The Sunrise Movement is scaling up operations in Iowa and New Hampshire to mobilize young people demanding climate action to the polls in the early presidential primary states, organizers told BuzzFeed News.
“Our top priority is to build an army of young people to elect a candidate in the caucuses who will be a champion of the Green New Deal,” Kaleb Van Fosson, a Sunrise organizer based in Iowa, told BuzzFeed News.
Van Fossen is one of eight people working full time, along with 45 volunteers, on the Iowa campaign. Since early September, 1,425 people in Iowa have signed cards pledging to vote for candidates backing a Green New Deal, a 10-year plan to transition the US off fossil fuels in order to cut the nation’s climate pollution, create jobs, and tackle economic inequality. About 150 people have also registered to vote through the campaign, according to Sunrise. The group's end goal is to get 15,000 students to pledge to caucus, and to register 1,200 students to vote before the Feb. 3 caucus.
In New Hampshire, the climate group has joined forces with the New Hampshire Youth Movement, which is dedicated to pushing the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, and free college. It has 13 full-time staffers and 122 volunteers combined. Unlike in Iowa, a third party cannot register people to vote in the state. So the campaign has instead gathered 2,789 pledges to vote. Its target is to get 14,000 people to pledge to vote before the Feb. 11 primary.
Organizers are canvassing, setting up tables, and visiting classes at high schools and colleges across both states. In Iowa, for example, the campaign has already toured Iowa State University, the University of Iowa, Grinnell College, Drake University, Des Moines Area Community College, and Simpson College. And it is planning to visit the University of Northern Iowa, Loras College, and more.
“I think this is the number one issue young people care about,” Van Fosson said about climate change. “For many of them, this is their first election where they have an opportunity to get involved and make a change.”
Sunrise activists and their supporters plan to increasingly press presidential candidates on their climate plans and to hold the candidates accountable for their promises.
When a candidate “supports the vision of the Green New Deal but doesn't think it’s realistic — we definitely want to press on that,” Quincy Abramson, a New Hampshire Youth Movement organizer, told BuzzFeed News. “There’s a lot of confusion.”
It’s not just about getting people out to vote, according to Sunrise spokesperson Stephen O'Hanlon, it’s about building long-term engagement on climate change. This is mirrored in the group's new slogan: “Organize, vote, strike.”
Sunrise Movement supported the global climate strikes on Sept. 20 and 27, which drew millions to the streets worldwide, O’Hanlon said. Another big strike is planned for next year’s Earth Day, and Sunrise organizers in Iowa and New Hampshire are already drumming up local support.