Mills College has a history of strong student participation in political activism and social justice. This remains true as a new movement gains momentum on-campus. The Sunrise movement is a coalition of young people dedicated to fighting climate change and advocating for the Green New Deal, a plan that would create living-wage jobs for millions of people.
“Advocating for the Green New Deal, [is] a really important piece,” Caitlyn Marianacci, a first-year graduate student and member of the Sunrise hub at Mills, said. “That would create jobs and revitalize the economy while also making it much more sustainable and creating more equity.”
In September of last year, a group of students from Mills College participated in the Global Climate Strike. Having a shared interest in climate action, these students wanted to spread awareness of economic disparity, climate change, and the Green New Deal.
Coco Gutman and Dalia Bender, both undergraduates at Mills, and Marianacci organized to create a Sunrise Movement hub on-campus.
The grassroots youth-led Sunrise Movement was established in 2017 and sparked many protests and strikes in several cities across the United States. After the midterm elections in November 2018, where the Democratic party won control of the House of Representatives, 250 Sunrise organizers participated in a sit-in outside of the office of House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. They demanded action as there is no established plan from Democrats to combat the rising issue of climate change. Joined in support by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the young organizers rallied until dozens of their members were arrested.
The Green New Deal is often compared to the New Deal, proposed by President D. Roosevelt after the stock market crash in 1929. Due to the crash, the United States fell into the Great Depression where over fifteen million Americans were laid off from their jobs. The New Deal was a series of sixty programs and financial reform projects enforced through government intervention. The result was a restoration of the economy and a rise in employment. While there is a similarity between the two proposals for an emphasis on creating new jobs, the attention to the issues at hand differ.
During the Great Depression, the majority of U.S. citizens were very aware of the dire economy but climate change does not have the same urgency on a large scale. While surveys show an increased awareness of climate change amongst U.S. citizens who consider the government responsible for taking action against global warming, the average U.S. citizen sees the pending effects of climate change as an obstacle to the far future.
In October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC ) released a report that discussed the current impacts of climate change and global greenhouse emissions “in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty”.
Research by climate scientists shows changes need to be made to global energy systems in ten years to lessen the impact of global warming on the world people recognize today. Climate change controls how the Earth operates at its surface affecting environments through weather and the ability to grow food.
In 2006, the Global Greens’ Green New Deal Task Force created a plan that would direct focus to establish 100% renewable sources by 2030 through a tax on carbon fuels, tuition-free college, universal healthcare and guaranteed jobs for all. The proposal was brought into political campaigns by Green Party members, Howie Hawkins and Jill Stein, and was later adopted by Democratic candidates.
Rep. Ocasio-Cortez laid out her plan for the Green New Deal earlier this month. It was introduced to Congress last year with Massachusetts Sen. Edward J. Markey. Her proposed legislation includes goals “for some drastic measures to cut carbon emissions across the economy, from electricity generation to transportation to agriculture,” according to NPR. She plans to meet these goals while recognizing how specific communities, such as disabled, poor and people of color, may be heavily affected by extensive changes to the economy. Her goal also incorporates the early Green New Deal’s motivation to create living-wage jobs for all.
As of 2019, the Green New Deal has received more Congress support with 95 House co-sponsors and 14 Senate co-sponsors.
After the Sunrise Movement’s actions in the demonstration outside of Pelosi’s office, conversations about the Green New Deal entered mainstream media.
On the Sunrise Movement’s website, they share a detailed presidential scorecard that ranks Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders on their current plan for the Green New Deal. Overall, Sanders was given the highest score and received an endorsement from the organization.
“Sunrise is doing a lot with the Bernie campaign,” Marianacci said. “They’ve endorsed Bernie and … there was a thing you can vote if you thought [Sunrise] should endorse a candidate, and if so, whom? So it’s a democratic process internally … the overwhelming support was for Bernie.”
The student organizers for the Sunrise hub at Mills began their efforts last semester by participating in climate strikes and sharing information with other students. In addition to the Global Climate Strike in September 2019, they attended and canvassed for the National Climate Strike in December. Through Sunrise, they attended strike circles where young people are trained on how to organize and recruit other members and to adequately spread their message.
The Sunrise hub at Mills has also hosted a Climate Anxiety Circle, where people are encouraged to share their fears about climate change in an understanding space.
The organizers have on-going plans for taking action on-campus. They are in discussion with Joanne Wong, the Sustainability Coordinator at Mills, to find out what the college invests in fossil fuels. They have also discussed partnering with Active Students Against Prisons and Policing (ASAPP) to analyze the overlap of the climate crisis and the prison system.
To get involved with the Sunrise hub at Mills, students can attend meetings every 2nd and 4th Monday of the month at 7:15 p.m. in the Cyclone Hub. The first meeting is on February 24th. Students can also get connected through the club’s instagram @sunrise_millscollege.
“It’s such an important issue, and so for me, if I am not doing anything about it, it feels more scary,” Mariannaci said. “If I feel like I’m doing something and working with other people who feel similarly about these things, [that] gives me a lot of hope.”