Dickinson awarded the Sam Rose ’58 and Julie Walters Prize for Global Environmental Activism to Varshini Prakash, general manager and co-founder of Sunrise Movement, a grassroots movement of young people seeking to avert climate change and create good-paying employment in the process. Each year, a prize of $100,000 is awarded to a person or group that has had a significant impact on the world, its people, and its resources by fostering responsible action. Keep reading to learn more about Varshini Prakash.
Childhood and Professional Development
When the 2004 Tsunami Struck Chennai, India, the city where Varshini Prakash’s grandmother resided, she was in the sixth grade. While sitting in her Acton, Massachusetts, living room viewing the video, she recalls how helpless she felt. Prakash collected food cans to contribute to the Red Cross since he had no other options.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch as well as other environmental issues startled Prakash in high school, but she didn’t have an outlet for her rage except for establishing the recycling club as well as micromanaging how her classmates recycled. College would’ve been different because of the agreement she made with herself.
Prakash got active in the fossil fuel divestment movement at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and she spoke publicly for the first time during a demonstration. In a manner she never expected, she adds, “I simply fell in love with organizing.”
However, the more involved Prakash became with climate change, the more enraged she became with politicians who refused to do something about it. The first point she thought about was how a successful climate-change response political movement might seem.
When she was a student in college, she and a group of 10 of her friends began gathering on a regular basis to discuss this subject. A year of research on civil rights and anti-apartheid movements laid the foundation for the Sunrise Movement—a youth-led grassroots initiative aimed at reversing climate change and supporting an equitable economic system. They called it the Sunrise Movement because of its focus on youth.
During a sit-in outside Democratic representative, Nancy Pelosi’s office in November, (then-representative-elect) Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez turned up, making headlines for the protestors.
Ever since Prakash as well as other Sunrise Movement activists have staged a series of high-profile sit-ins and rallies around the nation to raise awareness about the Green New Deal and encourage others to join them. Candidates are also urged to stop accepting fossil fuel funding and pledge to make climate change a top campaign goal if elected.
As Prakash puts it, “We do the key moments in Nancy Pelosi’s office”—that moves the center of gravity. “And we utilize that energy to establish long-term organization on the ground.”
Sunrise Movement was started by Prakash and a small group of like-minded activists in the summer of 2017. When it comes to the biggest danger to our age, politicians are known for putting it off till later, according to Prakash, who spoke to NPR.
After staging a sit-in outside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s D.C. office with backing from U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2018, the organization acquired notoriety and support by focusing on development via grassroots conducting and political action including campaign endorsements. A growing group of young people, Sunrise Movement, is pushing for the Green New Deal, a package of climate change policy measures aimed at generating employment and addressing economic inequality at the same time.
Prakash has made a point of using her rising notoriety to promote the values of Sunrise. Various newspapers, such as the New York Times, Washington Post, BBC News, MSNBC, and others, have highlighted her work. As the daughter of Indian immigrants, the 2004 Tsunami Struck was among the first events that spurred Prakash to become active in climate change activism and advocacy. Her achievements have landed her on lists such as Forbes’ 30 under 30 list for law and policy, as well as the TIME 100 Next list, which recognizes emerging talents in fields such as politics, pop culture, and science. Certified from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, she now lives in New York City.
Dickinson’s Rose-Walters Prize involves a brief residence in the academic year 2021-22, as well as a monetary prize. Dickinson’s environmental leadership organizations and professors will meet with Prakash during her residence, and he will take part in class debates and deliver a public presentation at a later date.
Students at Dickinson College have had the opportunity to interact with officials from the Clean Air Task Force, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Natural Resources Defense Council, as well as other noteworthy organizations since the Rose-Walters award was established in 2012. Also recognized were Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Elizabeth Kolbert and award-winning wildlife photographer James Balog for their work raising awareness about climate change. See a comprehensive list of prior honorees by visiting this page: recipients list.
Prakash’s parents are from the south of India, and he was reared in Massachusetts.
The Sunrise Movement was founded in 2015 on the East Coast by Sara Blazevic and Varshini Prakash.
Sunrise co-founder Varshini Prakash led the Fossil Fuel Divestment, spending $412,722 and having net assets of $218,094.
We hope you enjoyed this comprehensive bio on Varshini Prakash and were inspired by her determination and will to make a change, no matter how small or how big! To learn more about other notable personalities, keep reading Seema.