The Sunrise generation leads the way on climate action

In the meantime, with the encouragement of leaders like AOC, what is arguably the largest youth movement since the 1960s is taking shape to finally put the climate crisis front and center in U.S. politics.

Image Credit: Nelson Klein/Sunrise

On Friday, February 15th, thousands of students across the United Kingdom left their schools and universities to participate in strikes to draw attention to the climate crisis, part of a wider movement that began in Germany last summer. Rather than reporting on the students’ concerns, the British tabloid press and cable newsreaders alike wondered if it was acceptable for youth to break the rules by leaving school in such a flagrant manner.

The main complaint of those opposed to the strikes seemed to be that it could lead to similar actions for more frivolous reasons because, you know, kids.  It does, however, seem likely that most of the participants in primary and secondary school were with or had the permission of their parents to attend the rallies held throughout the country and advertised for weeks in advance..

One of the strike’s organizers, 17 year old Anna Taylor, argued for the walkouts before they occurred, telling the U.K. Independent, “It is important to remember that simply learning about it in school has not done enough. We have tried to learn about it in school and yet we are still heading towards an immense climate catastrophe which will end the life of loads of species on earth.”

The strikes, normally held on Fridays, aren’t isolated to Europe, with further student strikes taking place as far away as Africa two weeks later.

As reported by Euronews on the 1st of this month, “Thousands of students marched through Hamburg on Friday. The Climate Strike movement has spread across Europe and worldwide, with schoolchildren in the U.K., Belgium, France, Kenya and Uganda foregoing school.”

Across the Atlantic, in the United States, the Sunrise Movement has been making its voice heard through occupations targeting powerful politician, and another group, Youth ClimateStrike U.S., is planning their own mass climate strike across the country on March 15th.

One of their most notable recent actions taken by Sunrise activists was a protest at the San Francisco office of the senior Senator from California, Dianne Feinstein. They were joined by a local group, Youth against Apocalypse, and presented a letter asking Feinstein to support the resolution for a Green New Deal. The Senator instead insisted that she had her own version of the GND that would be more likely to pass in the Republican controlled Senate.

Besides the fact that no Democratic legislation, especially regarding climate change, which most Republican politicians deny is even real, is likely to pass in the chamber at this time, making it a good strategy to get behind the more sweeping GND resolution, the idea seems to have support from a growing number of Americans. Also, as pointed out by a number of commentators after video of Feinstein’s interaction with the young activists went viral, there were other problems with Feinstein’s alternate resolution.

As reported by the Intercept, RL Miller, a founder of a group called Climate Hawks Vote explained the problem with the Senator’s proposed and then quickly withdrawn resolution in a recent statement, “Senator Feinstein’s draft resolution didn’t respect the science. It ignored politically popular aspects of the Green New Deal such as a jobs program. It ignored the need to keep California’s oil in the ground – and it’s inexcusable that California’s senior senator writes a resolution ignoring Trump’s threat to drill for oil off the California coast.”

Even in light of this, it was still somewhat horrifying to watch one of the most listened to people on earth basically telling children that they should shut up and accept the politically possible rather than shoot the for the necessary.

Perhaps even more frustrating was when Feinstein told the group that they should take her message back to “whoever sent them”, as if their youth alone is proof enough they they’re working for some unspecified and perhaps sinister interest. It’s honestly what you’d expect to hear from the current U.S. president rather than a Democratic Senator from a state as liberal as California.

The viral confrontation with Feinstein and earlier occupation of Nancy Pelosi’s Washington, D.C. office has led some on the right to make the argument that this kind of climate activism is isolated to the coasts of the country and somehow elitist. Putting the lie to this, as explained by the website Red, Green and Blue, on February 25th, the second largest action ever undertaken by Sunrise activists in Washington, D.C., was at the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and was mainly composed of students from his deep red state of Kentucky, who were also simultaneously protesting at his Louisville office.

As Anna Mowery, who was suspended from her school for missing classes to take part in the action at McConnell’s Senate office told the outlet, the issue has a real urgency for her and her peers, “We only have 11 years until our mistakes will be irreversible. I’m going to have to live with all the mistakes people have made in the past.

Most pundits, even on the right, possibly having learned from the outcry caused by the way they covered the Parkland students in their fight for gun control, have smartly avoided attacking Sunrise and other youth activists in a personal way. Instead, they have saved their slings and arrows for the politicians taking a leadership role on the issue of climate change. The latest line of attack being tested out appears to be to complain about the ‘hypocrisy’ of these politicians for living in the real world, where it’s often necessary for them to make choices that aren’t necessarily ‘green’ in the abstract sense, both to get the climate message out and campaign to bring other progressives into the government, a necessity to make action possible.

First Bernie Sanders and then Alexandria Ocasio Cortez were portrayed in this way by two different outlets within a week, the former for using charter planes while campaigning and the latter for using car services like Uber for the same reason..

The attack against Sanders was led by some veterans of the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign, who oddly complained about his use of charters in campaigning for their own candidate, often in far flung places where flying commercial was not an option..

Shortly after the Politico piece on Sanders’ air travel, the New York Post took up the baton to make an even more ridiculous attack on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who appeared with Sunrise activists during their November occupation of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s D.C. office.

After going through AOC’s campaign’s use of the car services (not for the record, her personal use of the services but her entire campaign’s), arguing that there was a subway stop nearby and going on to criticize her use of air travel in campaigning for others, the Post went on to opine about the fact that the 29 year old Congresswoman seems to throw out rather than compost the skin of a sweet potato in a February 24th Instagram video.

First, while it’s commendable for individuals to make changes in their own lives to address the climate crisis like eating less (or no) meat and avoiding air travel when possible, this will make little difference if industries, large national armies and fossil fuel billionaires continue on their current course. It is precisely this focus on individual consumption rather than the real polluters that has made progress on this issue so slow.

Second, AOC, Sanders and other progressives are among the few voices in American politics and media actually talking about this issue and will need to travel in order to make their cases in person to the citizenry. The issue literally demands they have higher carbon footprints then most people to effectuate massive changes like the proposed Green New Deal.

In the meantime, with the encouragement of leaders like AOC, what is arguably the largest youth movement since the 1960s is taking shape to finally put the climate crisis front and center in U.S. politics; rather than Millenials or Generation Z, if they’re are successful we might just come to call these and other activist youth throughout the world the Sunrise generation.


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