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As we look back on this past decade of rapid and polarizing social change in the USA, its end has been defined by political upheaval, the #MeToo reckoning, and climate change controversies. In spite of climate change deniers and the defanged EPA, we saw progress with respect to the climate crisis. Names like Greta Thunberg and Naomi Klein are recognizable but have you wondered why a Green New Deal is suddenly in demand?  

The Great Climate Awakening has been planned, organized, and executed by a diverse coalition that includes but is not limited to Extinction Rebellion, Sierra Club, 350, Mothers Out Front, and Greenpeace. But it has been the fastest growing and youngest group within this nonprofit network – Sunrise Movement — that has made the biggest impact in the shortest amount of time.  A relatively decentralized army of high-schoolers, college students, and folks under 35 have undeniably transformed today’s political discourse by publicly demanding ambitious climate justice and environmental protection policy from elected officials and those running for office.

Sunrise created and championed the most recent iteration of the Green New Deal. GND has become part of the Democratic party platform and has been hotly debated during the primaries. Although the Green New Deal concept has been around since 2006, it was not until right after the 2018 midterms that the GND attained public awareness in its entirety. A large cohort of Sunrise volunteers organized a sit-in in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office to demand a detailed ‘national, industrial, economic mobilization plan’ capable of making the U.S. economy carbon neutral. 

GND become a litmus test for Democrats and Republicans; the candidates and their supporters must reexamine their own convictions about the climate crisis and environmental devastation as they relate to corporate accountability, worker justice, racial justice, and a livable future for all. Nearly every single Democratic presidential candidate has pledged to it, and many dozens of governors, senators, and Congressmen have heeded the call to pledge their support or co-sponsorship.

This has been only one of many acts of rebellion that is attributed to the Sunrisers. In August of 2019, San Francisco Sunrisers interrupted a DNC Resolutions Committee meeting with songs and chants of protest; they had learned that the DNC had decided not to have any of their presidential debates focus on the climate crisis. In December, that same hub also shut down PG&E’s Spear Tower office. In collaboration with disability justice and utility justice activists, Sunrisers demanded that: PG&E return shareholder profits to the people, invest in protecting the most vulnerable, and give up ownership of utilities to the public since the company’s own approach proved reckless. The company’s negligence resulted in 1500 fires that PG&E’s equipment sparked over a 6-year period. These actions have been followed by more rallies, strikes, and sit-ins all over the country.

Significantly, the call to action comes from Sunrise CoFounder and Executive Director, 26 year old, Indian-American Varshini Prakash. It was shaped by a shared dream that Prakash had with a handful of like minded friends in 2017 and has since evolved into a grassroots behemoth made up of over 300 hubs across the United States. Her message resonates with young Indian-Americans, as hundreds have joined the Sunrise Movement – fighting for clean air, clean water, clean energy, sustainable agriculture & development, and good jobs.

Maya and Mahesh, young Indian-Americans at the forefront of this movement, were interviewed to provide insight into the diverse backgrounds of those within the movement; varied interests didn’t limit the contribution they could make to Sunrise. You can get involved too!

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Hey Maya! Which school do you go to and how did you first come to know about Sunrise?

I am a Biology and Political Science major at Northeastern University. I was taking this class called Intro to Global Health, and for my final paper I decided to research the potential public health effects of the Green New Deal. I heard about Sunrise through a professor during that research process and I really admired the work they were doing. 

And then you joined in?

Yeah, in April I started volunteering consistently, doing campaign work for local candidates through the Electoral team, which is part of the Action team.

What else are you excited about?

The Boston City Council had an amazing victory; 7 out of 8 of our candidates won. I want to see the outcomes of that – how they’re going to use their new power. I’m also looking forward to seeing what happens with the State House and Congressional elections. 

And who are your favorite Presidential candidates?

I’m a big fan of both Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. 

Me too. Now tell me more about you – who is Maya Mudgal?

Well, I grew up in Lexington with my parents & two brothers. My parents immigrated to the US in ‘93, and we’ve been in Boston since 2001.I got involved in college radio as DJ, my show was called Trail Mix. I also joined a global health organization. My friends would describe me as independent, driven, detail oriented, and someone who tends to jump into too many projects. I enjoy long walks and I love to make playlists – everything except country music & EDM. 

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Hey Mahesh! Where did you go to school, and how did you first come to know about Sunrise?

I graduated in May from Washington University in St. Louis, where I majored in biochemistry (I’m studying to be a doctor). I first heard about the Sunrise Movement on ABC News and I was encouraged to join by my sister. 

And then what? 

I recently joined the Fundraising team and just became the new Treasurer. I volunteered for Beyond Schools for two and a half years; this is my first time volunteering for climate justice and environmental protection in my community. 

Tell me about yourself. Who is Mahesh Challapalli?

In my free time I like to cook and read novels. I was on the tennis team in college. I’m okay at guitar, still learning. My friends would describe me as ‘lost and clueless’. My mom would describe me as loving. I’m a good friend and brother. I prefer talking to people in small groups because I feel more introverted than extroverted.

Who are your favorite presidential candidates?

I like Warren and Sanders. Definitely not Pete Buttigieg. 

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Get engaged. As the new year rolls in, we need to reflect on our civic duty. NYC, Chicago, DC, LA, San Francisco, San Jose, Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Boston have the highest density of Indians; all of these cities face major environmental risk in this decade. For some, this means rising sea levels, increasingly frequent hurricanes, and loss of wildlife and wildlife habitats. For others, the risks can mean air pollution, wildfires, extreme heat, coal & fracking related illnesses, deforestation, and clean water scarcity. 

The youth of Sunrise Movement see it as their dharma – their duty – to mitigate these risks through activism. That is why we ask YOU to contribute in whatever way fits your interests and abilities: volunteering at your local hub, small monthly donations, or starting the dialogue about Sunrise. We need the support and participation of the Indian-American community at large; we can’t do it without you.

Sara Singh is a Revenue Operations Analyst and recent US citizen who became politically activated after the Sunrise Northeast Regional Summit. Having witnessed air pollution, water pollution, deforestation, and trash proliferation — in India, Chile, and many parts of the US – she’s switching careers to focus on environmental justice. 

Edited by Srishti Prabha

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