Sara Blazevic and Varshini Prakash

WGL 2021-Varshini Prakash
Jamie McCarthy—WireImage/Getty Images
  • Title
    Training Director; Executive Director
  • Affiliation
    Sunrise Movement

As society hurtles toward ecological collapse under the forces of greed and industrialization, it has been the youth of Gen Z who have dropped what they’re doing (and picked up a burden far heavier than older generations give them credit for) to lead the fight for the planet. Heading up the progressive movement for climate justice is the Sunrise Movement. Cofounders Sara Blazevic and Varshini Prakash—now training director and executive director, respectively—helped officially launch the group of youth activists (anyone that identifies as “young” is welcome; there is no age range) in 2017, and it is now one of the most effective coalitions fighting for climate action in the United States.

Among Sunrise’s strategic insights is the way it has broadened its message: The movement “fights for the liberation of all people,” by recognizing that any oppression—based on race, sexuality, socioeconomics, geography, and more—amplifies the threat of climate change. Sunrise also draws activists from nearly 500 local hubs across the country—a decentralized structure that helps it stay nimble in engaging with local climate issues.

By the 2020 campaign, the movement had momentum. Sunrise initially campaigned heavily for Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, but Joe Biden actively courted it after emerging as the party’s frontrunner. Prakash was chosen by Biden to serve on the “unity task force” commissioned by both candidates to help assemble the party’s climate message. After the election, Sunrise leaders were also included in Biden’s transition. It’s not all sunshine and daisies, of course: The group (and Prakash individually) have publicly criticized some of Biden’s choices, from his support of politicians who have accepted fossil fuel donations to his shying away from supporting the Green New Deal. Still, Prakash and Blazevic, now in their mid- to late-twenties, have a seat at the table with legislators, lobbyists, and activists of all ages.