Alex Teasley stands in front of city hall with their hands in their pockets, while wearing a black Sunrise Movement shirt.
Sunrise Movement KC member Alex Teasley is seen outside City Hall, where the group protested in early June as a response to the city’s movement on its climate plan. Credit: Zach Bauman

When Alex Teasley found out Kansas City, Missouri, was prioritizing action on climate change, they were hopeful. 

Teasley, 17, is a part of Sunrise Movement KC, a local chapter of the national nonprofit organization, which was founded in 2017 shortly before an international rise in climate change protests. The chapter advocates for the Green New Deal as well as mutual aid and is a haven for young progressives. 

“When we are addressing this climate crisis, it needs to be addressed so that we’re not leaving people behind,” Teasley said. “It was the best of both worlds to unite a lot of the political issues that people in my generation care about. [Sunrise] addresses racism, it addresses climate change, it addresses classism.”

But Sunrise Movement KC didn’t think the city’s Climate Protection and Resiliency Plan went far enough. Months after the plan’s draft was released and revisions were made, there was little progress. The group subsequently led a protest outside City Hall in early June. 

The Kansas City Climate Protection Steering Committee (CPSC) formally endorsed the plan during Thursday’s meeting, with Evergy’s representative Ellen Fairchild abstaining from the vote. City Council will consider the plan next.

While the plan doesn’t resemble more ambitious ones like the Green New Deal, it’s a start, said Jack Niemuth, a volunteer with Sunrise. 

“We still have to keep fire under the City Council and under the rest of the city government to make sure that they actually follow through with their promises and that they actually go beyond this in the future,” Niemuth said. 

Niemuth said commitments for more affordable, energy-efficient housing and increased east-west transit were among improvements made to the initial draft. 

He says he is concerned about the plan’s implementation, as it’s not an actual piece of legislation. 

“Nonetheless, it’ll ultimately be implemented through a variety of different mechanisms and different, smaller pieces of legislation in the City Council,” Niemuth said. 

Niemuth adds that Sunrise Movement KC is now a permanent fixture in the city when it comes to climate policy. 

“We have been going to the CPSC sessions for months and frequently,” Niemuth said. “We have members there, and they’re asking more of our representatives, ‘What do you think about this?’ — like our perspective matters to a lot of these people now.”

Sunrise Movement takes a multifaceted approach to climate change

Sarah Gray helps lead the group’s mutual aid program, and said they want Sunrise KC to be an organization that lifts up community voices, creating a pathway for residents to provide input on important issues. 

“We’re hoping to continue that public pressure over time as this plan is implemented, and make sure that it’s actually held accountable to the commitments, and to make sure that those commitments are applied to the communities that need it the most,” Gray said.

Mutual aid is different from charity, as community members provide each other with necessary resources. Community fridges are an example of mutual aid, as people can donate or collect food in a public space, according to their need. Gray said this kind of practice will be useful in combating the climate crisis. 

“From the mutual aid perspective, we understand that so many of the crises facing our communities, and particularly marginalized communities, Black, brown, poor and working class folks, the disab[led] community, the LGBT community, are all exacerbated by the climate crisis,” Gray said. “So with our mutual aid, we specifically address the food crisis that we’ve got.”

Gray says climate change is intrinsically tied to white supremacy and capitalism. 

“Those are two systems that drive all kinds of issues facing the same communities and communities that we’re a part of, so as young people we’re extremely interested in uprooting all of it together because we realize that we can’t address one problem without addressing the entire system,” Gray said. 

Why are young people drawn to the Sunrise Movement?

Teasley, who helps lead Sunrise’s Green New Deal team, said they were attracted to the organization because of its inclusive nature. 

The Green New Deal was introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2019 and outlines how to address climate change. Its provisions include high-paying union jobs, sustainable infrastructure and collaborative work with farmers to decrease pollution. 

Teasley said this plan can help communities overcome the climate crisis in a way that leaves no one behind. 

“Despite the fact that the climate crisis is horrible, and it is really scary, we can use this as an opportunity not only to switch over our energy, but also to take back power for the working class and for people of color and for women and for LGBTQ liberation,” Teasley said. “We’re really motivated by the idea that liberation can be for everyone, and we can use the climate crisis as an opportunity to grow towards a better world.”

Broden Ripley, a newer member of Sunrise Movement KC, said he’s new to organizing as well. Ripley sees the intersection of labor and the climate crisis as an important issue. 

“Something like the Green New Deal happening would obviously make people’s homes better and safer for them,” Ripley said. “It would create a ton of jobs, union jobs. It would build up communities to be in a better situation financially.”

In a time filled with great political uncertainty, it can be easy for activists of any kind to become discouraged. Gray said that at Sunrise, members are motivated by envisioning an attainable future. 

“We believe that a world with livable futures and job justice, wage justice, racial justice, is possible,” Gray said. “Hope and optimism are the backbone of all resistance.”

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Abby Shepherd is a reporting intern for The Kansas City Beacon. She is from Olathe, Kansas, and is a rising senior at the University of Kansas.