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Sunrise Movement is taking grassroots action on climate change at UNC and beyond

Members of the Chapel Hill & Carrboro Sunrise Movement hub stand in the Peace and Justice Plaza in Chapel Hill on Friday, Dec. 6, 2019 to demand that the Chapel Hill Town Council supports a national Green New Deal and large-scale climate action. Photo by UNC sophomore Ella Carter, one of the hub coordinators.

UNC sophomore Claire Bradley said young people have been on the front lines of social justice and grassroots movements for generations. 

She and other members of the Chapel Hill & Carrboro Sunrise Movement hub are advocating for climate action at the University and in the community this year.

Bradley encountered the Sunrise Movement during her first year at UNC. She felt pulled to join because it gave her a way to contribute to nationwide political change by helping to spark local action, she said. 

The Chapel Hill & Carrboro Sunrise Movement hub has created a platform for Bradley and many others in the community to fight against climate change since Jan. 2019. 

This Sunrise Movement hub — and others across North Carolina and the nation — plan for 2020 to be a year of change all the way up to the White House by creating a coalition to advocate for the Green New Deal, said Ashley McDermott, the regional organizer of the Sunrise Movement for North Carolina and Kentucky. 

“We are expanding this grassroots movement from the bottom-up, one person at a time,” Bradley said.

At UNC and on college campuses across the nation, Sunrise is collecting pledges to vote for Bernie Sanders and working to expand youth involvement in political climate strikes.

The hub is focusing on publicizing the candidates who support the Green New Deal for the North Carolina Primary Election on March 3.

McDermott said 2020 is a critical year for Sunrise to make a difference because of the upcoming elections. McDermott is also a part of the national team of Sunrise organizers.

“We are on a timeline — we have 10 years to radically transform our economy, our government and how we live our lives to combat the climate crisis,” she said.

She said the goal is to make the Green New Deal the number one priority in terms of politics, pushing for its enactment in North Carolina.

“We are fighting for our future and trying to get a president elected to represent that,” Bradley said.

Advocacy in Carrboro

Ella Carter, a UNC sophomore and one of the hub coordinators, said the members are educating people in the community about the Green New Deal and how to mitigate climate change.

So far this year, they are working on endorsing candidates, phone banking to support Sanders and hosting “launch parties” and training sessions. 

In January, members of the hub went to the Carrboro Town Council to deliver speeches about the importance of making Carrboro carbon neutral by 2030, advocating that the Town should focus more of the budget on climate change mitigation.

“We are making it evident that this is a priority to the people of the community,” Carter said. “This is a crisis and it should be treated as such.”

Lydia Lavelle, the mayor of Carrboro, said the Town has adopted two extensive climate change plans over the last six years. Town efforts include renovating buildings to be more energy efficient, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, removing invasive species, leading recycling drives and the “Green Neighborhoods Initiative” to encourage grassroots lifestyle changes in neighborhoods.

Lavelle said the Town’s current goal is a 50 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2025, and the Environmental Advisory Board is examining the idea of increasing it to 80 percent.

Becoming completely carbon neutral by 2030 is too cost prohibitive for the Town right now, Lavelle said. But she said there are ways for the community to help address climate change while the Town budgets for these longer term expenses — walking, biking, turning off what is plugged in to the wall, eating less meat and more.

“We’re Carrboro — we love to hear input from residents and we share the values of this youth coalition,” Lavelle said. “And we have been at the forefront of plans to address climate change.”

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Advocacy at UNC

Carter said the hub has also been a part of the ongoing weekly climate strike on Fridays at the steps of South Building, directed toward the Three Zeros program. 

Members of the hub have been involved with the strike to speak out about the University’s reliance on coal, and “unfulfilled promises to commit to a formal sustainability plan in terms of fossil fuel divestment,” Carter said.

According to the University, a comprehensive plan for sustainability efforts —  including a timeline and action plans for achieving net zero goals in a realistic way — will be completed and shared with the campus community this semester. 

Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz stated this in a letter to the Daily Tar Heel.

“The University remains committed to fulfilling our sustainability goals, which include reducing our reliance on fossil fuels,” the University said in an email. “Since 2007, Carolina has reduced its coal use by 30 percent.”

In the meantime, Carter said the hub is trying to help empower UNC students and people in the community to use their voices to be heard.

Advocacy for Earth Day across the nation

Bradley said Sunrise is also trying to capture attention from politicians in order to redefine Earth Day. The Movement will be organizing large strikes around the 50th Earth Day on April 22. 

“We can’t let businesses get away with twisting Earth Day to be about marketing techniques when they aren’t making strides toward climate crisis mitigation,” she said.

The hub plans to collaborate with other student groups on campus to organize these strikes. And across the nation, Sunrise will be leading “strike circles” to train young people about how to effectively lead strikes.

McDermott said the hubs have naturally grown from college campuses such as UNC due to the high concentration of youth advocates. 

But she is hoping that Sunrise will expand to every corner of local communities, of North Carolina and of the nation. 

The youth voice is powerful and inspires elders in communities, she said, but Sunrise needs political power and votes all the way up to the electoral system in order to win. 

“The Green New Deal is now commonly talked about because of the youth vote,” McDermott said. “And we are planning to expand that to form an intergenerational coalition in order to win in November.”