Varshini Prakash—the executive director of the Sunrise Movement has been featured in TIME magazine’s Newt 100 Leaders List. Jay Inslee, Inslee, a Democrat, who is the governor of Washington, wrote in TIME about this young, dynamic and bold New Green Deal Leader, who is spearheading the Sunrise Movement: “Varshini Prakash—the executive director of the Sunrise Movement, which has fiercely advocated for proposals like the Green New Deal—is one of those visionary leaders who are fighting for their futures. I believe that 2019 will be remembered as a turning point for the climate: Varshini and other young leaders have permanently fixed climate change into the nation’s conscience as a moral imperative, an issue of economic justice and a way to create millions of jobs across America. Personally, I find the leadership of Varshini and the Sunrise Movement to be some of the greatest sources for hope in our fight against the climate crisis. The young people are leading this fight, and because of them, we will all win.”
Varshini Prakash was in sixth grade when the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami hit Chennai, the city in India where her grandmother lived. She remembers how powerless she felt, watching the footage at home in Acton, Massachusetts. Not knowing what else to do, Prakash gathered cans of food to donate to the Red Cross.
In high school, Prakash was shocked to learn about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and other environmental problems, but aside from joining the recycling club and micromanaging how her friends recycled, she didn’t have an outlet for her anger. She made a pact with herself that college would be different.
At the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Prakash became involved in the school’s fossil fuel divestment campaign and spoke publicly for the first time at a rally. “I just fell in love with organizing in a way that I had never imagined,” she says.
But the more Prakash engaged with the issue of climate change, the more frustrated she grew with politicians unwilling to address it. What, she wondered, would an effective political movement demanding a response to the climate crisis look like?
In 2016, she and 11 of her peers started meeting regularly to try to answer this question. For over a year, they studied the civil rights, anti-apartheid, and other movements, creating the blueprint for what would become the Sunrise Movement—a youth-led grassroots effort intent on stopping climate change and promoting a just economic system.
Last November, the group made headlines when it staged a sit-in outside Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi’s office and (then representative-elect) Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez showed up.
Since then, Prakash and other Sunrise activists have held high-profile sit-ins and protests across the country to build support for the Green New Deal. They also work to get candidates for office to forgo fossil fuel donations and commit to making climate change a campaign priority.
“We do the big moments—like at Pelosi’s office—that kind of shift the center of gravity,” Prakash says. “And we use that momentum to build organizing on the ground that won’t peter out.”
This article appeared in the July/August 2019 edition of Sierra Club Magazine,with the headline “Blueprint for Change.”