Sunrise Movement in Chattanooga Aims to Stop Climate Change

Photo by Elizabeth O'Guin

By Jillian Waterhouse, Staff Writer—

The Sunrise Movement, a national push among young people aiming to stop climate change, is quickly gaining popularity across the country and now has a hub in Chattanooga. 

According to their website, members of the Sunrise Movement are individuals seeking to build an army of young people to make climate change an urgent priority across America. They are taking specific actions such as ending corporate interest in politics and electing progressive leaders to public office. With a Sunrise hub recently open in Chattanooga, locals are taking action on the climate crisis. 

Owen Reed, a sophomore UTC student and coordinator of the Chattanooga hub, expressed what sparked his interest in joining the Sunrise Movement.

 “I was a volunteer for Bernie Sanders during this past democratic primary,” Reed said “After he dropped out of the race, I started looking for organizations I could get involved in. Sunrise was one of the groups that endorsed the Sanders campaign, and that’s how I had first heard about it.” 

An interest in seeking out grassroots political movements that aim to fight issues such as climate change and government corruption is common among Sunrise members. Junior Grace Wilson shared what pushed her to join.

 “Over the summer I’d decided that I wanted to play a more active role in all of the activism taking place in our world right now,” Wilson said.

Wilson took action into her own hands, telling how she spent the summer attending local Black Lives Matter marches and spreading educational materials on national social issues. 

“This is just another way that I can work towards that goal of being on the better part of history,” Wilson said.

Climate change has long been considered a partisan issue, prompting the Sunrise Movement to argue for its recognition as an issue that affects everyone, regardless of political ideology.

 Jaxen Alexander Goodwin, recruitment lead of the Chattanooga hub, underlined why Tennesseeans, and Chattanoogans in particular, should begin taking direct action on the climate crisis through grassroots movements. 

“Most people write off the South and red states as lost causes,” Goodwin said. “In reality it’s states like ours that suffer the most from the elite taking advantage of us. Whether it’s defunding education or destroying our environment, we’ll get the worst of it.” 

Following the national trend of a summer filled with heightened political awareness and protest, Chattanooga has been primed as an ideal location for the Sunrise Movement to gain traction. Protests that took place in the city during the summer taught locals how to effectively organize their communities and create change through grassroots movements. 

Already referring to their home as the Scenic City, many Chattanoogans have vested interests in preserving the outdoors and implementing more green programs into their communities. Local programs aimed at achieving climate justice typically come with the goal of social justice as well, such as the Healing Gardens, a program developed over the summer with the goal of bringing Chattanoogans together while improving the environment around them.  

“Chattanooga is filled with lots of people that would like to keep the city, the river, and the mountains just as beautiful as they are now,” Reed said. “There are lots of people here that see the climate crisis for what it is, and understand that we need to take immediate action to avoid the worst effects.”

While the Sunrise Movement develops locally, the importance of its ties to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga should not be understated. Though the local Sunrise hub is not an official organization of the university, a large number of its current members are students and the movement is heavily reliant on garnering the interest of young people to keep progressing. 

“UTC is absolutely vital to the success of sunrise. Our ability to grow our numbers is dependent on the young passionate people in our city and UTC is our direct source,” Goodwin said.

Reed touched on why UTC students should consider joining the Sunrise Movement, emphasizing the impending challenges of the climate crisis that young people will soon be responsible for handling. 

“People should want to join Sunrise because our planet is dying, and it’s dying very quickly,” he said. “People my age are the ones who are going to experience the absolute disaster of unchecked climate change, and who even knows what would be left to leave the generations after us.” 

Wilson further prompted students to consider joining the movement, as she defined the unique mentalities offered by youth. 

“As college students, we are in an odd limbo between adolescence and being thrust into the real adult world,” Wilson said. “I think that Sunrise has a place here because it strives to make that world a better place. Joining things like this gives you hope.” 

Though constantly fighting for an end to climate change, the Chattanooga Sunrise hub is currently focusing on elections, specifically by advocating for candidates who endorse a Green New Deal, such as Marquita Bradshaw. As Reed simplified the plan, a Green New Deal would seek to preserve a livable environment and create millions of good paying jobs in the process. Goodwin reaffirmed the importance of a Green New Deal and expanded on further political issues the hub is concerned with, such as delaying the GOP from filling the recently opened Supreme Court seat before the 2020 presidential election.

Currently, the Chattanooga Sunrise Movement is phone banking for Marquita Bradshaw during weeknights and holding hub meetings at 8:00 pm on Wednesday evenings. 

Events and general meetings are always open to interested students, and more information can be found on the hub’s directory.

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