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18 Youth Sunrise Movement Activists Arrested for Occupying McCarthy’s Office

“We are fed up and we won’t take it anymore,” one activist said.

Activists from the Sunrise Movement occupy Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy's office on September 28, 2023.

On Thursday, over 150 youth Sunrise Movement activists occupied the office of Republican Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (California) to demand that McCarthy stop the impending government shutdown and focus on funding climate action instead.

“We sent a clear message today that our generation is ready to do whatever it takes to stop the climate crisis, and that the GOP can try to shut down the government, they can try to run from the problems, they can let people continue dying in climate disasters around the country, but our generation will not stand for that and we are ready to take matters into our own hands,” Sunrise Movement organizer Adah Crandall, 17, told Teen Vogue.

Capitol Police arrested 18 of the activists who blocked McCarthy’s office entrance and refused to vacate until McCarthy pledged to keep the government open. Capitol Police charged the activists with “crowding, obstructing, or incommoding.”

“Today showed that the GOP is nothing but a group of cowards,” Crandall said in a press release. “They chose to arrest a bunch of teenagers instead of facing us. They would rather shut down the government than do their jobs and protect our generation. Our generation is watching and we will hold them accountable for their actions.”

Earlier on Thursday, the Biden administration emailed federal employees to alert them that they may soon be temporarily furloughed after McCarthy rejected a bipartisan funding proposal that would keep the government open. Congress only has two days until the anticipated government shutdown unless lawmakers are able to reach a deal to extend federal funding before that critical deadline.

“Speaker McCarthy is a coward,” said Shiva Rajbhandari, a 19-year-old Sunrise Movement organizer. “McCarthy and Republicans can either do their jobs, act on the climate crisis, and fund our schools, or they can risk our economy to appease a few extremists. Our generation is watching and we will hold them accountable for their actions.”

The impacts of a government shutdown could be massive. Climate change increases the possibility of droughts and the intensity of storms, resulting in more weather disasters. National data shows that the United States has already surpassed the total number of billion-dollar disasters seen nationwide last year — and if the government shuts down, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which responds to natural disasters, may struggle to provide needed aid to impacted communities.

While FEMA has said that it would be able to spend its leftover funds from its primary disaster fund in the event of a government shutdown, the agency may be unable to respond effectively to emergencies once that money is depleted. Meanwhile, the U.S. has two months until the end of hurricane season, and a government shutdown could force FEMA to respond to upcoming disasters with unpaid staff.

“If everything goes perfect in a disaster, people still lose their lives, we still lose homes,” Steve Reaves, the head of AFGE Local 4060, a union representing FEMA employees, told The Washington Post. “You complicate that with lack of funding, or a miscommunication, or a delay in the system anywhere, and you’re talking about more lives.”

The Sunrise Movement gained prominence during the Trump Administration and has organized numerous actions to protest climate inaction by Congress. The latest action by youth activists “really shows the people in power that the power our generation is building across the country is so much stronger than corrupt GOP policy,” Crandall told Teen Vogue.

“We are fed up and we won’t take it anymore,” Crandall said. “As storms rage stronger, fires grow hotter, and heatwaves grow more deadly, Kevin McCarthy is playing political games with our futures. We’re facing a climate emergency and McCarthy can’t even do his job.”

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