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The Sunrise Movement May Bet Big on Bernie in 2020. This Is Why.

WASHINGTON — The Sunrise Movement is going Bernie or bust. Maybe. The youth-led grassroots climate activism group has been debating internally for more than a month whether to make a presidential endorsement for 2020, which would change the status of the group from single-issue advocacy to a political organization. On Thursday it will announce the…

The Sunrise Movement May Bet Big on Bernie in 2020. This Is Why.

WASHINGTON — The Sunrise Movement is going Bernie or bust. Maybe.

The youth-led grassroots climate activism group has been debating internally for more than a month whether to make a presidential endorsement for 2020, which would change the status of the group from single-issue advocacy to a political organization. On Thursday it will announce the results of an online vote that their members held over the holidays.

If they do endorse, it’s no secret they have one candidate in mind: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

The group formed in 2017 but went viral after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined their sit-in in front of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office in 2018, helping take the Green New Deal from fringe policy idea to progressive political orthodoxy.

It stands to reason that if the group endorses at all, it will endorse Sanders, the man who counts Ocasio-Cortez as a prominent surrogate and tops the Sunrise Movement climate scorecard on the strength of his support for the Green New Deal.

But the vote could go in a different direction: no endorsement at all. That’s because some members of the group are uncomfortable with the fact that throwing their lot in with a candidate could dilute their message and morph the movement from issue-based to explicitly partisan.

“We gain some power and also lose some power,” said Natalie Rotstein, a 21-year-old UCLA grad and organizer in the group’s Los Angeles hub. “We would lose almost all of our political leverage with any other candidate, we lose our ability to push them more on the Green New Deal, and in an extreme situation there can be a chance that because we are so closely associated with the Green New Deal, they would just drop it completely.”

READ: Why Julian Castro endorsing Elizabeth Warren is a huge deal

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In December, VICE News sat in as Rotstein led members of the group’s Los Angeles hub in a debate on the topic at an apartment building in the city’s downtown just days before they began voting online.

The meeting illuminated how some of the country’s youngest and most influential activists see themselves and their movement. Some are too young to even vote in the upcoming election, but Sunrise doesn’t have an age limit, so the internal vote will be their best and maybe only chance to influence the primary.

Some members worried that if they align with a candidate, they could lose their ability to push other candidates, or even the one they endorse. Like any political group, they would have to make political tradeoffs rather than continue their doggedly independent protests, like sit-ins in front of Pelosi’s office or on the steps of the Democratic National Committee.

Other attendees worried that an endorsement could alienate members in the group who are sympathetic to the cause but might prefer another candidate or no Democrat at all. Though group leaders have promised they won’t force hubs to work for a candidate if they don’t want to, an endorsement could still cause friction between the dozens of hubs nationwide.

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