An idea whose time has come
In 2010, when Citizens’ Climate Lobby brought 25 citizen volunteers to Capitol Hill, it felt like a big challenge to get enough people to go the distance, to meet with all 535 voting members of Congress. This year, we brought 36 times as many people, and it is looking more like we will need more elected officials to welcome and build relationships with all the citizen lobbyists coming to make democracy work.
The 2015 CCL International Conference brought a record number of citizen volunteer lobbyists together—more than 900—to learn from and support each other, to build solid working relationships and have serious policy discussions with elected officials. It was a breakthrough year in a lot of ways:
- For the first time, we had more people attending than could reasonably fit into the meetings we had scheduled.
- We had nearly three times as many volunteers to role-play members of Congress in our basic training than we had volunteers total in our first conference.
- We heard from not one but two great scientists who have been named to TIME Magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people on Earth.
- We were joined by dozens of faith leaders, who came to support this message of enhanced civics and substantive policy for a livable world.
- Pope Francis released his Encyclical Laudato Si: On caring for our common home 5 days before we went to the Hill.
- On the morning of our Lobby Day, the Lancet released a comprehensive public health study that calls for pricing carbon as necessary to protect human health from now on.
- And, in one Republican office after another, we heard the message: we get the science; we want to talk about solutions.
Gratitude to the team
Thanks to the unmatched coordinating skills of my dear friend Ashley Hunt-Martorano, our biggest ever conference was perfectly smooth, with no logistical dust-ups. Amy Bennett’s tireless work putting together a schedule that matched more than 800 volunteer lobbyists with more than 500 meetings once again made it possible to make sure democracy works as it should, despite all the roadblocks the world puts in our way as citizens.
Our Legislative Director, Dr. Danny Richter, PhD., did a superb job ensuring a team of trainers provided the highest quality preparation and training to our volunteers. Elli Sparks and Madeleine Para’s work with new and ongoing group leaders, along with Ricky’s work on weekly CCLU trainings, made sure that in a room of 900-plus people, everyone could explain Pigovian taxation, negative externalities, the value of a steadily rising carbon fee, the macroeconomic impact of a 100% monthly dividend to households, and, to the amazement of most economists who have attended: border tax adjustments.
To solve a problem of unrelenting complexity, rooted in everything we do every day, one has to have an understanding that bold solutions can actually work. And to have that, one has to understand how we travel from where we are to where we want to be.
This was the insight that motivated Marshall Saunders to create Citizens’ Climate Lobby: we can’t just talk about the problem; we need to have a way to put real solutions into practice. The key to achieving that is people: citizens everywhere working together to build political will, so the lesser attitudes at work in the political landscape don’t prevent a good outcome. We all live with the desire for a better world; we need to empower each other to bring it into being.
A dream come true
In his opening remarks to the 2015 conference, Marshall declared to the room of 900 citizen volunteer lobbyists, “You are a dream come true.”
Mark Reynolds, our executive director, was firm as always in his commitment to the idea that citizenship is poetry in action. The poet goes beyond the already seen and structured, into a landscape of new potential, rooted in vision, understanding, and imaginative contribution. Mark infused the 2015 conference with this spirit: your citizenship is a poetic contribution to the future we are emerging into.
We have to thank all of our group leaders, state coordinators and regional coordinators, for the role they play in making this kind of coordinated citizen response to climate disruption possible. And we have to honor the fact that they have all committed to do the work of responsible, coalition-building civics, in which listening to those who disagree is the foundation of all other forward motion. Everyone is welcome, and we aim to allow everyone to find their footing in the project of putting solutions into practice.
But in support of the volunteer leaders, and the staff already named, we have to honor all of the staff: Stephanie Doyle, Sarah Bain, Olivia Domich, Tony Sirna, Susan Higgins, Cathy Orlando, and Amy’s right-hand man, Jeff, all of whom played a crucial role in making this huge operation a success. And alongside staff, there were all of CCL’s interns, whose efforts are so often the glue holding the wider machinery together.
Lynate Pettengill, our Development Director, had the exciting role of announcing to the full conference how much our organization has grown in just one year. Last year, during our 2014 conference, CCL had roughly 5,000 members, and Lynate announced that our goal for 2015 would be triple our numbers. On Monday, Lynate announced that as of that moment, CCL had 16,911 members.
Those 16,911 members aren’t required to pay dues; they are volunteers who act to support the wider team. They are now spread out over 5 continents, and the organization is growing faster than ever. This year, Lynate announced the goal will be to reach 35,000 in the next 12 months.
