Sunrise Movement occupies City Hall over climate emergency

Flannery Clark and Sunrise Movement Asheville
ASSEMBLY HALL: Sunrise Movement member Flannery Clark addresses her fellow protesters as the group occupies Asheville City Hall. Photo by Daniel Walton

“I went down to the mayor’s office and I took back what they stole from me,” sang over 40 members of Sunrise Movement Asheville as they lined the second-floor hallway of Asheville City Hall. After months of haranguing City Council over the wording of a climate emergency resolution, protesters occupied the government building on Dec. 6 to demand that Mayor Esther Manheimer and her colleagues pass the document as written by the climate justice group.

As hundreds of marchers participated in the Asheville Climate Strike for a Green New Deal at Pack Square Park outside the building, Sunrise member Flannery Clark addressed why her group felt compelled to act. Although the resolution had been taken up in November by the city’s Sustainability Advisory Committee on Energy and the Environment, she claimed that the process had stripped the document of all measures that would hold city leaders accountable on climate issues.

“If cities are declaring climate emergencies and there is nothing in it regarding legislation or accountability … it is a ploy to make it seem like they’re doing something when they’re not,” Clark said. “And that’s unacceptable when our lives and our families and the places that we love are at risk.”

Ashley McDermott, one of Sunrise Asheville’s founding organizers, noted that Council members Brian Haynes, Sheneika Smith and Keith Young had previously agreed to put the Sunrise version of the resolution on the agenda for Council’s meeting of Tuesday, Dec. 10. However, she said Young later took away his support and proposed his own “Green New Deal for the city of Asheville.”

In a Dec. 6 message to Xpress, Young said that he had not withdrawn his support for considering the resolution on a Council agenda. He did say that he had moved the resolution to the agenda of Tuesday, Jan. 28, instead of Dec. 10, a shift of which he said he had notified McDermott. Regarding his own proposal, the Council member added, “[Sunrise] knew about it before it was made public on social media. We met face to face about their issues on their own resolution, and no one offered critical crucial dissent in person to me about what I had crafted.”

Sally Thames and Sunrise Movement Asheville
GATHER ROUND: Sunrise Movement member Sally Thames instructs her fellow protesters as they prepare to occupy Asheville City Hall. Photo by Daniel Walton

Because the mayor was traveling at the time of the protest, the Sunrise group hoped to speak with both Young and Council member Julie Mayfield, who also serves as the co-director of environmental nonprofit MountainTrue and has made “a homegrown Green New Deal for North Carolina” a plank in her campaign platform for state Senate. Neither met with the protesters during the occupation.

Attorney Ben Scales, who has announced a run against Mayfield in the Democratic primary for the N.C. Senate District 49 seat, was present alongside the Sunrise members and offered legal advice as they were informed of permitted protest activities by the Asheville Police Department. He said that young people “don’t want empty promises” from elected officials.

Mayfield’s absence, Scales argued, “shows how out of touch she is” with the current environmental movement. “You can’t call something an emergency then not act in an expeditious manner,” he added.

In a series of Facebook comments on Dec. 6, Mayfield wrote that she had previously asked to meet with Sunrise leaders on three separate occasions but had not received any response. She also said that she was never informed about the protesters’ request to meet with her during the occupation. “My record on climate speaks for itself. … I am an ally and can move the cause forward,” Mayfield wrote.

Regarding Scales’ comments, Mayfield told Xpress by phone on Dec. 9 that she has been enmeshed in environmental work for the past 20 years of her professional career and remains abreast of developments in advocacy. “I have staff members and people who work in my office who are members of the Sunrise Movement. One young woman who works in my office was the stage manager for the event on Friday. I am in constant communication with these folks about what they are thinking,” she said. “I would just suggest that Ben went a little too far out on a limb there and was making assumptions that he wasn’t qualified to make.”

