The Sunrise Movement is sick of waiting.
In November 2018, I was enjoying a post-midterms vacation when I saw the news: Six days after Democrats had taken back the House, a scrappy group of 150 young people staged a sit-in at Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office because they weren’t convinced by her pledge to push forward on climate change legislation.*The hourslong protest might have been a forgotten blip in the news cycle—if progressive star Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hadn’t stopped by. Her cameo set off a chain of events that meant, by the time I returned to DC, there were teenage and twentysomething activists everywhere in black T-shirts emblazoned with a symbol of a rising sun. They called themselves the Sunrise Movement, and they were calling for an ambitious bundle of climate legislation known as the Green New Deal.
At first, I was skeptical that these young people deserved the hype. They tended to slip into a dizzying patois of activism theory—during one phone call, I heard one Sunrise member cheerfully cite Martin Luther King Jr., Ella Baker, and civil rights academic Charles Payne in one breath. But over the course of the past year, I’ve noticed a sea change in the climate movement. The older white men who still lead the national environmental groups have started to give way to a much younger, more diverse, more in-your-face set of activists with their own set of leaders, like the teenage Swedish climate crusader Greta Thunberg.