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Sunrise Movement: A Generation on Fire

Members of the Sunrise Movement meet the media
Members of the Sunrise Movement demand environmental justice, and they won't take "wait and see" for an answer.

There is a fresh-faced youth mobilization rising in the United States known as the Sunrise Movement, which is demanding environmental justice through rapid federal policy action and implementation.

These young people are looking around the country and seeing wildfires raging in the west, floods rising in the center, and storms ravaging the south. Sensing the urgency of the moment, they are backing a vision for a Green New Deal (GND) policy so that their generation can have secure job prospects and a revitalized infrastructure that will protect communities from climate devastation.

The GND is a proposal for a ten-year economic mobilization that will rapidly transition the U.S. to a zero-carbon economy. During this clean energy transition, activists believe the government should reorganize the economy in ways that significantly reduce inequality and redress legacies of systemic oppression.

The GND proposal has four clear goals.

  • First, Americans must achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers.

  • Second, we must create millions of good, high-wage jobs and ensure prosperity and economic security for all people in the U.S.

  • Third, we must invest in the infrastructure and industry of the U.S. to sustainably meet the challenges of the 21st century.

  • Fourth, we must secure clean air and water, climate and community resilience, healthy food, access to nature, and a sustainable environment for all.

This resolution proposes a mobilization effort with multifaceted solutions including expanding renewable power sources, building “smart” power grids, upgrading existing buildings, supporting clean manufacturing, and moving to affordable public transit systems like high-speed rail.

Potential of a Green New Deal

In the early 1930s, the original New Deal policy was pushed by the Roosevelt Administration at a time of intense progressive and left militancy. In fact, its programs like a federal jobs guarantee and social security appeared at the time to be the only way to hold back full-scale revolution. The idea was to build a market economy with enough socialist elements that a more revolutionary approach would be drained of its appeal.

Part of the GND is upgrading our national infrastructure with new technologies which means millions of miles of new transmission cables to support “smart” electric grids that can integrate renewables, thousands of new charging stations for electric vehicles, and new manufacturing facilities to make electric furnaces, heaters, and stoves.

Critics who doubt our nation’s capacity to achieve a transition of the scale and speed the GND proposes should heed the lessons of World War II mobilization: set the production targets you need to win, and then hustle to meet those targets through massive, coordinated, and strategic public investment and collaborations with private industry.

A GND program would create many more jobs than would be lost. A study published by the Department of Economics and Political Economy Research Institute looked at what it would take for the state of Colorado to achieve a 50 percent reduction in emission by 2030. It found that roughly 585 nonmanagement jobs would be lost, but with an investment of $14.5 billion a year in clean energy, Colorado would generate about 100,000 jobs per year in the state.

Activism: A Generation on Fire

One tactic employed by Sunrise members to garner attention, inspired by the abolitionist movement of the 1860s, is intentionally interrupting the sleep of politicians who have ignored their message. The original group using these tactics, known as the Wide Awakes, were relentless and saw big results. During their organizing campaign, Abraham Lincoln was elected, slavery was abolished, and the visionary Reconstruction began in the South.

Like their predecessors, Sunrise members are demanding a job secure future by banging pots and pans attempting to wake up complacent leaders from their status-quo slumber. So far, wide awake actions have targeted U.S. senators like Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), and mayors like Frank Jackson of Cleveland, and Governors like Larry Hogan (R-MD) and Tim Walz (R-MN).

In the summer of 2021, in another tactical arena, members of the Sunrise Movement marched over 600 miles across the Gulf South and California advocating for a robust Civilian Climate Corps. The Civilian Climate Corps is a vision of a federal jobs program that will put the younger generation to work addressing climate change. They marched across the country meeting community leaders along the way that have been most impacted by the climate crisis, hosted visioning sessions about a GND future, and told their stories of living through climate change in the present.

With the impending climate disaster faced by this up-and-coming generation, they are not waiting for their teachers, legislators, pastors, and corporate heads to act. They are determined to push a GND through Congress and begin the work of building a clean energy future themselves.

Dr. Jeremy Holland teaches sociology at Horry Georgetown Technical College. Holland has published articles about social movements and language in academic journals including Discourse & Society and Semiotica. He recently was a guest on The Lean to the Left Podcast to discuss the drive for student loan and other debt forgiveness.

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I love this group!!!

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