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Sunrise Marchers

Hundreds of young climate activists marched to the White House to demand a meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden about infrastructure legislation and to reiterate their message, "No Climate, No Deal." (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Sunrise Activists Arrested Over 'No Climate, No Deal' Blockade of White House

"President Biden has been failing us," Sunrise Movement executive director Varshini Prakash said about the administration's recent comments on the infrastructure package.

Jessica Corbett

Dozens of youth activists with the Sunrise Movement were arrested by Secret Service agents on Monday while blockading all 10 entrances of the White House to demand that President Joe Biden and federal lawmakers deliver an infrastructure package that invests in job creation and combats the climate emergency.

The demonstrators had three core demands: stop negotiating with Republican politicians who don't care about climate action; meet with Sunrise executive director Varshini Prakash and other youth organizers who handed Democrats control of the White House and Congress; and pass a bold jobs and climate package that includes a fully funded Civilian Climate Corps (CCC).

The blockade at the White House and resulting arrests followed a march and rally of more than 500 activists and congressional Green New Deal champions—Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), and Cori Bush (D-Mo.). It also comes after Biden and lawmakers announced a $579 billion bipartisan compromise on infrastructure last week.

In response to Monday's protest, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki pushed back against progressive critiques of the deal, saying, "I would dispute the notion that it doesn’t do anything for climate, which some are arguing."

The Hill reports that Psaki highlighted provisions on clean energy, electric buses, and legacy pollution.

"Whether or not everyone is aware of all those specifics," Psaki said, "that's incumbent on us to keep conveying that, communicating it, listening, and making sure people understand that this is a down payment and the president will continue to advocate for, press for, work for, even more on climate as he will in the reconciliation bill in the process moving forward."

While progressive lawmakers have pledged to continue conditioning the bipartisan deal's passage on that of the reconciliation bill—even as Biden has walked back what many saw as a veto threat if the two measures didn't reach his desk "in tandem"—Sunrise activists have expressed disappointment with a president they helped elect.

"Whether or not the Biden administration is aware, the bipartisan infrastructure bill's climate provisions are a measly fraction of his campaign promises, which themselves were a fraction of what is necessary to rebuild our economy and stop the climate crisis," Prakash said, responding to Psaki's comments.

"This bill on its own is unacceptable, and the White House hasn't clarified what it'll continue to fight for," Prakash continued. "From negotiating down Biden's original climate and jobs proposals, to his lack of opposition to Line 3, and approval and defense of other major long term fossil fuel projects like the Willow Project in Alaska, President Biden has been failing us."

The Sunrise leader added that "if Biden and Democrats do not pass and sign trillions of dollars in climate investments including a massive Civilian Climate Corps through a Democratic reconciliation bill, progressives in Congress and in the streets will reject any bullshit deal that propels us into climate catastrophe."

That sentiment was echoed outside the White House by campaigners holding signs that declared, "No Climate, No Deal."

Pennsylvania-based Sunrise activist Mary Collier addressed the president directly. "Biden, I dreamt that if we elected you, you would invest in towns like mine—like Bethlehem, PA, where politicians abandoned us," she said. "I dreamt you would create good-paying jobs for people like me because I shouldn't have to stand at the gas pump, forced to choose between putting gas in my tank or food in my stomach—a choice I've had to make."

"So I, along with thousands of young people, spent last fall getting Pennsylvania out to vote," she continued. "It was my county, Northampton County, that won this election for you. And we elected you with the guarantee that you would combat the climate crisis and create good paying jobs."

"But Biden, I see you compromising with the GOP and negotiating away Bethlehem's future," Collier added, "and I'm here to tell you: No Climate, No Deal."

Speakers on Monday also highlighted the need for jobs that improve the nation's infrastructure and create cleaner, more sustainable systems, from energy to housing and transportation.

The CCC legislation introduced earlier this year by Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.)—who are also the lead sponsors of the Green New Deal Resolution—would create 1.5 million jobs over five years through federally funded projects intended to help communities across the country respond to the climate emergency and transition to clean energy.

The New York Daily News reports on the scene outside the White House:

"They want you to think, 'Oh, this is a new idea, this is too ambitious, this is too crazy.' How about this? The last time we introduced the Civilian Climate Corps in this country, we hired and mobilized a quarter-million people in three months," Ocasio-Cortez told the crowd, referring to the New Deal-era Civilian Conservation Corps.

"We're going to get that into this infrastructure bill," added the congresswoman who represents parts of the Bronx and Queens.

Sunrise's Monday action came as high temperatures hit both the Northeast and Pacific Northwest, conditions that experts and activists connected to the climate emergency.

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