Members of Sunrise Swarthmore Arrested in D.C. Protesting Climate Change

On Sunday night, members of Swarthmore Sunrise traveled to Washington, D.C. for a national Sunrise training and direct action. Sunrise Movement is a one and a half year old organization of young people fighting for climate justice in their communities and across the world.

 Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaking to protestors. (photo by Sarah Silbiger/The New York Times via Redux)

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaking to protestors. (photo by Sarah Silbiger/The New York Times via Redux)

The three-day trip started with a celebration that announced that, since its inception one and a half years ago, Sunrise has become “the biggest youth climate movement in the country,” according to Sunrise Swarthmore leader September Porras ‘20. Sunrise also held a direct action training in anticipation of the next day’s events. Will Marchese ‘20 confirmed in an interview that the activists knew they were likely going to be arrested at these events. At the training, the activists split into two groups based on who was and who was not comfortable with being arrested. They then held a training walking through their plan for the next day. At the training, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), the youngest woman elected to the House of Representatives and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), the first Palestinian-American woman elected to Congress, made surprise appearances and endorsed Sunrise and their actions.

On Tuesday morning, over two hundred members of Sunrise gathered to protest Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) inaction surrounding climate change. Pelosi, Minority House Leader and likely candidate for next term’s Speaker of the House, has proposed the creation of a committee to study the effects of climate change. As Porras pointed out, “that was okay in 1969 when Exxon found out climate change was being caused by their company. That’s not enough now.” He also mentioned that the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report was released last month stating that in twelve years, climate change will be completely irreversible.

Marchese agreed, adding, “we have collective power as young people to call on our leaders to take moral action.” He continued, “we didn’t protest the Republicans because we know they’re not going to take action on climate change. Our message to Nancy Pelosi is essentially: step up and be the Democrat that we need, or step aside.”

Sunrise proposed a “Green New Deal” to Pelosi. The Green New Deal is a plan named after Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal which, during the Great Depression, bolstered the social safety net and created jobs for thousands of unemployed Americans. Porras explained, “we spent trillions of dollars to create the New Deal in the ‘30s. We spent trillions of dollars to bail out banks in 2008. Now it’s time to spend trillions of dollars to save the planet, create sustainable jobs, and save the people that are suffering.”

 Swarthmore student Jissel Becerra ‘20, outside Pelossi’s office with fellow protestors.

Swarthmore student Jissel Becerra ‘20, outside Pelossi’s office with fellow protestors.

About fifty students who had previously indicated they were comfortable being arrested populated Pelosi’s office, while the rest of the activists lined the hallway in solidarity. Pelosi tweeted about this, writing “Deeply inspired by the young activists & advocates leading the way on confronting climate change…we welcome the presence of these activists, and we strongly urge the Capitol Police to allow them to continue to organize and participate in our democracy.”

Ocasio-Cortez showed up to the direct action as well, giving an impassioned speech in Pelosi’s office. Although many students were excited to see Ocasio-Cortez, some were not as excited by her message. In her speech, Ocasio-Cortez said “this is not about a person, a personality, but this is to show whoever is speaker… we need to tell her that we’ve got her back in showing, in pursuing the most progressive energy agenda that this country has ever seen.” Amal Haddad ‘22 commented “it was kinda a bummer to see Ocasio-Cortez step in and be like ‘No we’re here to support Pelosi!’… it was also weird to see that reflected in the media as ‘Ocasio-Cortez spends first day in office protesting climate change.’” Others believe Ocasio-Cortez arrived to attract media attention to the mass of young voters demanding Democrats take action on climate change.

The activists left letters and mementos in Pelosi’s secretary’s office. Porras’s letter included a picture of her sister at her college graduation. After graduation, Porras’s sister went to work as a teacher at Standing Rock reservation. In 2016, the Dakota Access Pipeline was projected to run through the reservation’s ancient burial grounds and contaminate the clean water supply. “My message to [Pelosi] was that I’m fighting for my sister and the children she wants to have who won’t have a future if you don’t step up and do something,” Porras explained.

After warnings by Capitol Police, around fifty young people were arrested, including six Swarthmore students. As each person was arrested individually, the group of activists sang a song adapted from one that was sung during South African anti-apartheid movement as protestors were taken to jail. Sunrise members were arrested and released within a few hours. Since returning to campus, Sunrise Swarthmore has continued organizing with no plans of stopping soon.

Since the protests, Ocasio-Cortez has introduced the Green New Deal resolution with support from Tlaib, Ro Khanna (D-CA), Deb Haaland (D-NM), and Ilhan Omar (D-MN). The next step, according to Haddad, is to call on our own representative at Swarthmore – Democrat Mary Gay Scanlon. On Monday November 19th, from 10:00 am until noon, Sunrise will be hosting a phone bank in Shane Lounge. Sunrise will be calling on Mary Gay Scanlon to ensure she signs onto the Green New Deal bill in the House.

STORIESOlivia RobbinsComment