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Fossil Free GW ditches name, expands advocacy efforts

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Fossil Free GW dropped its original name to join the Sunrise Movement, which will help members expand advocacy to issues outside divestment.

Fossil Free GW is rebranding its organization to include advocacy for the Green New Deal and other climate-related issues, according to a post on the group’s Facebook page Monday.

Fossil Free GW is now a chapter of the Sunrise Movement, an organization that works to combat climate change and reduce fossil fuel dependence. Sunrise GW members said the group will continue to focus on fossil fuel divestment but grow its advocacy efforts to encompass other climate-related issues, which will increase the organization’s membership and widen the scope of the group’s activism.

“We felt that, given the state of the climate justice movement right now and given how it’s orienting around strikes and around the Green New Deal, the most effective way to organize ourselves on campus and effective manner would be to adopt a two-pronged approach and incorporate Sunrise’s theory of change,” Sunrise GW member Joe Markus said.

Fossil Free GW previously urged officials to pull investments out of companies like ExxonMobil, Shell and British Petroleum. The Student Association Senate passed a resolution in 2015 calling on the Board of Trustees to disclose and divest GW’s stakes in fossil fuel companies.

Markus, a sophomore, said Sunrise GW will still push officials to divest from fossil fuels but will advocate for the Green New Deal – proposed legislation that aims to reorient the country toward net-zero carbon emission within 10 years. He said the group will fight for climate-related issues, like minimizing the influence fossil fuel companies have on politicians and private corporations.

Markus said Fossil Free GW was a relatively small student organization before transitioning to Sunrise GW last week. He said previous partnerships between Fossil Free GW and the local D.C. Chapter of the Sunrise Movement, including the September 2019 Climate Strikes, led both groups to decide that a reorientation would help integrate the student body into more environmental activism.

“They suggested to us that if we wanted to make Fossil Free into a Sunrise group that was duly committed to both divestment and the Green New Deal, they were completely on board with that,” Markus said. “We will be on board with transforming ourselves into a Sunrise club, especially since that would offer us support from the D.C. hub.”

He said group members hope to better reach students who passively engage with the climate crisis with the organizational backing of Sunrise.

“We don’t have to reinvent the wheel every single time we do it,” Markus said. “But what our goal is is to have a nature of consistency and organization that allows people not only to have a place to go and a community to be a part of, but also shows the University population that the climate crisis is happening.”

Freshman and Sunrise GW member Gabriella Bann said Sunrise provides the group with legal assistance it has lacked in the past. She said legal support would have been helpful when some of the group’s members were arrested at climate protests.

Senior and Sunrise GW member Matt Zimmer said changing the organization’s name to Sunrise GW will increase the group’s membership, because students with a wide variety of climate-related interests – like pushing the U.S. military to reduce carbon emissions – will feel like they have a place in the organization.

The U.S. military emits more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than most industrialized nations, according to a recent report from Brown University.

“We realized that if we wanted to be able to take action, both in the political realm and university realm, we would need to grow our organization significantly, and we think that transferring the name will do that,” he said. “We’re really happy about this transition and think that the organization is going to take a new integrated approach to both divestment and the broader political scene.”

Sophomore and Sunrise GW member Jeremy Liskar said the national Sunrise Movement provides the group with training on concrete measures it can take to combat the climate crisis. Liskar hopes that Sunrise’s strategic action plans and social media presence will help the GW chapter better establish an organized base on campus.

“Sunrise has been really helpful in that they are always willing to provide training for students and outline direct action,” Liskar said.

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