Local grassroots activism at heart of Columbia chapter of national climate advocacy group

Heather Belser is starting a chapter of the national climate organization Sunrise Movement, hoping to engage Columbia college students in grassroots climate advocacy.
The Sunrise Movement is a national organization that focuses on national climate advocacy. It recently took part in the local and national climate strike that occurred on September 20, 2019. Courtesy of Facebook via @sunrisemvmt

A national climate advocacy group is coming to Columbia as MU junior Heather Belser is founding a local chapter of Sunrise Movement.

Sunrise Movement is a national organization with over 250 local hubs, founded in 2017. The group gained national publicity last year after staging a sit-in with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, according to Politico Magazine. On a national scale, the group is known for its support of the Green New Deal.

Columbia’s chapter is less than two weeks old and was founded by MU junior Heather Belser. Belser says she was inspired to start a Columbia hub by a friend who is a coordinator in her hometown of Kansas City.

Sunrise Movement is youth-led, which Belser says resonated with her.

During her freshman and sophomore year Belser was involved with Sustain Mizzou and had been involved with Sunrise Movement in Kansas City prior to starting the Columbia chapter. She was also involved with Sierra Club in Kansas City. Belser is majoring in chemical engineering with an environmental emphasis.

“The main goals of Sunrise Movement are [to] fight for a liveable future and [to] create millions of better jobs in the process,” Belser said.

Belser says that Columbia’s proximity to Jefferson City will be advantageous as the group organizes letter-writing campaigns and coordinates with hubs in Kansas City and Springfield. The letter-writing campaigns will focus on getting 2020 candidates running for governor and other elected officials to take the No Fossil Fuels Money Pledge, meaning they will refuse to accept donations from fossil fuel companies.

Belser emphasizes the local, grassroots nature of Sunrise Movement. Rather than one centralized hub, the organization has hubs spread throughout the country.

“We need to make change on a state-to-state basis, on a city-to-city basis,” Belser said.

The group has not yet started meeting, but is planning on taking part in the Global Youth Climate Strike on Sept. 20 in Speakers Circle on MU’s campus along with Climate Leaders at Mizzou.

“It is striking [from] class or whatever you’re doing for the day just to make it known that we’re here, we matter, we want a liveable future,” Belser said. “We want action taken on climate change.”

Belser has reached out to various clubs on campus such as Mizzou Democrats to advertise and is also promoting the chapter on social media. Since the chapter is not an MU-affiliated club, she has also reached out to clubs at Stephens College and Columbia College.

“There’s so much to be done,” Belser said. “We’re just starting out.”

Edited by Ben Scott | bscott@themaneater.com

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