Sunrise Movement sees victory in the House after week-long sit-in


Kayla Benjamin

Cori Bush speaks with the protesters, including several March for Our Lives activists who joined the sit-in, on the Capitol steps Nov. 19.

Kayla Benjamin, Copy Editor

Organizers from the Sunrise Movement’s American University chapter will return to the Capitol building tomorrow after a week-long sit-in earlier this month. The group of about a dozen students and other climate, housing and health care activists celebrated as the House passed the Build Back Better Act Nov. 19.

Founded in 2017, the Sunrise Movement is a national climate advocacy organization made up of a coalition of local and student chapters called “hubs.” Sunrise organizers coordinate direct activism and the national organization endorses progressive candidates who support large-scale policies addressing climate change.

“Thank you all for being who you are, thank you for what you do,” Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) said, addressing the small group of activists outside the Capitol. “I got so much love in my heart for all of you, and you keep me all inspired.”

Throughout the day, a steady stream of progressive House members came out to greet the protesters after casting their votes. Students had the chance to chat with representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Ny.), Cori Bush (D-Mo.) and Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), among others.

“I’m gonna be honest, I don’t believe in hero worshipping politicians — that being said, I’m very happy I got to meet Cori Bush today,” freshman Rohin Ghosh, a student activist primarily focused on housing, said.

Jamaal Bowman addresses the group of about a dozen activists Nov. 19, thanking them for their work supporting passage of the Build Back Better Act. (Kayla Benjamin)

The goal of the week-long sit-in was to pressure lawmakers to pass Build Back Better, a far-reaching bill that includes funding to combat climate change and improve access to health care, childcare and housing. In an effort spearheaded by organizers from AU and George Washington University’s Sunrise Movement chapters, activists stood on the lawn in front of the House side of the Capitol holding signs, chanting and speaking with lawmakers.

Freshman Magnolia Mead, the sit-in’s lead organizer from Sunrise AU, said the turnout was better than she expected, with between 10 and 30 people at a time joining throughout the week. Many of the participants were students from District colleges and universities.

“Students have so much work to do in classes and everything, they just can’t be out here all the time,” Mead said. “So it really makes a difference when lots of folks just come when they can, even if they can only commit like three hours a day.”

From Monday through Wednesday, the group stayed on the lawn from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., but on Thursday night, the activists remained until midnight, waiting to see if debate on the bill would wind down. It didn’t — Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy delayed the planned vote by talking for eight hours and 32 minutes, setting a new record for the longest speech on the House floor.

“I was here last night in the freezing cold, and in the wind and rain,” junior Ari Silver said of the Thursday night wait. “But we knew that at the end of the day, his tactics wouldn’t work… We got this thing passed, and now it’s on to the Senate where the fight continues.”

Sunrise AU plans to mobilize for this next phase in the bill’s cycle after Thanksgiving break.

“We just finished this, which was a huge milestone, but the Senate is a completely different ballgame,” freshman Salvatore Cottone, another Sunrise AU organizer, said. “That’s going to be an even bigger fight than this.”

Sunrise AU will begin another 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. sit-in tomorrow, Nov. 30.