Sunrise Movement dawns on Iowa

Charlie Mitchell reports on what the Sunrise Movement is up to in Iowa, one of only three states where the group’s deploying dedicated field teams. -promoted by Laura Belin

Sunrise Movement, the high-profile youth-led climate activist organization, has stationed six full-time organizing staff in Iowa, with the goal of galvanizing young voters to caucus for candidates who are progressive on climate.

Sunrise, which is not making an endorsement in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, is on the ground to cultivate youth political leadership and activism, engage candidates in person on climate issues, and support progressive and climate-oriented events and actions. The locus of the movement’s political change is its flagship policy, the Green New Deal. Candidates who support that policy stand to earn political support from Sunrise. (Here is a comprehensive guide to the 2020 candidates’ climate positions.)

The Green New Deal is a policy resolution introduced in 2018 that outlines a ten-year transition to an emissions-free society by putting Americans to work through unprecedented investment in green infrastructure. The proposal holds two provisions of decarbonization as non-negotiable: it will prioritize the needs of those closest to climate wreckage, and guarantee a job to every American.

Led by the Iowa State Director Seth Woody, the organizers arrived in Des Moines a week ago and are focused statewide. “We know that young people across the Midwest want the Green New Deal,” he said, and since turnout numbers from this February’s caucuses will be made public, they’ll be organizing young voters to “set the tone from day one that youth turnout will be the deciding factor for this year’s election cycle.” After that the state-level group will prioritize 2020 congressional races, all working to “demand that our politicians step up and lead to end the climate crisis and take on growing inequality.”

Sunrise, which is national in scope, is deploying only three dedicated state-level field teams, operating in Iowa, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire. The movement already has roughly 300 separate volunteer-run “hubs” across the country, with eight in Iowa: Des Moines (newly launched in late August), Cedar Rapids, Dubuque, Ames, Decorah, West Branch (at the Scattergood school and farm), Fairfield, and Grinnell.

Sunrise Movement’s presence underscores Iowa’s electoral significance and status as an environmental “frontline community.” The state has experienced severe flooding due to a warmer planet and widespread pollution from industrial agriculture, which is not only a hugely destructive force in poisoning water, polluting air, wiping out biodiversity, and eroding soil, but also a massive contributor to greenhouse gas emissions that has rendered the small independent farmer nearly extinct.

The organization is welcomed with close support from Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, the old guard of climate activism in the state. CCI movement politics organizer Shawn Sebastian describes his organization’s collaboration with Sunrise as “fast and close,” and his group is throwing its full weight behind the Green New Deal. CCI has been a hub for progressive social movements for 43 years, and already collaborated on a handful of events and actions with Sunrise. Sebastian told Bleeding Heartland, “We’re grateful for the urgency, energy, and vision that the Sunrise Movement is bringing to the work we need to do to save the world.”

The groups are supporting youth climate strikes beginning this Friday, September 20 (more info here), as well as the Iowa People’s Presidential Forum on September 21, a town hall featuring candidates Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Julián Castro.

About the Author(s)

Charlie Mitchell