In the last few years, organizing around climate change has exploded worldwide, especially among young people. Teenage environmentalist icon Greta Thunberg is once again making waves in the conversation with her low-carbon visit to the United States. Thunberg is changing how people think and act. And she’s not the only young leader currently working on these issues Stateside.
“Climate change has recently been at the forefront of conversation among us all,” says Jakob Hamilton, a Lakewood Public High School student. Only 17, Hamilton is taking a key leadership role in Cleveland’s newly formed chapter of Sunrise, a movement described as an army of young people working to stop climate change and create millions of new jobs in the process. “I really started getting involved during Sunrise’s fight for a climate debate. I joined as a means to make not just the issue heard, but also all of the young people whose opinions are seemingly cast aside by older generations because we’re not ‘old enough to understand.’” He’s right. Greta Thunberg hears this type of criticism constantly.
But some adults do think that youth leaders like Hamilton are old enough to understand. Michelle Rosin first became involved in organizing in 2016, attracted to the campaign of Bernie Sanders, especially the thinking behind Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). When she read the Green New Deal Resolution and saw very young people bringing the climate crisis to our political leaders in their offices, she wanted to help. “If I don’t do anything, I can’t look back and judge,” she says. So she’s become a Cleveland Hub Coordinator with Sunrise.
At 32, Rosin would like to have her own kids one day but worries that her children would suffer the impending devastation of climate change, so for now she works with Sunrise to generate support of the Green New Deal, most recently getting Representative Marcia Fudge to agree to sign the resolution. She also works relentlessly to grow Cleveland’s small Sunrise chapter. “We need more people,” she says simply. “We need young people to run things.”
Wondering what “run things” really means, I asked Jakob Hamilton to describe the work in detail. “My work is somewhat of a secretary. I catalogue our resources (members of the organization, media outlets we’ve worked with, climate minded groups in Ohio, etc.), I write a number of our speeches for our local engagements, and currently standing as the youngest member, I’ve been fighting to attract like-minded people of my own age to see the importance of this fight,” he explains, echoing the need for more young people to get involved. “Currently, with a small group, it’s a lot of teamwork. In my opinion, it’s the very definition of ‘grassroots.’ We all work together on our projects at this stage.”
After breaking down the work, Hamilton explains how Sunrise fits into his overall worldview and personal family history. “As the son of four generations of coal miners, steel workers, construction laborers, grocers, amongst others, I’ve seen our conservative parties’ attacks on the very people that built this country. But I know that Sunrise supports our laborers and school teachers. I know that Sunrise will fight for the issues that matter to real people. I know that Sunrise, and the Green New Deal, are not fighting for our planet alone, but the principles that built this country.”
In Sunrise, Hamilton sees a way to rebuild a strong and inclusive middle class, the bedrock of American prosperity. “I’m heartbroken and disgusted by our government casting veterans and mothers and immigrants aside while we do nothing. We’re fighting for people to have air to breathe and water to drink and the ability to thrive in what we like to think is the greatest country in the world.”
If this youth leader’s words resonate, get involved now. Climate change is the defining issue of our era. It’s everybody’s business. It’s not too late to act; the time to join with young people all over the world is now. They’re asking all of us to get involved. How can you do that? You can get started here: