Student Activism Spotlight: Sunrise Movement, Local High Schoolers Make a Difference


Oona Shain

Sunrise High School students rally at a Wide Awake Protest.

Adults often say they are preparing the world for the time, their children inherit it.


But in past years, the roles have been flipped. Children across the globe are demanding change and impacting the world everyday. Students have transformed their community service into activism, effecting change not just in the lives of their peers, but at a regional and even national level. 


Rhinebeck, Redhook and surrounding areas are privileged to have so many politically aware young people. These towns are home to our own local branches of Extinction Rebellion Youth, Students Demand Action and a variety of other social justice related clubs. Recently, a new organization called Sunrise Movement has settled in Redhook. 


Sunrise Movement is an American youth-led political movement coordinated by Sunrise, a 501 political action organization that advocates political action on climate change. The main focus of the movement is to pass the Green New Deal, a proposed series of United States legislation that aims to address climate change and economic inequality. 


Fiona Beer and Grace Hillery, both Redhook seniors, brought Sunrise to Dutchess County and have since got about 15 students to join their hub. Since the summer, Sunrise chapters across the United States have been taking part in “Wide Awake” protests, these nonviolent actions serve as a way to “wake up” politicians, teaching them that young people are wide awake and awaiting new environmental policies. “Wide awake” serves as the chilling metaphor to represent how alarming and serious the climate emergency is.  


I sat down with Fiona to discuss climate justice and her involvement. 


Q: Why is Climate Justice important?


A: While the environmental aspect of climate change is important, we must additionally address this as an ethical and political issue.. It is vital that we recognize the fact that marginalized communities face the worst consequences of climate change while being the least responsible for the crisis. In the United States, low-income communities are more exposed to environmental hazards and pollution and have a harder time recovering from the impacts of climate change. Indigenous groups are impacted due to their income and lack of resources to cope with the crisis. This is just the tip of the iceberg. It is completely unfair and wrong that the groups who are the least responsible for climate change must suffer the most extreme consequences. It is important to address these issues so that marginalized communities aren’t left behind and made invisible in the fight against climate destruction. 


Q: Why is there a need for youth involvement? 


A: Out of every generation, climate change and the decisions of politicians affect us the most. Our parents and grandparents were able to dream about their futures without limits, but whether we want to believe it or not, we have limits. This issue has already been procrastinated long enough and we can’t sit around any longer or else we’ll have to cater our career paths to climate change. This current generation of world leaders has successfully proved to us that the climate emergency isn’t a top priority, so it is now the responsibility of the youth to let them know how serious this is. 


Q: How did you get involved?


A: I’ve been interested in environmental activism my whole life, but I didn’t find out about the Sunrise Movement until the September 2019 youth climate strike in NYC. I saw the NYC Sunrise chapter with their massive “Green New Deal Now” banner and became interested instantly. I followed their accomplishments and kept up with their endorsed politicians before attending their virtual Sunrise School in April. In these Sunrise School sessions, we learned all about the Green New Deal and the importance of climate justice. In late August I got accepted to the Wide Awake Leadership Program run by Sunrise Movement that trained high school students to start their own chapter in their area and to be leaders in the climate movement. I completed this program with another student in my grade, Grace, and ever since then we’ve been hosting weekly Sunrise meetings, planning actions, and pushing politicians toward green policies. 


Q: How has your activism changed?


A: When I first became concerned about the seriousness of climate change, I was mainly concerned about plastic consumption, agriculture, and deforestation. I believed the root of these problems was the consumer, but in the past couple years I’ve learned that average consumers are not at fault for the deteriorating climate. The issue is the 100 companies responsible for 71% of greenhouse gas emissions who design our societal systems so that we have to take part in environmentally unfriendly capitalism. My activism has shifted to acknowledge massive corporations responsible for emissions, and to corrupt politicians who refuse to take action. 


Climate change is too often referred to as a future problem that will affect our grandkids, but the recent record temperatures, forest fires, and hurricanes have proved this to be false. The climate emergency is happening right now and is going to affect everyone. Youth activists are fighting for the right to clean air, water and believe in finding a sustainable future.

Click this link for Sunrise video info on the Green New Deal: 

Green New Deal


If you want to get involved Sunrise Movement RHHS is always welcoming new members, and is open to Rhinebeck students as well.