Hundreds of young protesters stormed the Capitol on Monday, taking over the offices of three members of Congress to push the need for an immediate climate change plan. The activists with the Sunrise Movement, a group that’s pushing House Democrats to create a special committee next year focused entirely on climate change initiatives, engaged in three sit-ins inside the offices of the likely next Speaker, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif), as well as Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.).
The protesters, who ranged in age from their teens to their late 20s, were eventually pushed out by Capitol Police after threat of arrest.
The protests are the second wave organized by the Sunrise Movement to disrupt the Capitol since the midterm elections. Protesters in early November organized a sit-in inside Pelosi’s office in conjunction with Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y), who is leading the organization’s call for the creation of a climate change committee and for a “Green New Deal.” Nearly 50 protesters were arrested at the time.
Since the first protest, 15 members of Congress have come on board with the idea of establishing a select House committee that would focus on ways to bring 100 percent renewable energy to the United States. Protesters Monday are looking for more Democrats to come on board before they take control of the House in 2019.
“We are here to call on Democratic politicians, that we know are with us, who understand the climate science, to back up their words with action and support this select committee for a Green New Deal, said Varshini Prakash, founder and communications director of the movement.
She called the committee “the best solution on the table right now that will actually work to avert crisis.”
The group’s protests follow a slew of recent scientific reports that warn immediate action is necessary to stop the irreversible impacts of climate change.
Hoyer, the House minority whip, on Monday tweeted support for the protesters, calling climate change “one of the most pressing issues of our time.”
“Speaking out is exactly what our democracy is all about, and I appreciate their passion. The new Dem Majority will #ActonClimate,” he tweeted, without officially backing the Green New Deal.
McGovern, the likely incoming chairman of the House Rules Committee, came out of his office to speak with the protesters lining the halls.
He told the crowd he supports the idea of forming a House select committee on the Green New Deal.
In private, he told organizers that he’s committed to working with other House committee leaders to get everyone on board, according to Evan Weber, political director for Sunrise Movement.
McGovern later clarified to the Hill that while he supports forming a House select committee, he still wants to see details hammered out on what protesters are specifically calling for in terms of their plan.
“As I pointed out to them, their special select committee is evolving, it’s changing. So I support a special select committee. But we need to work out the details, and I think we will, and it will be something that, you know, I think will help elevate this issue and focus attention on solutions,” McGovern said.
Pelosi and Ocasio-Cortez’s offices did not return a request for comment.
Many House Democrats still remain skeptical of the idea of the select committee, especially those primed to take over as chairs of House committees that oversee issues related to climate and science.
Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the likely next chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, has said he supports the creation of the panel but does not believe it should have the authority to draft legislation.
Supporters of the Green New Deal are not pushing any explicit bills but instead hope the creation of the committee will put climate change issues front and center. They hope Congress will address ways to transition the country out of its fossil fuel reliance while creating millions of new renewable energy related jobs.
Their focus is as much about making climate change a central voting bloc issue in 2020 as it is passing legislation in the next Congress.
“We hope that before congress leaves for recess in a few days many will come to support this and cement the Green New Deal in the agenda for 2019 and 2020,” said Prakash.
“Today we are here to say to Democratic politicians in general that the time is enough, no more excuses. We need them to take action at the actual scale and scope of the crisis at hand.”
Timothy Cama contributed to this story.
You can add political apathy to the list of things millennials have killed, particularly when it comes to climate change. On Monday, young people flooded Capitol Hill for the second time in less than a month to send a message to Democrats that they want a Green New Deal and a select committee to make it happen in the next Congress.
More than 1,100 people, some as young as 7 years old, signed up for Monday’s protests. Activists again took over California Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi’s office—Pelosi is the presumptive House Speaker for the next Congress—as well as other Democratic congressional leaders. Speeches, songs, and cheers echoed up and down the hallways of Capitol Hill as members delivered letters to their representatives urging them to address the most pressing problem facing their generation. Activists also unfurled a 40-foot banner in front of Pelosi’s office reading “Green New Deal,” putting their ask front and center in big block letters. Capitol police showed up and began arresting protesters shortly thereafter.
The protests have already delivered results. Representative Jim McGovern, the incoming chair of the House Rules Committee, addressed protesters outside his office telling them he supports the Green New Deal, adding to the more than 20 current or incoming members of Congress who have voiced their support thus far.
The Green New Deal is a set of policy proposals driven by the science in the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that shows the world needs to slash emissions 45 percent by 2030 and get to net zero by mid-century or risk warming more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. If that happens, small islands will be swallowed by the sea and millions will be conscripted to a life of poverty amid worsening weather.
The protests were organized by the Sunrise Movement, a group of youth activists who have pushed to get fossil fuel money out of politics and advocated for the Green New Deal. In November, New York Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is leading the Green New Deal effort in the new Congress that starts in January, joined them in Pelosi’s office to push for a House select committee to help create a Green New Deal.
“The reason we’re planning this [action] right now is the Congress sets the agenda for 2019 before they go home for holiday recess,” Stephen O’Hanlon, the interim communications director for the Sunrise Movement, told Earther. “We have a handful of days to get the select committee on a Green New Deal on the agenda for 2019. We’ve been growing momentum for weeks.”
The continued pressure coupled with the increasingly clear science of how fast we have to wind down carbon emissions to stave off further environmental catastrophe has added urgency to crafting a Green New Deal. While support has swelled for a Green New Deal, some entrenched members on key committees have fought against the select committee or not endorsed the Green New Deal, which is odd for a party that has members who by and large accept climate science.
“We need the real solution to the climate crisis as mandated by science and justice,” Varshini Prakash, the Sunrise Movement’s co-founder, said in a speech in Pelosi’s office on Monday.
The Green New Deal itself is aspirational with tenets like getting to 100 percent renewable energy and a just transition for people who work in fossil fuel-based industries like coal mining and transportation. But the policies of how to achieve those goals need to be hammered out, and Ocasio-Cortez and the Sunrise Movement argue that the best way to do that is a select committee and that doing so will give Democrats a clear roadmap for how to proceed if they take back the White House in 2020 or beyond.
A recent NPR poll shows that climate change is now the second-biggest priority Democrats want to see addressed by the new Congress. Polling by Data for Progress also shows most Americans back the Green New Dealand its various components. Now groups like the Sunrise Movement appeared ready to keep reminding members of Congress about it.