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#5 The Cool Kids Of The Climate Movement

So we learned that Sunrise is largely made up of recently graduated college students, many of whom were involved in the Fossil Fuel Divestment Student Network. So how are they building a group large enough to summon all these protestors?

They are using a decentralized strategy with centralized training. This is similar to what Al Gore’s organization Climate Reality has done. As we reviewed in #2 in this series, Ingmar Rentzhog, CEO of We Don’t Have Time, attended training in Denver to become a Global Climate Leader. Approximately 12,000 people have been trained this way and then go home to start their own organizations and companies with what they have learned. They are also armed with a global network of like-minded individuals.

Another climate organization,, uses a similar strategy. They encourage local chapters and provide tools and resources to local groups. This is a common pattern on the left generally which will be detailed more completely in another article.

Last year, Sunrise held a Sunrise Semester. They are planning another for the summer and fall of 2019. College-age applicants come and spend an entire semester supporting the organization’s mission. They become Sunrise Fellows who go back to their schools and communities to organize volunteers. Some take on full-time positions with Sunrise according to the LinkedIn pages of former participants.

They highlight 70 Fellows from the last cycle on their web page and profile some of the participants. They are gearing up for the next iteration of the program, with full-on immersive living in a little commune in Philly or D.C. They ask for donations to cover these expenses. They used to ask donors to “sponsor a Millennial to fight for you” for $800 per month or $4800 for six months. That must not have worked as well as intended, because that pitch is no longer on their site.

They are also advertising for Fellows to help with a “massive” youth intervention for the 2020 election.

In addition to this centralized training, they had a blossoming of chapters after the Pelosi protest. Ninety volunteer hubs were added and they now maintain a presence in 33 states. To manage this influx they are hosting remote training and conference calls.

They also call on partner organizations. Speaker Pelosi and Dianne Feinstein were not the only Democrats protested. Chuck Schumer also had a gaggle outside his New York offices on February 14, 2019. In the video, you hear one of the Sunrise protest leaders say they have members of and the Sierra Club in the group. Multiple groups organizing multiple protests and sharing members. A clever strategy to make grassroots support look bigger than it is.

And boy there are a lot of groups to work with. Sunrise is part of both The Climate Action Network and the People’s Climate Movement.

The Climate Action Network is a membership organization that seeks to streamline strategy and coordination among its members. It lists 175 member organizations that includes, The Sierra Club and Sunrise. That’s a lot of grassroots and a lot of phone calls you can make to beef up your protest. One of their stated strategies in their five-year plan is to beef up cooperation and coordination between members.

People’s Climate Movement is focused on mobilizations. From their website:

The Peoples Climate Movement uses two key strategies to demand bold action on climate change:  mass mobilization and movement alignment. By mobilizing massive numbers of people on the ground; finding alignment with partners under the banner of climate, jobs, and justice; and lifting up our core priorities of economic and racial justice, we build the power required to win real and lasting climate policy on the federal, state, and local level.

You should not be too surprised to find that and the Sierra Club are also members of this group.

It’s pretty evident that each organization pulls a niche group. The Sierra Club brings to mind aging hippies and suburban moms who are very concerned about climate but run the carpool to soccer practice in their Land Rover. looks to be the internationally minded folks like those who may have considered joining the Peace Corp.

And Sunrise was even more explicit. In one interview Evan Weber said Sunrise wanted to be “the cool kids in the climate movement”. And their intersectional appeal is clear from their 2018 Fellows roster.

But they have some learning to do. They organized protests at Mitch McConnell’s offices today. And as usual to this point, some kids got arrested. Good enough reason to grift I suppose. Weber sent out this tweet:

I guess you shouldn’t expect unpaid volunteers to pay their own bail. I mean their job was just to show up and be disruptive. It seems the “cool kids” forgot to put these kinds of emergency expenses in their budget despite pulling in a million dollars in 2018 before the Pelosi protest.

Next up, where do the school children come from? Sunrise is committed to building a youth movement and it doesn’t appear there is a lower age limit. Tomorrow, their youth partner, iMatter.


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