Fight for change: Student-led movement addresses climate issues and inequality

Jessica Williams, a junior from Florence, has started a sunshine movement on campus. “We hope to educate and mobilize students to be a part of the change, to vote and to be prepared when the crisis hits home,” Williams said. She co-organized a climate strike in Centennial Mall on Sept. 26. 

Julie Sisler

Balancing classes, jobs, homework and a social life can be difficult enough for students. Add in a mission to spark change which could save the world, and you get the daily agenda for members of Sunrise Movement Bowling Green.

“The Sunrise Movement is a nation-wide, youth-led movement to get the Green New Deal enacted as policy and support and canvass for politicians that support the deal,” Sunrise Movement Bowling Green project manager Jessica Williams, a Florence junior, said.

Williams described the Green New Deal as a set of guidelines which seeks to combat both global climate change and socioeconomic inequality by creating jobs in the green energy sector and addressing social justice issues.

The Sunrise Movement has hubs all over the country, using a grassroots approach to educate and empower.

Williams said Sunrise Movement Bowling Green seeks to make its mission a community affair, appealing to more than just WKU students. This, Williams said, is because the issues at hand impact more than just students.

“Everyone’s realizing how big of an issue this is,” Williams said. “It’s not just people that study science. Climate change is going to affect everyone, not just the people that study the sciences.”

Williams said she sees strength in including community members because it capitalizes on one of the core meanings of the movement.

“It’s not just an environmental movement,” Williams said. “It’s a people’s movement. What we’re doing is for all of humanity.”

Even with members of the community, a local grassroots campaign is a huge undertaking. A core team of seven people and a larger team of almost 40 help organize events, create signs and posters, canvass and strategize new ways to get the word out.

The group organized a climate strike in Centennial Mall earlier this semester on Sept. 26. It is currently in the process of planning two different events for WKU students and Bowling Green community members.

This Friday, Dec. 6, the group will host a climate strike beginning at noon in front of Cherry Hall. Together, the group will march to the Warren County Justice Center for a rally.

Movement member Ryan Lamb, a graduate student from Mayfield, said the aim of the event is to urge legislators to support the Green New Deal. The movement already has the support of some state legislators, as Rep. Charles Booker will be speaking at the rally in support of the movement and the Green New Deal.

Lamb explained planning these events, especially when they’re expecting over 100 attendees, requires time, energy and a lot of logistical planning. The group must plan every aspect of the event.

“We’re just a handful of students trying to plan an event that could have over 200 people there,” Lamb said. “We’re learning to look at every possible detail.”

Planning is also underway for the group’s Earth Day climate strike, which will take place on April 22.

With so much work to be done, movement members find themselves taking on the equivalent of a part-time job.

Louisville senior Ryan St. Clair said he spends about 25 hours a week on the movement all while keeping up with classes and a job. He admitted it can be difficult to balance it all, but he remains determined to make it work.

“When the opportunity to try to build a movement for change came, I had to act and make it a priority,” St. Clair said. “Because the only other option was to give up.”

St. Clair explained although there is already much damage that has been done, which is evident in the species which have already gone extinct and the people who have died because of climate change’s wide-reaching effects, there is still hope. The people are the hope.

“I have to try,” St. Clair said. “And a people’s movement for a livable future that can win political power and transform both our government and culture is our only hope.”

Williams voiced a similar sentiment, saying she knew she had to try to do something.

“I’ve wanted to do something for a while but never took the leap of faith to try organizing anything,” Williams said. “I’ve always cared deeply about people, but I was so passive in my actions.”

Williams said seeing other activism around the world inspired her to become more active herself. For her and the other members of the movement, any potential change presents an important question.

“If it’s not me, then who?” Williams said. “If not now, then when?”

For more information about Sunrise Movement Bowling Green, the upcoming climate strikes or how you can get involved, follow @sunrisemvmtbgky on Instagram or email [email protected].

Features reporter Julie Sisler can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Julie on social media at @julie_sisler.