Numerous Sunrise protesters were escorted out of City Hall for remaining in the building after it closed to the public at 5 p.m. APD Lt. Michael Lamb had confirmed earlier in the day that such behavior could be grounds for a charge of second-degree trespassing, but the APD’s records show no such arrests taking place on Dec. 6.

At 11:36 a.m. on Dec. 9, City Clerk Maggie Burleson sent notice of an emergency meeting of the city’s Sustainability Advisory Committee on Energy and the Environment that same day “for the purpose of considering and recommending a climate emergency resolution to City Council.” As of press time, the meeting was scheduled for 6:30 p.m. in the APD’s Fourth Floor Conference Room at 100 Court Plaza. “Council’s request for guidance on the resolution by Dec. 10 constitutes an unexpected circumstance that requires immediate consideration of the resolution by SACEE and justifies calling an emergency meeting,” Burleson wrote.

Updated at 5:40 p.m. on Dec. 6 to include comments from Council member Keith Young and reflect the current status of the protest. This story will be updated with the final status of the protest once it becomes available.

Updated at 10:35 a.m. on Dec. 9 to include comments from Council member Julie Mayfield and reflect the arrest status of the protesters.

Updated at 11:58 a.m. on Dec.9 to include information on the Sustainability Advisory Committee on Energy and the Environment emergency meeting.

Updated at 5:22 on Dec. 9 to include further responses from Julie Mayfield regarding Ben Scales’ comments.


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the former news editor of Mountain Xpress. His work has also appeared in Sierra, The Guardian, and Civil Eats, among other national and regional publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

20 thoughts on “Sunrise Movement occupies City Hall over climate emergency

  1. Enlightened Enigma

    this is what our government screwls are indoctrinating into these young skulls of mush and they know no better…the world’s biggest HOAX driving them crazier…

  2. C-Law

    Sunrise Asheville…so fake, fitting for a fake/hoax political movement.

    Sunrise Asheville led by white privileged Ashley McDermott…white girl who got a $100,000+ education at fancy private Elon College.

    She is former campaign manager to failed 2018 campaign of attorney Ben Scales, white privilege male, graduate of Georgia Tech and private Cumberland School of Law at Samford University, totaling more than $300,000 in total education.

    Sure these privileged whites with their 1%er private college education nominate themselves to lead the dumb masses in Asheville. Leftists are the same everywhere, every time–over privileged white bourgeoisie elitists. Same with the Democrats/progressives at the state and national political levels as well…just a bunch of over priviliged whites wanting to throw their weight around.

    Don’t want ’em, don’t need ’em…they’re all cons and scammers.

    • Lulz

      Think of it as tobacco. Remember when they banned it that the lie was it was for employees of businesses. Now they banned it from outdoor areas as well. And so it is with oil and gas. The lie is that the US is the worst polluting nation in the world. The loons ignore others though. And think the USA weakening itself economically will ensure a better planet for all. Once you realize that these fools will destroy the country to virtue signal, you’ll also come to the conclusion that they’re to be taken seriously. The Sunrise Movement is today’s Hitler Youth. Just as fanatical and just as dangerous. They’re neither intelligent nor wise. They don’t have to be.

    • Enlightened Enigma

      C-law…wow, some great and true words! good research…Ashley McDermott progressive leftists are our biggest enemies

      • C-Law


        Of course it’s about control. It has always been about control. Do you think Al Gore is about saving the earth? Hell no! He wants even more money and power.

        The globalists want control over every aspect of your life, and to get richer while doing it and making certain the lumpen proletariat are kept in their place.

        The Sunrise enviro-fascist Youth Movement and their pals are too stupid to realize they are just useful idiots for the globalists…

        Here at least is one enviro-fascist that was willing to speak truthfully about their totalitarian aims–

        “We (UN-IPCC) redistribute de facto the world’s wealth by climate policy… One has to free oneself from the illusion that international climate policy is environmental policy. This has almost nothing to do with environmental policy anymore…”

        – Dr. Ottmar Endenhofer, IPCC, co-chair of Working Group 3, November 13, 2010

        And further–“In climate research and modelling, we should recognize that we are dealing with a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore that long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible.” UN-IPCC TAR 2001, section pg 774

  3. cecil bothwell

    I note that the level of discussion in the comments section continues to head south. I still wish the Xpress policy was to require real names.

