On Friday, August 23, activists from across the Bay Area gathered at the Hilton Union Square hotel in San Francisco to advocate for a Democratic debate solely about climate change. The summer meeting for The Democratic National Committee meeting took place in said building, and activists filled the hallways and meeting space.
They insisted that a climate change-focused debate was essential for this year’s election process. Refusing to leave, demonstrators held signs and chanted in hopes of convincing the 2020 Democratic candidates that climate change is an extremely important issue, and one that should be higher on the radars of presidential candidates.
As the primary organizer of the protest, the Sunrise Movement is looking for ways to promote climate change awareness. The Sunrise Movement is centered around supporting and advocating for the Green New Deal and other ways to help prevent climate change. The Green New Deal is a plan proposed to the government that is a new approach aimed at stopping climate change.
Many members of the Sunrise Movement are young people fighting for their future. One of these members is Sam Saxe-Taller, a junior at Berkeley High School (BHS). Saxe-Taller has been involved in many of the local organizing efforts of the Sunrise Movement. He has attended various protests to advocate for climate change awareness. Saxe-Taller said that the protest “was an action really directed toward members of the Democratic National Committee, urging them to take the side of young people, and really all people,” he said. Saxe-Taller explained how the protest provided “a chance to hear what the Democratic candidates for president are thinking about related to our collective future as a species.” Allowing future representatives to speak on the climate crisis is an important goal for the Sunrise Movement.
In the end, the activists ended up losing their fight as it was decided that there would be no debate with a climate change focus. Although all candidates agreed that climate change was a huge issue, they also had to take into account that they were already talking about it in other debates across the board and that there were also many other issues worthy of discussion.
Although there will not be a debate exclusively about climate change, this protest opened pathways for candidates, and the rest of the world, to talk about climate change and how to fix it.
Isaac Silk, a press representative from the Sunrise Movement said that “by consistently turning out young and future climate voters to engage with our party leaders and presidential candidates, we force them to use their influence to bring climate change into the national conversation.” He explained how events like the protest in San Francisco are important not only because they bring awareness to climate change, but also because they show the candidates what their potential supporters really believe in.
With the growing danger of this environmental phenomenon, activists from organizations like the Sunrise Movement continue to fight for the Earth’s future, despite their recent losses. All over the world, people are organizing a worldwide climate strike on September 20. Saxe-Taller mentioned this strike as a very important upcoming event for student activism. He noted that a big part of the success of the Sunrise Movement has been due to the student participation. “Having young people [help fight climate change] has been crucial,” he said. As a committed activist, Saxe-Taller also stressed that it was important for students to take this climate crisis seriously, making a point that as young people, BHS students will be affected by climate change. Silk agreed with Saxe-Taller when talking about the role of youth in this movement for justice, saying, “The global youth climate movement is going to create a race to the top so that every politician—and every person—at every level of society recognizes their own power to create social change.”
“[The protest] was an action really directed toward members of the Democratic National Committee, urging them to take the side of young people, and really all people.”
BHS junior, Sunrise Movement organizer
BHS Physics teacher Victoria Augustine understands the seriousness of climate change. She says, “I think climate change is a huge issue; I mean it’s such a huge issue that the businesses are planning for it,” she said. She also spoke about the importance of taking public action on issues that you believe in. Having worked as a page in the House of Representatives, Augustine saw that “every piece of mail that came through, the representatives really felt like they had to respond.”
Augustine stressed that showing your representatives that you care and are passionate about something does matter, even if the exact intended goal isn’t met. In this case, that message to the candidates was in the form of a protest.
Students and teachers all over the world, including at BHS, are continuing to think of new ways to help the environment. Christopher Hondros, a Chemistry teacher at BHS, believes that students can do many things to improve the current state of the earth: “Start small and do the little things, whether that’s recycling, reducing the amount of clutter that we own, or even starting a garden and planting a tree,” he says.
Attending and partaking in events like the climate debate protest is an easy and effective way for students and young people to get involved in the battle against climate change. As Saxe-Taller said, “The only point at which there are enough people fighting for climate justice is when every single person is fighting for climate justice.”