Tired of politicians dragging their feet on climate policy, youth activists are taking the lead. Gathering at the Walnut Commons on Feb. 5, community members young and old strategized how to take power in the 2020 election cycle as part of the Sunrise movement.

Sunrise is a national, youth-led grassroots movement pressuring politicians to support policies that combat climate change. The attendees assembled to celebrate the arrival of the movement in Santa Cruz. 

“This organization has a lot of tools that actually are quite effective at getting politicians to respond in terms of creating a livable future,” said Sunrise Santa Cruz organizer and UC Santa Cruz third-year Grant Black. “Santa Cruz is a community that emphasizes health, emphasizes the environment and emphasizes activism. […] All it needed was the  framework.”

Sunrise garnered significant national attention with its youth-led demonstration in front of now-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s office on Capitol Hill in November. Sunrise demonstrators, including newly-elected Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, demanded the establishment of a Select Committee for a Green New Deal and greater attention to climate justice from leaders on both sides of the aisle. Following suit, Santa Cruz Sunrise is making its demand for bipartisan cooperation heard.

“We’re not looking just at Republicans, we’re looking at Democrats too,” said Santa Cruz resident and Sunrise Santa Cruz organizer Indy Reid-Shaw. “You can’t just talk about climate change without actually acting on it. That’s what it seems like Pelosi is doing.”

After the demonstration, Pelosi formed the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. This committee has neither the power to issue subpoenas, nor draft legislation. At present, it isn’t clear what exactly the committee will  do.

The Green New Deal (GND), a vast proposal to restructure the U.S. economy to run on 100 percent renewable energy within 12 years, is a cornerstone of the Sunrise movement. The foundations of the GND include nationwide job-training programs in the green energy sector and a complete overhaul of the nation’s manufacturing, agriculture and  transportation.

The Santa Cruz chapter is organizing for a demonstration in front of the Salinas office of Congressman Jimmy Panetta to pressure Panetta to commit to support the Green New Deal. Though he supports Speaker Pelosi’s newly-formed Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, he did not support a draft resolution by Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez to establish a select committee that would have subpoena and legislating powers.

The launch of the Santa Cruz chapter of Sunrise, which included a small potluck, coincided with a nationwide livestream from the movement’s leadership detailing plans to take power in the 2020 election. Sunrise’s strategies include a vocal and consistent presence during the 2020 primary debates and endorsing only candidates who have pledged to refuse money from the fossil fuel  industry.

Attendees of the gathering included UCSC students and prominent community members like City Council member Chris Krohn and UCSC lecturer Daniel Sheehan, a notable attorney who litigated such cases as the Pentagon Papers and Watergate. After the livestream, attendees broke off into discussion groups to brainstorm possible actions and solutions.

“They were talking about high school walkouts […] and also tabling on campus,” said UCSC student Victoria Tichy. “The Green New Deal isn’t on the minds of a lot of UCSC students […] a lot of the discussions were based around how to support this movement, how to gain political momentum and inspire  activism.”

Sunrise Santa Cruz plans to begin weekly meetings as soon as possible. It also hopes to establish alliances with other local movements like Santa Cruz Climate Action Network to further mutual goals.

“It’s all about people power, which is what we’re doing right now,” said Sunrise Santa Cruz organizer Indy Reid-Shaw. “Eighty-one percent of people believe that the Green New Deal should happen. Which is incredible, it has so much support. It just takes talking about climate change with your neighbors and community  members.”

Illustration by Darin Connolly.