The protesters were relatively chipper, if subdued, on this Monday morning—a fitting time of day for a meeting of the Sunrise Movement. This national youth-led effort is pushing the Green New Deal and has been championed by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. About 30 participants gathered in Seattle’s Occidental Square to demand that Washington U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell support the Green New Deal.
Participants rehearsed songs about building a better future and passed lighters—not to smoke, but rather to burn their “objects of personal import” (as the protest’s media advisory described them) for dramatic effect. They singed a few fingers, stomped out the flames on the brick pavers, and stashed the smoldering items in their backpacks. Before the millennial protesters marched to the offices of the state’s Democratic U.S. Senators, YES! asked:
What aspect of the Green New Deal would you like to see prioritized or implemented first?”
Mirna Ali, 23, Tacoma
“More resources and education for green jobs. I can understand why [people in the coal industry] are scared of changing their way of life that they’ve been doing for generations. But if they know that their same skills can be used in other industries, it makes it not so bleak.” Ali burned a piece of her niece’s artwork.
Katie Giseburt, 28, Bellevue
“I’ve always wanted to have kids. It’s a dream of mine that’s threatened now. That makes me very angry. Politicians and leaders are not taking me seriously, so I might not be able to have a chance.” Giseburt burned a dress she wore when she and her partner were first dating and thinking about having children.
Chris Connolly, 24, Seattle
“The Green New Deal isn’t just legislation; it’s a framework for legislation for the next 10 years. This is an emergency. We need to act like it.”
Sahithya Prakash, 23, Seattle
Prakash moved to Seattle from San Francisco and says she wants to see a solution to a common problem in both places: “Not only tackling the climate crisis, but solving the problem of housing inequality.”
Paisley Maschmeier, 17, Seattle
“I’m really scared about the future. That’s basically it; I’m terrified. I feel like this is our only chance. I was reading the Green New Deal, and the first couple pages are just talking about all the reasons why we need to make change. … There are so many reasons and people aren’t listening or caring. Our senators aren’t even listening or caring; they haven’t even responded at all.”
Yu-chi Lee, 21, Tacoma
“Mitigating the effects of climate change and moving towards a more sustainable economy, versus just churning out a bunch of things to use and discard and then buying new things.”
Julia Buck, 37, Seattle
“An interconnected transportation system for the state for both goods and people, so that we’re not reliant on personal-use vehicles. I was in a really serious car accident about 5 years ago, and that’s what really started me thinking that the way in which we transport both goods and ourselves doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Over 30,000 people die every year [in the U.S.] because of how we’ve chosen to run our transportation system, and I think that making that a collective good not only makes it more accessible but makes it safer and better for our environment.”
Kimaya Mahajan, 15, Bellevue
“Our senators showing a commitment, not just verbally, but a commitment to take action and us having a way to hold them accountable to what they say they’re going to do in respect to the Green New Deal.”
Zoe Schurman, 14, Seattle
“As the youth, it’s our futures that are on the line; it’s our children’s futures. I want to be able to graduate and not be afraid that food is going to get so expensive, that water is going to get incredibly expensive. I don’t want to worry that a home that I’m buying is going to go underwater or light on fire.” Mahajan and Schurman burned a picture of Mount Rainier and a nearby waterway overlain with images of plastic. “It shows that we’re wrecking it with our pollution and our waste,” Schurman says.
Max Hanson, 24, Seattle
“It all starts with our economy. I really like the carbon tax and stopping any subsidies for the fossil fuel industry. We’re just reinforcing the fossil fuel industry when we subsidize them; let’s stop doing that.” Hanson burned a picture of “a live and vibrant coral reef that is the home to many species and without which those species cannot survive.”
Hana Abay, 19, Mountlake Terrace
“More policies that really focus on having greener technologies. One of the things I’ve really been into—this is super nerdy—but solar panels. The same with transportation; I took the bus here. I personally think that public transportation is a really good move when it comes to reducing our footprint on the planet. Technologies like that, that really focus on reducing more fossil fuel use, I really feel makes such a big difference when it comes to the consequences of climate change.” Abay brought a mirror, saying that it reflects who is going to be affected by the changing climate.
Breanna Draxler is the environmental editor at YES!, where she leads coverage of climate and environmental justice. She has nearly a decade of experience editing, reporting, and writing for national magazines including National Geographic online and Grist, among others. She collaborated on a climate action guide for Audubon Magazine that won a National Magazine Award in 2020. She recently served as a board member for the Society of Environmental Journalists and the Northwest Science Writers Association. She has a master's degree in environmental journalism from the University of Colorado Boulder. Breanna is based out of the traditional territories of the Coast Salish people, but has worked in newsrooms on both coasts and in between. She previously held staff positions at bioGraphic, Popular Science, and Discover Magazine.