator. She started working with us straight out of college. She used her top-notch production skills to help produce a Sunrise Chicago event, a stop on the Road to a Green New Deal Tour in May 2019.
There is a lot to be gleaned about the movement by just checking out their website. The first time I logged on, I felt inspired to donate to their postcard campaign for getting out the vote. Then when I logged on again because I’m writing this blog post, I felt inspired to actually order 100 GOTV postcards to send out. So, be careful, you too may be inspired.
As an organization, we found an opportunity on their website and felt inspired to sign on to the Green New Deal Supporting Group.
Sunrise has local chapters or what they call hubs. There are several hubs in the Chicagoland area. Etown Sunrise based in Evanston. Chicago Sunrise and Sunrise Southside Chicago are based in Chicago. Sunrise North Shore Chicago and Sunrise New Trier Township are both based in Winnetka, and Sunrise Park Ridge is based in Park Ridge. Some Chicago and Chicagoland schools and universities like DePaul, Northwestern and Jones College Prep have their own hubs. You can join an existing hub or start your own. You can click on the respective icon on the hub map to contact the hubs or join them.
I spoke to Lily Aaron who began her involvement in Etown Sunrise last year and has since moved into more of a leadership role. I asked her what they are working on and how we could help.
They are focusing on mayoral elections because they don’t feel that the current mayor of Evanston has prioritized the implementation of the city’s Climate Action and Resilience Plan. They are also not very happy with his responses to the Black community’s concerns and requests.
She told me that Sunrise focuses on storytelling and the different motives and special circumstances that have led participants to put their activist energy in this area. Of course after she told me that, I wanted to know her story, her aha moment. She told me that she participated in a coral reef restoration program in Bonaire in the Carribean and saw firsthand how the local people depended on the coral reef and how they were not responsible for its degradation. As a 16-year-old white girl who lives in an affluent suburb, she is quite aware of her privilege and feels as though she ought to use it in a way that helps others who are not as privileged.
I asked her how we could help. And when I say we, I mean those of us over 35. She asks that you take them seriously, listen to them, and try to understand their passion, not write them off as radical or naive. She also encourages us to consider taking the courses that Sunrise offers through the online Sunrise School.
You can learn more about Etown Sunrise in this article from The Daily Northwestern.
Wide Awake Campaigns
The Sunrise Movement’s Wide Awake campaigns began this past summer. Borrowing a technique used over a hundred years ago to sway anti-abolitionist politicians by banging on pots and pans outside their homes in the wee hours of the morning, Sunrise Movement members have begun gathering at politicians’ homes to wake them up to the reality of the climate crisis and other pressing social justice issues.
The younger generation, in general, understands the connection between racism and climate change, especially where they intersect in environmental justice issues. Sunrise’s latest campaign reflects this. In the description on their website, the lead paragraph ends with this simple, but firm sentence:
Our generation is done asking nicely.