Sunrise Movement Organizes for Major April 22 Climate Strike, Influence Presidential Election Debate

Interview with Saya Ameli Hajebi, a high school senior and a leader of the Sunrise Movement in Boston, conducted by Scott Harris

The youth-led Sunrise Movement, founded in April 2017, first came to the attention of the nation when 200 climate activists occupied incoming Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office one week after the 2018 midterm elections. The group demanded that House Democrats establish a committee to draft a Green New Deal. Recently-elected radical firebrand Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, joined in the group’s sit-in and supported their demands.

Although the House Democratic leadership never formed such a committee, Sunrise went on to organize 200 town hall meetings across the U.S. to promote the Green New Deal. Today, the group continues to pressure politicians to support the Green New Deal’s concept of funding an urgent campaign to reduce green house gas emissions while also addressing the nation’s record level of income inequality.  Most Democratic presidential candidates either support the Green New Deal, or largely agree with its vision, if not its price tag.

Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Saya Ameli Hajebi, a high school senior and leader of the Sunrise Movement in Boston. Hajebi, who had lived in Iran and came to the U.S. eight years ago, discusses the next Climate Strike on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22, and the group’s strategy to impact the debate on climate change in the 2020 presidential election.

SAYA AMELI HAJEBI: These strikes were originally started by Greta Thunberg in Sweden, but they’ve kind of taken over the world because there’s this need and there’s this want for youth activism and climate action. It’s easy for a lot of us to feel like we’re the only ones who care or the only ones who want to do something. But these strikes are bringing people together from all different walks of life and proving that our power together can change things in the government and change things for our communities. My team of strike organizers, started about a month ago after the Dec. 6th strike. And we’ve already begun putting our team structures together. We’ve already begun our meetings. And in fact, our team is made up of high schoolers and college freshmen, all under 20 years old. And at first people really didn’t think that we could do it.

There were a lot of even adult allies telling us that taking on a strike was too ambitious of a project for young people to take on. But on Sept. 20th, we actually gathered over 10,000 people in Boston for the strike. And then Dec. 20th, we shook the Massachusetts state House with the power of our voices. And we’re going to do that on a much, much larger scale on April 22nd this year. And it’s absolutely crucial that we do that because this election in 2020 is going to be perhaps the most important of our lifetimes because we need to make sure that we elect the president who’s going to stand up for the people of America and not the fossil fuel companies of America.

SCOTT HARRIS: Saya, what are the central demands of this strike coming up on April 22nd?

SAYA AMELI HAJEBI: We’re demanding that the government declare a climate emergency. We’re demanding that the Green New Deal gets signed into law and we’re demanding to go fossil fuel-free. Solutions and policies are already proposed. They just need to be turned into law and put in place.

SCOTT HARRIS: Saya, I did want to ask you about some of the work you’re doing around the 2020 presidential election. When we talked earlier, you reminded me that I believe the Sunrise Movement has endorsed Bernie Sanders for president, if I’m not mistaken. And maybe you could talk about why you chose Bernie Sanders as your candidate and the kinds of actions that you plan to engage in from now through the election this November.

SAYA AMELI HAJEBI: Absolutely. You know, a couple of weeks ago, Sunrise actually came out with presidential scorecards. So just like the same way that I’m graded on how well I know calculus, we graded the presidential candidates on how well they were going to address the climate crisis through their policies. And Sen. Sanders and Sen. Warren scored the highest. Then we took a vote across our whole movement, from Sunrisers all across the country. And it was overwhelmingly decided that we wanted to endorse Bernie Sanders and that’s what we have done and that’s what we’re going to put our full force behind — making sure that he is the one who wins the nomination and ultimately the presidency because he has worked very closely with our movement. His policy is the most ambitious thus far in addressing the climate crisis and we can’t have anything less but a Green New Deal and just as ambitious as his policy right now.

For more information, visit the Sunrise Movement at sunrisemovement.org.

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