As the race for the presidency continues, there has been an evident increase in agitation by various groups and organizations across the country. In early January, The Sunrise Movement, one of the leading organizations against the current climate crisis, voiced its endorsement for U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders. Known as the “climate justice candidate,” Sanders has repeatedly described climate change as a national security threat not just for the United States but for the whole world. The Sunrise Movement has played a large role in educating the public on Sanders’ passion and plan for climate justice. We see the Movement’s name in headlines and on the campaign trail, but who and what is really behind Sunrise’s origin? After all, each movement needs a leader to light the pathway.
Enter Varshini Prakash, the co-founder and executive director of The Sunrise Movement. Growing up, Prakash described herself as apolitical–something many young people today might identify with. With time-consuming activities such as studying and extracurriculars, she never felt that she had the time to get involved or learn about politics. Much of this changed when she arrived at college, the classic epicenter of many social movements.
Prakash was initially exposed to the idea of climate change when she was approximately eleven years old. As the daughter of two South Indian immigrant parents, she had seen the destruction caused by natural disasters such as tsunamis and floods in India. The impact of climate change slowly became a concern that would keep her up night after night. In college, Prakash had become involved with various climate organizing groups, eventually starting her own.
Alongside seven friends she met through other climate groups, Prakash created the Sunrise Movement in 2017. Wanting their main focus to be dedicated to the Green New Deal and galvanizing younger generations, Prakash began to craft their plan for justice, unlike any other climate activist organization. After Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez joined with several Sunrise members protesting in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office in 2018, the Movement began to make national headlines, gaining thousands of followers each day. Prakash’s initial vision for a mass movement dedicated to fighting for climate justice became a reality, making climate activism one of the most discussed issues today. With her passion, she shifted the focus of climate justice from individual changes to systemic changes pertaining to our government policies. The Sunrise Movement now has over a million young people across this country advocating for policies such as the Green New Deal and striking for a better future for all. For example, Sunrise was a major part of last September’s climate strikes, bringing almost six million people together around the world.
I too am the daughter of South Indian immigrant parents, and I can honestly say Varshini Prakash is one of my biggest role models when it comes to social activism. Growing up, I was never exposed to the idea of activism and civic involvement, mainly because it was not a topic of discussion in my Indian household. Like Varshini Prakash, I also grew up thinking that becoming a doctor was the only way to help others. Now, I realized social movements have just as much power. Prakash has shown millions of people in India the severity of the current climate crisis, shedding more on the idea of activism in Indian culture. Movements like Sunrise are dedicated to fighting for justice, involving people of all races, ages, genders, and walks of life. Through her work, Prakash has shown thousands of young people that there is no one specific path to becoming politically active. As long as you have the passion and drive to fight, you can make an impact anywhere.