Friday, February 3, 2023
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Minority Members Accuse Leftist Environmental Group of Racism, Tokenization

'It was a hellish battle to transform white-savior, socialism-averse messaging to the radical vision we sometimes achieved...'

Minority activists are accusing left-wing environmental group the Sunrise Movement of racism and tokenization, claiming the organization’s leaders discriminated against black and Latino members regularly.

More than 100 activists signed a letter, obtained by Buzzfeed News, that accuses the Sunrise Movement of financial mismanagement and racial discrimination. 

“Staff and movement leaders have poured hundreds of hours into trying to convince top leadership to truly live out our slogan to ‘build a multi-racial cross-class movement,’” the letter states. “Top leadership’s results are wholly inadequate.”

One black member of the group claimed the Sunrise Movement fired him and accused the organization of using millions of dollars in funding to enrich the top leaders at the expense of the group’s revolutionary climate goals. 

“I was the first black leader of Sunrise org,” Alex O’Keefe wrote on Twitter in a since-deleted tweet. “I was the longest tenured black person in a white-majority org. That alone suggests the hostility that met me. It was a hellish battle to transform white-savior, socialism-averse messaging to the radical vision we sometimes achieved.”

Another member said the Sunrise Movement would welcome “young, white, college-educated people” while ignoring minorities and working-class Americans who also wanted to contribute.

A Native American activist named Big Wind said he quit the group in 2019 after it became apparent the organization only wanted him at events as the movement’s “toke Native.”

“I personally do not feel comfortable working with an organization when tokenization is a thing,” Big Wind said.

Several minority members brought their complaints to the group’s leadership back in 2019, encouraging the Sunrise Movement to “invest in BIPOC members who are asked to speak or be the face of an event,” but their requests were not received, according to the minority members.

The Sunrise Movement pushed back on the allegations, claiming that by 2021 all of the minority members’ requests “had been met.”

“From our very founding, Sunrise has deeply believed that we are all imperfect, and that it’s incumbent on every organization to respond to feedback thoughtfully in an effort to grow,” the group said in a statement.

“While it’s true that individual leaders, both staff and volunteers, chose to leave Sunrise over the past year, the data we have show that the level of [b]lack participation in our movement has remained steady for at least the past 18 months,” the statement continued.

The Sunrise Movement made a name for itself when the group protested against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in 2018.

During the insurrection, hundreds of radical protesters stormed the House speaker’s office on Capitol Hill to force Pelosi and other House Democrats to create a new committee just to focus on climate change and how to implement the Green New Deal.

“We are here to call on Democratic politicians, that we know are with us, who understand the climate science, to back up their words with action and support this select committee for a Green New Deal,” Varshini Prakash, founder and communications director of the movement, said at the time.

Officers arrested more than 130 Sunrise Movement protesters who refused to leave the area.

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