Sunrise Movement Activists Push Democrats For Climate Debate The Sunrise Movement is holding rallies and registering voters, aiming to boost turnout among young voters. For the first time, polls show climate change is a top priority for the party's base.
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Activists Push Democrats On Climate Change, A New Priority For Party's Base

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Activists Push Democrats On Climate Change, A New Priority For Party's Base

Activists Push Democrats On Climate Change, A New Priority For Party's Base

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/753122273/753337579" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The presidential field is getting smaller. Washington state's Governor Jay Inslee ended his campaign yesterday. His focus had been climate change. And in San Francisco today, Democratic Party officials are considering whether to dedicate an entire debate to that issue. NPR's Jeff Brady reports on the activists who are pushing for that.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: The Sunrise Movement is raising the profile of climate change through protests like one recently in Philadelphia.

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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Singing) Which side are you on now? Which side are you on?

BRADY: A few dozen young people held yellow and black signs calling for a climate debate.

NICOLE KARSCH: The climate crisis is an emergency, and we need the DNC to start acting like it.

BRADY: Nicole Karsch is one of the organizers. Another is Isa Flores-Jones, who says a state Democratic Party office is their focus.

ISA FLORES-JONES: So we're out here today demanding that the Pennsylvania Democrats publicly endorse our call for a climate debate.

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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: What do we want?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Climate debate.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: When do we want it?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Now.

BRADY: About a dozen activists staged a sit-in. Police came to the building lobby and led them out in plastic handcuffs as fellow activists sang encouragement.

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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Singing) We will, we will walk with you, walk with you.

BRADY: One problem, though - there is no Democratic Party office in that building. Sunrise Movement communications director Stephen O'Hanlon says they got bad information, but he says it's the message that's important. O'Hanlon says Sunrise hopes to motivate young people so they'll elect climate-focused candidates next year.

STEPHEN O'HANLON: We are planning to register thousands of voters in Pennsylvania and around the country in 2020 and to make sure they turn out. And a big part of that is having candidates and the Democratic Party show that they're willing to fight for the issues that young people care about.

BRADY: The Green New Deal is a focus for the Sunrise Movement. The proposal would speed the country's transition away from fossil fuels, and it aims to remake the economy by guaranteeing people good-paying jobs and health care. Last November was the first time many people heard of Sunrise. That's when the group's activists occupied House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office and drew high-profile support from newly elected Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

ANTHONY LEISEROWITZ: The Sunrise Movement comes at just a perfect moment for them to get a lot of attention.

BRADY: Anthony Leiserowitz is director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. He says more Americans see climate change as something that is happening now and harming people. At the same time, Leiserowitz says, the most liberal Democratic voters, the party's base, rank the environment and climate change as their top issues, behind only health care.

LEISEROWITZ: And that's never been the case for either political party in American history, where climate change was truly one of the top-priority voting issues.

BRADY: And now nearly every Democratic presidential candidate has a detailed climate change plan, and most say they support the Green New Deal. Sunrise leaders plan to maintain momentum by building an activist infrastructure that includes so-called movement houses in key swing states like Pennsylvania and Michigan.

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BRADY: At a rowhouse in West Philadelphia, Isa Flores-Jones is grating zucchini for a vegan dinner she'll share with six housemates.

FLORES-JONES: I think that doing chores and figuring out a schedule and all of the work that goes into just everyday living is a really - you know, it's the same thing that goes into sustaining a movement, sustaining longer-term campaign work. You know, we really just have to find ways to support one another.

BRADY: Even if the Democratic Party rejects Sunrise's request for a climate-focused debate today, CNN plans to hold a climate change town hall with candidates next month, and MSNBC plans a climate forum with candidates a few weeks later.

Jeff Brady, NPR News, Philadelphia.

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