Climate change student activists bring movement to Kent State

The official logo of the Sunrise Movement

Chris Ramos Assigning editor

The Green New Deal, combating climate change and creating social equality are at the core of the youth-led movement known as the Sunrise Movement. 

Founded in 2017, the Sunrise Movement is a coalition of climate activists who engage in grassroots organizing in an attempt to bring about political action on climate change. The national movement has found staunch allies in congressional members such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ed Markey and Bernie Sanders.

And now, the organization has a foothold at Kent State.

Frustrated by ongoing wildfires on the west coast and the algae blooms occurring in Lake Erie, freshman environmental studies major Zach Braun decided it was time to get involved. 

“We have loud voices; we are very powerful. And if we can organize ourselves in a certain way, we can get whatever we want done,” Braun said. “That’s the whole point behind Sunrise, you know, advocating for climate change awareness, a Green New Deal, social and environmental justice, all of it.” 

Creating the hub at Kent State was a straightforward process for Braun, who described it as easy but time-consuming. After filling out an application, Braun was contacted by a national member of Sunrise for an interview. Once approved, Braun was instructed to follow general rules and guidelines of the organization but ultimately local hubs are given a lot of independence. 

According to the Sunrise Movement’s website, there are over 400 hubs across the country, with 10 in Ohio, including Kent State. Braun noted that the national movement grew subtly for the first couple of years but has gained a lot of traction recently. 

“In 2020, the movement has exploded. You had Bernie Sanders obviously coming out publicly during the Democratic debates and during his primary run, supporting the Green New Deal,” Braun said. “And then obviously Ed Markey, I think a huge win in the primary in Massachusetts and that actually shows just how powerful Sunrise is becoming.” 

Kent State’s hub meets biweekly on Monday nights at 7 p.m. The next Zoom meeting is scheduled for Sep. 21 and students can join by filling out a Google Form through a link on the group’s Instagram page or by sending an email. 

During its first meeting on Sep. 7, attendees introduced themselves and their reason for joining. This was followed by discussing the messages that were painted on the rock, the Green New Deal and holding state congressional members accountable for taking funds from fossil fuel companies. 

For members like freshman exploratory major Isobel Day, her decision to become involved in the Sunrise Movement stemmed from new voices in politics.

“AOC is like my biggest inspiration. I have followed her ever since she kind of just broke every stereotype of a congresswoman in 2018,” Day said. “She’s very passionate about the Green New Deal, and so her talking about it made me really realize, wow, this is something I would love to be a part of because it’s something that isn’t exclusive to a certain type of person.”

The young age of Ocasio-Cortez and her humble beginnings were noted by Day as being indicators that anyone can become politically active and spark change. 

“She’s already mobilizing so many people. I think it’s inspiring a lot of college voters and just people who are interested in this,” Day said. “You don’t have to be 35, 40, to get involved in what you want to get involved in. I think that was really important in mobilizing voters because she kind of, again, she broke the stereotype of being older in Congress.”

For others, their reason for joining is deeply rooted in their upbringing, as was the case for sophomore political science major Riley Jones. 

“It has to do a lot with where you come from. I’m in a union household,”  Jones said. “That’s how I got into the progressive zone of politics. Like in 2016, I was really into Bernie Sanders, so that kind of coalesced into getting into the different progressive movements.” 

Jones described an honors colloquium class he took last year, centered around climate change, as being an important experience. One of the main points in the class claimed people are in denial of what they’re doing and they don’t think about the climate on a day-to-day basis. 

“They know what’s happening, but they’re in denial that it’s that bad. They don’t think it’s going to really affect their life too much,” Jones said. “Like in Northeast Ohio, it’s kind of hard to feel the effects of the wildfires all the way in California.” 

Recently, the Sunrise Movement unveiled the THRIVE agenda to members which calls for the creation of millions of union jobs, investing in Black, Brown and Indigenous communities and averting climate and environmental catastrophe among other goals.

“The biggest point of the THRIVE agenda is saying that the United States of America will be a hundred percent clean, renewable energy by 2035 within the public sector, within public utilities,” Braun said. 

The ongoing pandemic presents challenges to the group’s outreach potential since they’re unable to table at the Student Center or engage in other activities on campus. As a result, social media will be a vital component in raising awareness. 

“Obviously we can’t go out, we can’t necessarily go out on Kent’s campus in the middle of the day where there’s thousands of people walking around and, you know, hand out flyers and talk to people personally,” Braun said. “So relying on social media, we just have to be persistent.” 

Collaborating with other groups on campus like Young Democratic Socialists of America and Students for Sensible Drug Policy were cited by Braun as other ways the group can reach students. Furthermore, an Instagram account called KSULeft has assisted student organizations on campus by sharing meeting times and directing students to each group’s social media. 

Despite its progressive roots, Day said the movement includes moderates. And ultimately, climate change is bigger than partisan politics. 

“I think that this is one group on campus not specifically directed at a partisan party,” Day said. “I feel like something this is going to bring to campus is a kind of unity because it’s climate change. It’s something that we all need to care about and it shouldn’t be partisan.”

Chris Ramos is an assigning editor. Contact him at [email protected]


Hi, I’m Lauren Sasala, a senior journalism student from Toledo. I’m also the editor in chief of The Kent Stater and KentWired this semester. My staff and I are committed to bringing you the most important news about Kent State and the Kent community. We are full-time students and hard-working journalists. While we get support from the student media fee and earned revenue such as advertising, both of those continue to decline. Your generous gift of any amount will help enhance our student experience as we grow into working professionals. Please go here to donate.