Photo Essay

Sunrise Movement Turns Up the Heat on Congress

On Monday, hundreds of young climate activists from the Sunshine Movement converged on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Washington, D.C. office to demand that he and other legislators get behind the Green New Deal resolution. The Capitol Police arrested 42 people. (All photos by Michael Nigro.)
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Sunrise Movement Turns Up the Heat on Congress

Climate activists from the Sunshine Movement converge on Sen.Mitch McConnell’s Washington, D.C., office on Monday to demand that he and other senators get behind the Green New Deal Resolution. (Michael Nigro)

Hundreds of protesters converged Monday at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office in Washington, D.C., to demand support for the Green New Deal resolution. McConnell never appeared, and 42 people were arrested.

The protest was organized by the Sunrise Movement, a youth-oriented environmental group that formed in late 2017. The movement’s profile was boosted last month when two Democrats, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, proposed the New Green Deal legislation to Congress.

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Around 10 a.m. Monday, scores of protesters lined the hallways of the Russell Senate Office Building and filtered into McConnell’s office, demanding that he meet with his constituents. When McConnell failed to show up, the activists launched a series of speeches and enumerated their demands—both inside and outside his office.

The occupation of McConnell’s office capped a week of actions by the Sunrise Movement’s Kentucky chapter. Members had organized other protests at McConnell’s district office but were blocked multiple times from speaking to him. Some high school students from the group even slept in front of his office in Kentucky—on a school night—but were never given a chance to talk to him.

One of McConnell’s critics is Destine Grigsby, a 17-year-old high school student from Louisville. “We came [to D.C.] to demand that he look us in the eyes and admit to us that the $1.9 million he gets from fossil fuel CEOs are more important than our future,” she said Monday in an interview with Truthdig.

Sporting a shirt that read “12 years,” Grisgby said, “We can no longer wait. According to the U.N. Global Climate Report, we have 12 years to remake our economy before we will no longer have a livable future.”

Jenny, another high school student from Louisville, said, “This is our future! Ours! We only have 12 years to clean up, and then that is irreversible. Ecological devastation.”

The concept behind the Green New Deal resolution, and what the Sunrise Movement is pushing, consists of economic stimulus programs that would reduce income inequality while simultaneously fighting climate change. The goal is to get the nation to transition to a zero-carbon economy.

But members of Sunrise, who are aligned with the Democratic Party’s progressive wing, are not just battling climate deniers and fossil-fuel companies with their support of the resolution. They are taking on establishment Democrats, too, whose approach to tackling climate change is, broadly speaking, tantamount to incrementalism.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calls the Green New Deal a “green dream.” Some neoliberal legislators are still pushing Obama-era “all-of-the-above” energy strategies. Even some unions—namely the pro-fossil fuel Laborers’ International Union of North America—have called the Green New Deal “unrealistic.”

Monday’s Sunrise demonstration follows last weekend’s viral video altercation in which California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein told young Green New Deal activists in her office that “I’ve been doing this for 30 years. I know what I’m doing.” Bill McKibben, founder of, said of that video that “Feinstein was, in fact, demonstrating why climate change exemplifies an issue on which older people should listen to the young. Because—to put it bluntly—older generations will be dead before the worst of it hits.”

According to its website, much like the March for Our Lives movement that organized after the 2018 schoool shootings in Parkland, Fla., the Sunrise Movement is attempting to build an army of young people to make climate change an urgent priority across America and hold elected officials accountable.

Varshini Prakash, co-founder and executive director of the Sunrise Movement, attended the McConnell office action and told Truthdig, “We are trying to build the most powerful youth political force in the history of America.”

“We’re not going away,” Grigsby added. “The Green New Deal needs to happen in this country. Now. Not later.”

The group’s actions and movement-building are fueled not only by trust in scientific data but also by what its members see playing out in their communities. On Monday—the day of their action in Washington, D.C.—Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin declared a statewide emergency due to heavy rainfall and flooding. The Environmental Protection Agency has issued various reports on how climate change will increase flooding and droughts, even in inland states like Kentucky.

On March 15, the Sunrise Movement is planning a Nationwide High School Walkout in support of the Green New Deal.

“Our state governments need to see that [youths] support the Green New Deal,” Grigsby said. “High-schoolers are willing to disrupt their education because it is necessary. Why go to school if I can’t live? Why go to school if I can’t have a healthy life?

Michael Nigro
Michael Nigro is a leading photojournalist for Truthdig, known for his reporting from deep within major events. He was “on the ground” for the website at the infamous protest in Charlottesville, Va., when…
Michael Nigro

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