    Ah well.

    But more to the point, I certainly hope Mr. Walton at least attempted to contact Julie Mayfield before going to print with Scales’ slam. Mayfield has a long-established track record on the environment and has done outstanding work of benefit to Asheville and WNC. She’ll be a superb representative as our next state Senator.

    • Lulz

      Retaliation for speaking is the norm now by your friends. So in reality you want to bring harm to those that disagree with you. Are you positive that it’s wise to continue down that path? To claim otherwise is a lie

    • Enlightened Enigma

      Julie Mayfield is part of the dismal swamp that needs draining…she is nothing but BS …

  4. cecil bothwell

    I’d also note that while I admire what the Sunrise movement is doing to raise awareness, Keith Young’s proposal is a great deal more practical since it includes specific program goals.

    • Lulz

      Even better. That way when property taxes are double and the costs of living follow, you can claim bad old capitalism is at fault. And even bring in rent controls too. Because people will gladly lose money to keep housing affordable around here lulz. And the lunacy continues……..

    • Enlightened Enigma

      Until Keith Young and the other skulls of mush announce their plan for what happens when they STOP the climate from changing , then they are ALL BS personified daily in their actions!

      • Fred Rogers

        Have you ever thought — just for a moment — that the reason all these young people stridently want to stop climate change is because they want to live normal lives in a stable climate, just like you presumably have had the privilege to enjoy? When the climate stops changing, they’ll work and love and raise families, just like you. But they can’t make those plans when the very foundation of their lives is shifting under their feet.

        • Lulz

          LOL how does climate stop changing lulz? The mere fact there are seasons means that it changes lulz. And the lunacy continues.. …

          • Peter Robbins

            For the last time: We can’t stop climate from changing naturally (because of normal cycles), but of course no one is trying to do that. We can stop climate from changing unnaturally (because of human activity like burning fossil fuels), and that’s what we are trying to do — at least those of us who prefer a natural death (after a long and productive stay on this planet) to a quick and foolish suicide. It’s kinda like giving up smoking or kicking a drug addiction — unpleasant and inconvenient, sure, but if you think about the big picture, there’s an upside. I hope I’m not going too fast for you here, but science is a tough subject.

          • Lulz

            LOL for the last tine can you admit that climate change is a farce and any green new deal is nothing more that a wealth transfer scheme. And the largest polluters on the planet are not in this hemisphere.

            A bunch of modern day Hitler Youth indoctrinated by one sided views is not protesting for climate change. It is exploitation and manipulation of the least able to think critically or even understand the underlying agenda. In Hong Kong they’re protesting to get the communist shackles off of them. These fools are protesting for the exact opposite.

          • Lulz

            LOL you prefer a natural death? Is like the world ending anytime soon lulz? Good Lord just the sheer nonsense behind that paragraph of drivel is scary.

            I tell you what, ban oil and gas and see what happens. See the early deaths the lunacy brings from starvation, freezing to death, poverty, the list goes on and on. Anyone that thinks 90 trillion in costs can be absorbed is an idiot. And even funnier, nothing will change. Oh except for the destruction left behind.

        • Enlightened Enigma

          How will they stop climate from changing? then what ? this is the BIG question that no one can answer!

        • Lulz

          LOL maybe they can’t make those plans because an open border leads to cheap wages and the rotted educational scammers of the world lie to them about college. You know 5 and 6 figure debts so worthless college “teachers” can live the good life are an abomination. The college scam where tuition far outpaces inflation is of course denied by the loons. And climate change is instead pushed even though everything the fanatics scream is an outright lie.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.