Students In the Sunrise Movement

How City High students are involved in the Sunrise Climate Action Group and creating a Sunrise club at City High.


Jennie Gidal

Sunrise Iowa City has their weekly meeting on Zoom.

Jennie Gidal, Reporter

In 2019, climate strikes led by City High students grabbed the attention of news outlets, local organizations, and Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. A year later, City students continue to ride the tide of change. 

Maya Bennett ‘23 first heard about Sunrise, a national organization dedicated to making climate change a priority in America in October whereupon she decided to join the organization to learn more about what she could do to slow climate change. Now, she’s planning on starting a Sunrise club at City High with a couple of her peers to get more students involved in Climate Change. 

Eva Sileo is the Iowa City Sunrise hub coordinator and a senior at the University of Iowa, with a major in Biology for her undergraduate degree and a secondary science education for her graduate degree. She joined the organization during the COVID-19 pandemic and took a leadership position in July of this year.

“[Climate change is] something that is going to have pretty devastating impacts on communities and is already having a devastating impact,” Sileo said. “We’re going to have to contemplate how we can change our transportation infrastructure, how we can change our energy infrastructure, our food infrastructure, our responsive infrastructure we have around responding to natural disasters. All of these things that are going to be impacted are very crucial to human society and the functioning of human society.”

The Sunrise Movement was founded in 2017. Currently,  the organization has more than 400 hubs around the country. During the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Iowa City hub stopped meeting due to safety concerns. Sileo reports that her hub began meeting weekly again through Zoom soon after. 

“I was frustrated with politics, and I wanted a place to go with that I could make a difference,” Maya Bennett ‘23 said. “I like meeting these people and they’re really nice, it’s a really good community. We’re making an impact, nationally we’re doing a lot, so it’s really fun.”

Bennett recalls having done phone banking for the Sunrise Climate Summit meeting, a coalition meeting hosted by the Iowa City hub with the active climate organizations in Southeastern Iowa. The goal was to come up with sturdy plans for change that all the organizations could agree on and advertise all the different climate justice groups.

“I’ve learned about the Green New Deal, and about community organizations and activists, and Iowa’s goals for climate,” Bennett said. “We’re working to get Iowa to net-zero by 2030 which is zero carbon emission. It goes along with the Green New Deal but it’s at a local level in Iowa.”

Bennett plans on starting a Sunrise hub at City High with some fellow classmates. The club would have opportunities for high school students to volunteer, hear from professionals, and take action on climate change. 

“Hopefully Sunrise club at City will be a space for students to get involved and find their place in the community with activism,” Bennett said. “This is our future and it’s up to us to change it, this is a national organization that’s making a difference so if you want to join anything, Sunrise is the place to go.”

Along with climate justice, Sunrise works to help local issues in Iowa City. For instance, the organization has worked to get the University of Iowa to provide hazard pay to employees being asked to work in person during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, they want to work on criminal justice on their campus in the future. 

“I’ve always felt that like the younger the people we can get involved, the better the organization is because young people are the ones that are most directly impacted by climate change,” Sileo said. “It gives me a grander sort of hope to see people younger than myself taking an initiative or getting really critically involved in these kinds of fights because we need you.”