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DC Sunrise Hub is Adapting to COVID-19

Updated: May 14

By Sadie Foer


April 22 was the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, and the Sunrise DC Hub, the DC chapter of the national Sunrise Movement, along with organizations like #ShutdownDC, Extinction Rebellion and 350 DC were organizing a mass protest, because “Earth Day has become too tame, and like ‘we love the earth’. We are trying to bring the spirit of protest and having grassroots voices to the movement,” said Crystal Gong, a DC Hub coordinator. However, as it became increasingly clear that the strike had to be canceled, the hub had to pivot its strategies.


The Sunrise Movement is a young people’s movement to stop climate change and pioneer a Green New Deal. Though the organization started in 2017 it gained footing when they led a sit-in at Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s office that Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez attended.


The Sunrise Movement’s two priorities during the COVID-19 crisis are organizing a People’s Bailout and creating a Green New Deal to provide economic stimulus and jobs in the wake of the crisis. “Since coronavirus happened, everyone's plans got derailed,” said Gong. So, the DC Hub in coordination with the DC Tenants Union and #ShutdownDC made a goal of canceling rent for DC residents. “If tenants are going to become unemployed because of the coronavirus crisis it is not fair that the owning class gets to maintain that income flow,” said Gong. Although it may not be immediately obvious, she continued to explain that there is no climate justice without housing justice. To achieve their goals, the Hub did a phone call blast on April 28th, where they had constituents call their council members to ask to cancel rent throughout the day. They also ran a socially distanced banner drop in front of the Wilson building, the chambers of the mayor and city council, and street art actions to bring their demands to the attention of other DC residents.


During a pandemic, it is difficult to bring demands to the attention of those who can accomplish them, and disrupt that status-quo so that they have no choice but to go through with them. That is why the cancel rent action is so creative. Council members must listen to the opinions of their constituents and therefore must respond to all the calls. Additionally, by having many constituents call throughout the day, it disrupts the status quo and demonstrates the popularity of canceling rent.


The Hub is also partnering with the DC mutual aid network to put together care packages to bring to low-income residents, and Sunrise DC has been helping recruit volunteers to deliver the packages.


The DC Hub was already equipped to run their operation entirely on Zoom and Slack. “Luckily, we’re all pretty tech-savvy,” said Gong. The Hub already relied on Slack, a communication app for organizations, to communicate, and already had a premium Zoom account. “It is inconvenient to get people from Silver Spring to meet up with people from Arlington,” explained Gong, “so it hasn’t been too big of an adjustment.”


They are also trying to maintain a sense of community by running Hub gatherings. Gong runs the book club which is continuing to meet every Saturday. Alice Goldberg, an artist and activist, is a part of Songrise, which is a group of musicians from Sunrise Hubs across the country. Starting in late April, Songrise has been hosting virtual open mics. Goldberg is also organizing a virtual choir in the DC Hub by layering the voices of Hub members on top of each other. Similarly, the head of the tools and resources team, Danny Kim, has run events like game night. A core principle of Sunrise’s strategy is people power, which is building an active base of public support, and maintaining connectivity is integral to keeping Sunrise members involved and excited.


Gong is a facilitator for Sunrise School, a training session over Zoom for those new to the Sunrise Movement to learn about the Green New Deal and to organize while connecting with other activists. For the DC Hub, Gong said, “training has been largely subsumed by Sunrise School.” Sunrise has run many trainings, so they already had a lot of the content and slides. All they needed to do was adapt some aspects to make the conversation more relevant to the COVID-19 crisis. They started getting a network of trainers together in early March, a week or two before the proper shutdown. When Gong received an email asking for facilitators, she jumped at the opportunity. After attending a training for trainers, she began leading Sunrise School courses. Sunrise School plays an integral role in outreach and makes Sunrise accessible to anyone with Internet access. It also serves as a feeder to local hubs, and the majority of all new recruits to the DC hub have taken a course.


Many other organizations are adapting to this crisis similar to the Sunrise DC Hub by emphasizing connectivity and outreach and canceling previous plans to make room for smaller digital actions. The DC Hub, though, has been particularly effective at continuing to push for change.


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