Palo Verde High School Senior Ainslee Archibald knows people typically don’t take the opinions of her generation seriously in general, let alone when it comes to political issues.
But she sees that changing thanks to the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led coalition across the country pushing politicians to take steps to draft specific policy proposals to solve the climate crisis.
“Before I got involved with the movement, I didn’t think it was possible (for youth) to have access to the levers of power,” she said. “We don’t have the luxury to stand by and let business as usual ruin our future.”
Las Vegas youth, many part of the Sunrise Movement, plan on joining a global strike Sept. 20 from 10 to 11 a.m. in which students plan to walk out from classes. The strike comes three days before the United Nations Climate Summit.
“The youth are not backing down,” said Matt Piper, an adult advisory with the group who helped launch the Sunrise Movement in Las Vegas.
The Sunrise Movement has promoted the Green New Deal, proposed measures that take a wide-ranging approach in dealing with climate change, and has been instrumental in not one but two climate-focused town halls — the first was Sept. 4 on CNN and the second, which will feature more candidates, is scheduled for Sept. 19 and 20 on MSNBC.
“The Sunrise Movement is the real winner of the debate,” Piper added. “They are putting climate change on the agenda. It’s because of the work the Sunrise Movement is doing.”
Dexter Lim, a Palo Verde High School Senior who is also part of the movement, said many students like him were raised to support environmental activism. “I remember going to national parks with my parents and exploring the great outdoors with my parents,” he said. “We would discuss the warning signs (of climate change).”
Similarly, Archibald said she was raised to value the planet but considered herself passively involved in environmentalism.
However, more climate science, and the implications of politicians doing nothing to make changes to counter the dangers of climate change, have prompted youth to be more involved.
The United Nations warns there are less than 11 years left to prevent devastating impacts of the climate crisis.
As Daniela Trajtman, an eighth grader involved in the Sunrise Movement, explains: “In 11 years, I’ll be 24 years old. That’s pretty scary to think about.”
Fighting for the environment and against climate change is vital to their future.
“You ask people who are 60 or 70 years old about fighting climate change, and they don’t care,” Lim said. “We’re the ones who will be inheriting this planet. We’re the ones who have to architect a future. We aren’t going to just accept what’s going on.”
Following the morning walkout, students will also participate in a larger, Global Climate Strike, which is taking place in various cities including Las Vegas. Local students will be accompanied by groups such as Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, Chispa Nevada and Nevada Conservation League.
“For too long, fossil fuel executives and the politicians they bankroll actively sowed doubt among the public about climate change to protect their power and profits,” said Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada in a statement. “All the while, Indigenous peoples, communities of color, and low-income families around the world have suffered some of the worst impacts of pollution and the climate crisis.”
Jackie Chiakulas, an organizer with the environmental group 350 Nevada, said the organization is helping with logistics and has been trying to reach out to the Clark County School District administration and Board of Trustees to inform them about the strike.
The Clark County School District told Nevada Current it hadn’t heard of local involvement in the strike and as of publication hadn’t sent out any directives to faculty regarding the walkout.
However, Chiakulas shared a Saturday, Sept. 7 email exchange between 350 Nevada and Superintendent Jesus Jara who said he’d “discuss Monday with my cabinet before we send a formal communication to all principals.”
CCSD students walked out of class in March 2018 — a month after 17 students were shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida — as a protest against gun violence.
“Regardless if we get support, students are going to strike,” Archibald said. “We are going to make sure our voices are heard.”
The strike is just one part of what the Sunrise Movement is doing. Members across the country plan to push presidential candidates to get specific in regards to what they are doing.
“It’s important that elected officials support the Green New Deal,” Archibald said. “That’s a good starting place. You can’t just check that box. You have to have in-depth policies.”
Piper said youth are also watching if candidates are taking donations from the fossil fuel industry.
Over the last few months, many candidates have rolled out climate policies that include producing 100 percent clean energy, getting to net-zero emissions by 2045, reaching zero-carbon electricity production by 2030 and expanding laws to combat environmental racism.
When candidates visit Las Vegas, students with the Sunrise Movement, along with 350 Nevada, plan to attend their rallies, push for one-on-one meetings and ask more questions.
Only one candidate, Gov. Jay Inslee, has actually sat down with local youth organizers. Inslee dropped out of the race at the end of August. Daniela said other campaigns have sent representatives, but no other candidate has sat down directly with the students.
“We will be doing everything we can to make sure we elect leaders who prioritize the climate crisis from day one,” Piper said.
Youth organizers haven’t stopped at presidential candidates. Members of the Sunrise Movement youth have met with Nevada’s congressional delegation, though they weren’t impressed by their answers.
“They are concerned about the environment, but they don’t have enough bold action,” Piper added. “We want to see more bold action.”
Lim said it would make sense that Nevada lawmakers would be more open to discussing climate change considering how it’s affecting the state. “Las Vegas is the fastest warming city in America,” he said. “It’s a disservice to have nothing to say other than you support the environment.”
Politicians might continue to ignore them as an important constituency, but the youth want to remind lawmakers that they can’t keep them at bay forever. One day, they’ll get to vote.
“Almost everyone my age cares about climate change,” Archibald said. “If we can’t vote in 2020, we’ll be voting in 2024.”