The Franklin County hub of Sunrise Movement — a youth-led initiative for climate justice — holds a rally Oct. 31 encouraging voters to approve referendum Question 1 and ban the NECEC corridor. The rally was attended by local “Sunrisers” and ‘Yes on 1’ organizers ahead of the Nov. 2 election where the county and state overwhelmingly voted in favor of the referendum question. Kay Neufeld/Franklin Journal

REGION — As climate change intensifies by the year, young people across the country (who many say will be “inheriting” the climate crisis) are advocating for climate justice and calling for impactful legislation to cull its escalation.

This advocacy has officially landed in Franklin County. Generation-Z members have established a county hub for Sunrise Movement — a nationwide, youth-led initiative of individuals under 35 years old calling for climate justice and the Green New Deal (GND).

The Franklin County hub of Sunrise Movement was established in June 2021 by Kahryn Cullenberg, a freshman at Bates from Farmington.

In that beginning cohort were Foster Tech graduate Isabelle Rogers, 20, Mt. Blue graduate Charlie Eng, 19, and a multitude of other college students who left the area for the new semester in the fall.

Now, co-coordinators Rogers and Eng have teamed up with a variety of young people from the county — college, Mt. Blue High School and Middle School students alike.

Rogers feels that a hub based in Franklin County is important to bring the Sunrise Movement to “the mountains…western, more rural areas of Maine.” At this point, the other four hubs are college hubs.

Rogers said the hub was established and she got involved because “we were very excited to start something from the ground up here in a very rural community.”

Though most members — aka “Sunrisers” — are from the Farmington area, there is also representation from members living in Wilton, Vienna, etc., Rogers explained.

Rogers and Eng also appreciate the age range of the hub, ranging from 13 to 20 years old.

“The people I work with are so brilliant and the way they think is just amazing,” Eng said. “I look back at when I was their age in high school — I wasn’t having these conversations about climate change or about indigenous communities and communities of color.”

Rogers thinks the hub and overall movement benefit from Sunrisers in the Mt. Blue school system is important because “we can get the students involved with and spread awareness through their school.”

It also allows them to address “how can we make our school systems more sustainable.”

Under 18 or not, Sunrisers feel it’s important for climate-justice advocacy to include the voices of young people because they “are the generation that’s going to inherit the worst of the climate crisis,” said Sunrise Movement Communications Director Ellen Sciales.

“We’re transforming our generation’s anger and frustration at a lifetime of political inaction on climate into a mass movement for a Green New Deal. Because it’s ultimately our future that’s on the line,” Sciales said.

It’s also an opportunity for a union of young people to take the stage, rather than be overlooked, Rogers said.

“I think young people have a very strong voice that can tend to get muted by older people in political power,” she said. “When we are grouped together, we can be heard (and) we’re not afraid for our voices to be heard. And I think that that’s powerful.”

The national Sunrise Movement, established in 2017, is a “a coalition of young people building a progressive movement to stop climate change and create millions of good paying jobs in the process,” Sciales explained.

The Green New Deal is congressional legislation “to mobilize every aspect of American society to 100% clean and renewable energy, guarantee living-wage jobs for anyone who needs one, and a just transition for both workers and frontline communities—all in the next 10 years,” according to the Sunrise Movement website.

The resolution lays out plans to support “frontline and vulnerable communities” impacted by climate change, according to Vox.

It would invest in the country’s transition to “100% clean energy usage,”  “community-defined projects and strategies,” “education and job training for frontline communities in transition” and “research and development,” among other things.

The Franklin County hub — one of over 500 hubs in the country — is ultimately aligned in that goal to advocate for the GND and fight climate change. However, the county hub is currently focused on an initial educational phase, Eng said.

County Sunrisers are working to better understand climate change, climate justice, the GND and how all would impact Franklin County.

As “a lot of people (in Franklin County) like to get their hands dirty … when they work,” the county Sunrisers are trying to learn about what sustainable industries would suit the area and its residents, Eng said.

The group is also trying to better understand how Franklin County will be impacted by climate change and how residents could benefit from the GND.

“I think it’s important to remind people that ‘yes, our jobs are at stake if we don’t do something about climate change,'” Rogers said. “We rely heavily on our agriculture here and we rely heavily on our forestry, our fishery and our coastal services.”

Rogers added that they want to “build awareness” as “though it’s green in your backyard, that doesn’t mean” the impacts of climate change are not in Maine and Franklin County.

Rogers is on the mark in saying that climate change would impact local industries. Local farmers told the Franklin Journal of the negative affects drought season has had on their crops and livestock herds. The Washington Post reports that “the Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 99 percent of the world’s oceans, dramatically disrupting fishery patterns.” And milder winter weather can impact communities and industries that rely on heavy snowfall, such as towns with ski lodges or snowmobile trails.

Franklin County Sunrisers are also mapping out what action they can take to address issues “that affect Maine and its rural communities.”

Nevertheless, the Franklin County hub has already taken some action. They had a table at the Farmington Summer Fest where they offered information for attendees.

Sunrise Movement also led a rally Oct. 31 for the ‘Yes on 1’ campaign to approve referendum Question 1 and ban the NECEC corridor. The rally was attended by local ‘Yes on 1’ organizers, who also held their own weekly rallies since June 2020 that Sunrisers attended.

Eng said that seeing voters statewide and in Franklin County overwhelmingly approve Question 1 “was a really, really nice feeling.”

“Our hard work paid off. This was a huge victory for everyone. People listened to us,” Eng said. “You don’t always see that when you’re doing climate-related work. You have to take your victories where you can find them.”

Sciales, Eng and Rogers feel that Sunrise Movement’s local, rural base is impactful in a way that is distinct from hubs in major cities with over 100 members.

Rogers has heard of other smaller hubs that have “serious impact” on local elections and issues in the community that need to be solved and believes the Franklin County hub has the potential to do the same.

“I think that (smaller, localized focus and presence) shows that we don’t need a ton of people to get something done as long as we have ambition for it,” Rogers said.

“The thing about the Green New Deal is that cities and states and towns, whether it be a really small rural town in Maine, or New York City, play an incredibly important role,” Sciales said. “The Green New Deal is a governing project that will ultimately require the involvement of all levels of government, all levels of society, every city, every town.

“The implementation of the Green New Deal can and should look different in every community, because every community is different,” she said.

As of now, the Sunrise Movement Franklin County hub meets weekly and is working on organizing future events and actions. More information can be found at the hub’s Instagram, https://instagram.com/sunrisemvmtfranklincounty.

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