By Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Young activists pressuring U.S. lawmakers to aggressively tackle climate change and reject fossil fuel company donations got their first major financial boost on Monday from a foundation that wants to “amplify” the Green New Deal movement ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
The Wallace Global Fund, a nonprofit that supports social movements, has given the Sunrise Movement $250,000 (190,781 pounds) and committed $750,000 in grants in 2019 to Sunrise partner groups to advance the goals of the Green New Deal, a congressional resolution introduced this year by progressive Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey that has reignited the U.S. debate around climate change.
The Sunrise Movement, formed in 2017, has been at the forefront of the Green New Deal movement, which calls for a 10-year, government-driven mobilization to decarbonise the economy through investments in clean energy, buildings and transportation, as well as job-retraining and social and economic justice programs.
It has become a political target of President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress who call the plan socialist and radical.
“They have a smart strategy around building power with the audacity of their vision,” said Ellen Dorsey, executive director of the fund. “Critics belittle them and question their authenticity but they are brave and are doubling down.”
The WGF said it is one of the few funders to publicly back groups advocating for the Green New Deal and is working to rally others to support the youth-led activism that is putting lawmakers on notice globally.
While the Sunrise Movement has been central in putting the Green New Deal in the national spotlight, young people in Europe have staged school strikes and launched civil disobedience campaigns to demand action on climate change.
Dorsey said the Green New Deal follows in the footsteps of the New Deal, a sweeping public works and financial reform programme created by President Franklin Roosevelt to lift the United States out of the Great Depression in the 1930s. Wallace Global Fund namesake Henry Wallace was Roosevelt’s vice president.
The Sunrise Movement first made waves after the 2018 midterm elections by holding a sit-in with Ocasio-Cortez outside the office of incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, demanding that Congress adopt a Green New Deal.
Since then its activists have been a presence on the presidential campaign trail.
“A large part of our strategy is to make sure that every candidate hears us wherever they go,” said Varshini Prakash, president of the Sunrise Movement.
More than half of the crowded field of Democratic contenders, including Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke, Cory Booker, Jay Inslee and Pete Buttigieg said they back the resolution.
Prakash said the group will use the funds to train activists around the country and partner with environmental justice, Native American and other groups.
She said the group has already been effective in pressuring candidates to change their positions. Last week former Texas congressman O’Rourke announced he will no longer accept donations from fossil fuel companies or executives after months of pressure from Sunrise activists.
The group’s next target is likely to be former Vice President Joe Biden, who entered the presidential race in late April. Prakash said Biden has only mentioned Obama-era measures like entering the Paris Climate Agreement as climate change solutions.
“We are ready and willing to call out the insufficiency of policies like that,” she said. “We deserve a leader who understands the urgency of climate change.”
(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)