For its next foray into climate activism, Bowdoin Climate Action (BCA) is connecting with the Sunrise Movement, a national organization that advocates for political action on climate change. Sunrise has mostly recently been linked to activism surrounding the Green New Deal—not divestment campaigns, for which BCA had long been known.
BCA’s first major involvement with the Sunrise Movement occurred last December, when 16 students attended sit-ins at the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. The action was organized by BCA co-leader, Haley Maurice ’20, who worked closely with national organizers during the Sunrise Semester, a full-time volunteer organizing program that runs from June to elections in November.
Although the Sunrise Movement was formed in April 2017, the national organization gained momentum after freshman House Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) joined demonstration organized by the Sunrise Movement at current Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s office last November. The Sunrise Movement has over 100 “Sunrise Hubs.” Local hubs play a crucial role in the movement due to partnership with the Sunrise Movement to plan local climate action.
Although BCA has been at the forefront of organizing political action around climate change on campus since 2012, in the last two years the group has struggled to present a unified message on campus while creating a formalized connection.
“We ended up organizing around things that came up and we never really had enough of a long term vision to make some kind of change,” said Maurice.
The leaders of BCA believe that the affiliation with Sunrise will give the group more political power within the state of Maine. The connections to the College and to the organization give BCA credibility when working with outside groups, which they hopes will result in more effective organizing.
One of BCA’s top priorities is building relationships with local groups interested in climate justice. With the aid of the Sunrise Movement, they have reached out to middle and high schoolers, the Maine People’s alliance, farmers and fisherman. BCA has also been in communication with the two other Sunrise Hubs in Maine. One hub is located in Lewiston and is associated with students at Bates College and the other is located on Mount Desert Island.
While Sunrise encourages action at the local and state level, the group also encourages collaboration across the nation’s 100 hubs. This includes sending members from hubs in Boston and New England to actions organized by BCA. Other benefits include the provision of resources and trainings for political action.
In Maine, Sunrise has emphasized on targeting Collins and King, urging them to support the Green New Deal (GND). Collins and King, both regarded as moderates, have supported environmental protections in the past.
“It makes sense for Collins to sign on,” said BCA co-leader Maddie Hikida ’22. “You like to think that your politicians will be consistent.”
The reception to the affiliation with Sunrise has been positive among BCA members, who believe the movement’s goal of climate justice complements the work BCA is doing.
“With climate policy, the biggest changes can be made on the national level,” said Will Hausmann ’22. “There are only so many opportunities to influence climate policy with southern Maine, so there could be greater impact made by stressing the national level.”
Since the start of the spring semester, the group has carried out two major actions: visits to King’s and Collins’ offices earlier this month and a larger rally at Collins’ office last Friday.
On Friday, approximately 45 protesters attended the protest at Collins’ Portland office. Around 30 of the attendees were Bowdoin students. The remaining 15 came from a variety of groups and institutions such as 350 Maine, a group focused on climate action, and Colby College.
Of the groups and individuals that the BCA reached out to, Zak Ringelstein, the 2018 Maine Democratic candidate for Senate, joined protesters in Portland. Ringelstein, who has made few public appearances since his defeat to King in the Senate race, was encouraged by the action.
“Climate change is the most urgent issue of our time,” said Ringelstein. “It’s going to be young people mobilizing who are going to make the biggest change this world has ever seen.”
During the action, protesters sang, chanted and shared stories directed towards Collins—a foundational principle of the Sunrise Movement. Although Collins was not in her office, a member of her staff encouraged students to come back to meet with the senator.
“[Collins’ staffer said] it’s powerful to hear stories, but Collins really likes talking about policy,” Maurice said. “We’re probably going to go back and talk policy.”
Due to the urgent and fast-paced nature of climate politics, BCA has undergone major changes in focus and tactics in order to move towards climate justice. The new association with the Sunrise movement is just part of the necessary shifts.
After its formation in 2012, BCA’s commitment to divestment spanned four years. However, in March 2017, after the results of the 2016 Presidential election, BCA shifted its focus away from a divestment campaign and towards achieving climate justice through electoral politics.
“We didn’t know that divestment made sense as a tactic to enact change on climate change because we had Donald Trump in office,” Maurice said.
Since the shift to electoral politics, beyond advocating for climate justice, BCA is known on campus as the leading organizer of action for the progressive movement. Most notably, the group organized action at Collins’ office to protest the nomination of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh last September.
According to the chair of the Student Organizations Oversight Committee (SOOC) Jenna Scott ’19, the group’s charter will remain under the name “BCA”. However, BCA is able to coordinate with Sunrise. While Sunrise is able to provide training to BCA, they are not able to provide funding for the group.
Clubs sponsored by the SOOC are able to request meeting space, use vans and apply for funding through the Student Activities Funding Committee (SAFC). Due to the grassroots nature of the Sunrise Movement, local hubs do not receive any funding from Sunrise.
Eventually, the BCA would eventually like to rebrand as “Sunrise Bowdoin”. However, the SOOC has reservations about a full transition to a hub affiliated with Bowdoin.
“We asked that they remain BCA because we were worried about the longevity of the club,” said Scott. “In the long term what would happen when the GND ultimately goes through?”
Despite these concerns, Maurice believes that efforts towards climate justice will persist after the vote on the GND.
“The Green New Deal is a campaign [and] there is concern [over whether a Sunrise Hub] on campus would last a while [because it is a campaign. However,] policy and things change over time,” said Maurice. “Sunrise will continue until climate change is no longer a concern.”
Despite the uncertainty of BCA’s official label going forward, the group is confident about the direction of climate action at Bowdoin and are hopeful about the future.
“We have the policies we can push for, we have candidates can get behind, and we have candidates we can target on specific policies that we didn’t have before,” said Maurice.