Thoughtful. Fearless. Determined. The Sunrise Movement, a national youth-led movement to fight climate change, is the very embodiment of the modern, civically-engaged youth advocate organization.
Principle-driven and action-oriented, Sunrise enables youth advocates who are passionate about combating climate change and fighting for justice to start or join ‘hubs’ based in various cities and schools around the country. Although Sunrise grants all hubs the autonomy to lead their own events, often called ‘actions,’ the organization provides 12 principles all members must uphold. Examples of principles include maintaining nonviolence, honoring one another’s stories, uniting with other movements for change and fighting for the liberation of all people.
For Louisa Keyani, the president of Sunrise Movement at AU, most of her favorite memories growing up came from being outside in nature, like her family trips to Lake Tahoe, on the border of California and Nevada. When she was little, Keyani learned narratives that aim to shift corporate responsibility onto individual actions, such as “the polar bears are dying, so use a reusable straw,” and “reduce, reuse and recycle.”
When Keyani realized that some of the country’s largest companies knew for decades about the damaging effects of their operations on the environment, she felt “extremely hopeless.”
Keyani first heard about Sunrise in 2018, when the organization held a sit-in protest, also joined by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), at the office of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Keyani saw a fellow AU student’s Instagram Story in February 2019 about an upcoming Sunrise D.C. hub event and decided to go by herself to the pre-event training. Keyani said she immediately felt welcomed and finally surrounded by like-minded people.
Keyani and her friend Suzy Pranger decided to start a Sunrise hub at AU. Since launching in fall 2020, the co-presidents set their sights on bringing their goals as a movement to the smaller AU community while also supporting the broader D.C. hub.
In the beginning of spring 2020, the AU hub began preparing with the Office of Sustainability, Kogod Sustainability Club, Engineers for a Sustainable World, Tree Huggers of AU, Outdoors Club and the Zero Waste Club for an Earth Day event. Despite this and other plans being thwarted due to the pandemic, the Sunrise AU Hub continues to plan events and grow.
The D.C. hub, George Washington University hub and AU hub organized an action in early October 2020 when the wildfires were happening in California. Sunrise members went to the D.C. office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) at 5:30 a.m. with megaphones and pots and pans, yelling outside for an hour. They demanded she take action to stop the California wildfires and support the Green New Deal, legislation sponsored by Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) to address climate change and create jobs in clean energy.
This is part of a campaign started by the national organization, and in many ways, is the most commonly associated image of The Sunrise Movement.
“The [We Are] Wide Awake campaign draws inspiration from abolitionists, who used it as a way to signify to politicians and leaders that if I can’t sleep because you’re not doing your job, you can’t either,” Keyani said.
While the Sunrise Movement has a national agenda to support and promote the Green New Deal, the organization places emphasis on anyone and everyone organizing actions based on their interests and priorities. One of the guiding principles says that any group of three people or more can take action in the name of Sunrise.
“There are different teams of volunteers, people who specialize in art, people who specialize in action planning, people who specialize in lobbying and the political side of things, and if you ever need support in an area, you can reach out to someone,” Keyani said.” There’s a lot of autonomy, but there’s also always support from people with more resources and more experiences.”
Members within the AU Sunrise hub can organize their own actions, giving them their own sense of autonomy, Keyani said.
“The lack of hierarchy and horizontal leadership in combination with empowering people individually to use their voices allows people who don’t necessarily see themselves as leaders to become leaders,” Keyani said.
Keyani said Sunrise has taught her a lot about leadership, especially that it’s okay to fail at things, and you have to if you’re going to learn about anything.
“In high school and in college, you were taught that you have to earn your place to be a leader,” Keyani said. “And, that’s not true at all. It’s really dangerous to perpetuate that message because it discourages people who don’t have as much confidence in themselves from trying to be a leader and from taking those positions.”
At the end of the day, the club works together as a collective to try to make an impact in the fight against climate change.
“How could you not do everything you can to stop it from getting worse if you know how bad it is and why it’s so bad?” Keyani said.