This summer, as the western U.S. faced a terrifying but predictable heat wave, and UU’s gathered online for General Assembly, I flew to Washington, D.C. for a protest with Sunrise Movement, a youth-led U.S.-based environmental group. The mission of Sunrise is to stop climate change and create good jobs and justice in the process. In the past, they’ve led climate strikes, helped draft progressive legislation, and worked to elect Democratic candidates who prioritize ending climate change and reducing the use of fossil fuels. When the right warns of “green new deal socialism”, they’re scared by the success of Sunrise Movement.
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This protest made three key demands of President Biden, all relating to his proposed infrastructure spending bill, the American Jobs Plan. The first was that Biden stop negotiating with Republicans, and instead pass the plan directly through the budget reconciliation process. The second demand was that he meet about its terms with the executive director of Sunrise Movement. And the third demand was for the plan to include a Civilian Climate Corps with enough funding to employ 1.5 million U.S. citizens.
Sunrise is truly youth-led, and I found it incredibly hopeful to be part of a training of over 500 people, led elegantly by youth and young adults. The youth leading the training demonstrated a deep shared purpose, a sophisticated awareness of racism, and a partnership with the Indigenous environmental movement. They also had a clear understanding of the importance of nonviolence in retaining moral authority. The action had been meticulously planned, with thought given to legality, messaging, visuals, and logistics.
The protest itself began with a march through the streets to the lawn north of the White House, singing and chanting. On the lawn, three Democratic representatives who had been endorsed by Sunrise spoke at a rally: Cori Bush, Jamaal Bowman, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. All three thanked Sunrise for fighting for them and promised that they would fight with Sunrise in return.
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Then the 500 demonstrators broke into 10 pre-determined groups and held sit-ins at each entrance to the White House, not allowing any vehicles in or out. Each group had banners and signs and held their ground for hours, chanting and singing, prepared to sleep there if there was no response. I was part of a 20-person bucket drum brigade that traveled around the White House, leading songs and beats for each group to keep their spirits high. After about five hours, the need to open an entrance forced police to arrest dozens of youth and young adults.
It was a tremendously disciplined and organized protest, and I’m proud of that. But did it work? Did we influence President Biden to take aggressive action to end climate change, during this potentially narrow window when Democrats have a majority in the House and Senate? We chanted on Monday that we wouldn’t leave until our demands were met, and though we did physically leave the premises after the arrests, I’m hopeful that Sunrise Movement’s political voice will only grow, until our government is forced to follow the will of the people and take the bold action needed to end global warming.