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Sunrise Activists Call for Presidential Climate Debate

Aaron Greenberg Aug 14

Over 50 activists gathered in the rain outside the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC’s) New York headquarters on 43rd Street Tuesday to push for a resolution establishing a presidential climate debate when the group convenes later this month.

The rally was organized by the Sunrise Movement, which, after working to transform political discussion through its advocacy for the Green New Deal, is now at the forefront of the push for a climate debate. 

After members of the group led sit-ins and camped outside the Democratic headquarters in Washington, D.C., the DNC agreed to put climate at the front of the first two debates. But after fewer than 15 minutes were actually spent on addressing climate change, activists feel it’s even more necessary to push for an all-climate debate. 

Sunrise’s Xaver Kandler, one of the rally’s organizers, tells The Indy that a climate debate will force candidates to flush out their insufficient plans. “Right now, the candidates are saying the bare minimum: ‘We need to rejoin the Paris Agreement’ or ‘We need a green new deal.’ But they aren’t mentioning the specifics of how to get there. We need to hear that.” 

The speakers, all young people, spent time bashing the line put forward by DNC leadership that silos climate as a singular, isolated issue. Representing diverse backgrounds and coming from Sunrise chapters throughout New York State, they explained how the climate crisis is an all encompassing one. 

“This is such an overarching issue,” said NYU student Illiana Walsingham-Johnson. “It affects housing. It affects environmental and racial justice, affects immigration, agriculture. It affects every aspect of our lives.” 

Scattered between speakers were chants of “Where’s Jay?” — a reference to Jay Jacobs, the leader of the state Democratic party whom organizers claim has been ignoring their calls. Jacobs’ delegates will have a vote on the resolution calling for a climate debate at an August 22 DNC gathering. 

The mere fact that the resolution is up for a vote after it was originally opposed by DNC Chair Tom Perez and party leadership, speaks to the impact of the Sunrise Movement, according to Kandler. “Sunrise is power,” he said. “And Tom Perez realized that the people want to see this. If the DNC does what the people want, they will hold a climate debate.” 

Sunrise also remains focused on legislative priorities — the passage of the Green New Deal at the federal level. Here in New York, it and other environmental groups successfully lobbied for the passage of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) in June. 

Though entirely youth-led the organizers lack no political savviness.

“Political organizing is what will get us passed the climate crisis,” says Kandler. He recalls that in 2009, the Waxman-Markey bill, the first legislative effort aimed at reducing the use of fossil fuels, was pushed exclusively by environmental groups, who, “when push came to shove, didn’t have the political power needed.” 

Kandler contrasted the Waxman-Markey Bill with Sunrise’s efforts in broader coalition building as they helped pass the CLPCA. It “came together from environmental justice organizations, labor organizations, traditional environmental organizations and faith-based organizations. There was a coalition of over 170 different organizations across NY State that gave it the political power to pass,” he said, hoping to apply this coalition-building approach to the Green New Deal. 

“We need to establish coalitions and have a broad political alignment that will then have the power to push climate legislation when the Senate and the president flips blue in 2021,” Kandler added.