At the end of the Diaspora Coalition’s four day sit-in in Westlands, Sarah Lawrence students walked out of class to protest inaction against climate change. The walk-out, organized by the Sunrise Movement, occurred at schools across the world.
“The energy was really awesome,” said hub coordinator Quinn Burke, ‘21, which she added was partially due to the discussions about climate justice among students during the sit-in. “It brought tons of new people to the walk-out who got psyched and knew how to be loud.”
The walk-out started with a rally in front of Westlands, where students chanted, sang songs, and held signs with slogans like “There is no Planet B!” and “Green Deal Now!” Speaking to the crowd, Burke stressed the importance of intersectionality in the climate fight.
“Climate justice is racial justice is economic justice is social justice,” she said. “It’s about making an Earth that is just.”
Following the students’ speeches, the group called all nine of Senator Chuck Schumer’s listed offices simultaneously, chanting “Green New Deal!” into the receivers. After the rally on campus, they took vans into the city, where they joined the thousands of students from all around New York in the national climate strike.
The Sunrise Movement, a youth-led, grassroots organization, began in 2017 with the initial goal of electing politicians in favor of renewable energy into office. The groups worked with the campaigns of Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Deb Haaland, Rashida Tlaib, and others.
“With Sunrise, it’s the people versus the fossil fuel billionaires who have bought out our government and continue to put their profit and their interests over the survival of humanity,” Burke said.
In December, a group of Sarah Lawrence students traveled to Washington, D.C. with the Sunrise Movement to fight for climate justice. In a crowd of over 1,000 youth activists, they participated in sit-ins at the offices of Reps. Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, and Jim McGovern, demanding support for the Green New Deal, a resolution introduced earlier this year to address climate issues.
For Annemarie Manley, ‘21, this sit-in was a turning point in her involvement with Sunrise and the global movement against climate change.
“Sitting in Nancy Pelosi’s office and being right behind Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was insane,” Manley said. “I’ve been part of the climate movement for a while, but I had never been part of something like that, that got so many people talking.”
As a long-time environmental activist, Manley said she often feels helpless, and has “no faith in the government” to make changes. However, after the December sit-in generated so much buzz, she became more hopeful.
“It was so powerful to realize afterwards that everyone was actually talking about this thing,” she said, “even politicians.”
Sam Kurzydlo, ‘21, left the sit-in with similar feelings of agency and triumph.
“The fact that McGovern not only came out to talk to us, but announced his support for the select committee for the Green New Deal later that day, showed me how powerful young people can be in shaping the world,” they said. “In a political climate where it’s so easy to be cynical and distrustful, the fact that Sunrise has been able to accomplish so much while leading with positivity and warmth is just incredible to me.”
SLC Sunrise held its first official meeting in mid-February, which attracted around 20 people, according to Burke. Manley said the process of creating a Sunrise hub at Sarah Lawrence was rather informal, with information mostly being spread by word-of-mouth. She and Burke, along with others, are working closely with the NYC chapter of Sunrise.
“It’s become a much bigger group than I expected it to be,” Manley said. “People stepped up and continue to step up.”
Kurzydlo joined SLC Sunrise at the end of last semester, and currently works as part of the group’s graphic design team. Kurzydlo believes that politicians are not tackling the issue of climate change with enough urgency, and was impressed by the organization’s pragmatism and persistence.
“I participate in Sunrise protests because my sister is ten, and in ten years, I don’t want my sister to have to do the same thing,” Kurzydlo said. “The Green New Deal is the only piece of legislation I’ve ever seen that acknowledges the time-sensitivity and the economic, social, and political implications of the climate crisis.”
So far, the SLC group participated in three actions with Sunrise: the sit-in in December, a rally at Schumer’s D.C. office, and a following rally outside of Senator Schumer’s house in Brooklyn.
As the group continues to grow on campus, Burke hopes they can form partnerships with other student organizations, as they did with the Diaspora Coalition.
“I hope we can build a network with everyone because climate justice is an issue that affects all people, especially people who are targeted by other systemic issues,” she said. “In the depths of such catastrophe, there’s incredible potential to create something new, and I think Sarah Lawrence could be a leading force on that.”
Amali Gordon-Buxbaum ‘21