Communications Director Steve Valk spent 30 years in the newspaper business. Steve works every day to make sure CCL volunteers have the skills they need to build effective relationships with reporters and editors, and to write letters and op-eds that will be of value to them, and so be published. At this year’s conference, he helped to provide insight into how social media can be of use for building networks and for getting our message to a wider audience.
The power of patience
What so many people don’t understand about doing this kind of work is the power of patience. As we work to build an empowered team of engaged citizens, across the world, and to build political will for responsible climate action that builds value for real people, in their everyday economy, we need to remember that this is not supposed to be easy, and that getting it right means taking time, being persistent, working respectfully with others, and not giving up.
If there is one thing we all know about working to meet a challenge, it is that giving up makes success impossible. There can be no giving up. And that means, we need patience. Not the kind that means we hold off and await another time for action, but the kind that allows us to persist, to move forward without anger or resentment, confident that we are part of a team that is committed to getting it right in all details.
It is that patience that allows us to remain open, able to listen, be genuine with those we meet with, connect on a human level, and find the fertile ground on which people of many varied perspectives can collaborate for a catalytic change that works for the benefit of all. For St. Augustine, doing good could only emerge from learning committed to inquiry and truth, put into action through genuine free choice of the will. This effort is about citizens choosing to get it right.
Lobbying as spiritual practice
Margaret Bullitt-Jonas wrote a beautiful and thoughtful blog describing the experience of going to Capitol Hill with CCL as “Lobbying on climate change as spiritual practice”. Margaret describes the challenge this work as follows:
To my consternation, it turned out that CCL asks its volunteers not to browbeat members of Congress but instead to build relationships and to find common ground. CCL maintains that if you can’t find something to respect and admire in a politician’s life or work, then you should not lobby that person. So I forced myself to slow down. I looked more carefully at the voting records and I tried to exercise some empathy and imagination. What could I appreciate about each person? What did this person seem to value, and why? How might I connect with him?
Spiritual traditions tell us that human beings are essentially inter-related. When we are spiritually awake, we can see the dignity, even the beauty, of each person. Despite whatever may divide us, in fact we are more similar than different. For starters, all of us are mortal, all of us we want to be happy, and all of us want to love and to be loved. It is easy to forget such basic truths when you are caught in the heat of political struggle. It is easier to demonize than to humanize, easier to seek safety behind the walls of righteous judgment than to meet ones “enemy” with an open heart.
Margaret knows the importance of getting our response to climate disruption right; she knows the conservative moral action is to make sure we don’t degrade the natural systems that give life; she knows we need to honor Creation and protect our common home; she knows that all of this is built into the structure and spirit of our system.
What she had not been faced with before was the other fundamental truth of getting to a morally founded climate response: we will need people who have not been working for that goal to come on board, and even to lead. We will need to find ways to meet with them as human beings who genuinely respect and honor their way of doing public service. Margaret found that the member of Congress she was going to see may have had opposing views on climate, but had been working hard to provide support for disabled Americans, so that their access to freedom and dignity would be enhanced.
Preparation and collaboration, through common values
On Sunday, Bob Perkowitz, of EcoAmerica, gave the opening keynote address, praising CCL’s volunteers for working with such passion, commitment, and open-mindedness for a better climate future. His message was that people need to understand the relationship between issues they respond to and their own family and personal values. Solutions that reach people where they live and breathe are more empowering than any other.
On Monday morning, Dr. Katharine Hayhoe explained in the keynote address why CCL’s methodology is so important: you need to connect, build relationships rooted in love and respect, and start from shared values, if you want to bring everyone into the necessary work of building a sustainable climate response.
Her most salient observation from this particular talk might be:
Most people already have 99% of the values they need to fight climate change … we’re not pushing a boulder up a hill; we’re not trying to turn people into tree-huggers. We’re already rolling down the hill with them.
Between Bob and Katharine’s talks, many realized they had to face a new challenge: when we bring information to people, it can feel like we are asking them to be someone new, to leave behind what matters to them. That, of course, is not in anyone’s plan, so we have to make sure to first understand who we are talking to, and then make sure they know: we are not asking them to be anything they are not—only to apply their own deeply felt values to this particular challenge.
After that, I had the privilege of hosting an “Ask the Experts” panel with Dr. James Hansen, Dr. Shi-Ling Hsu, and Anne Kelly.
Dr. Hansen was among the first to put the urgency of the climate crisis into global public view, with his testimony before Congress in the late 1980s. He made clear we need to get a better handle on how out of balance the thermodynamic energy content of our atmosphere and oceans is with what would allow for a livable climate, and he was firm that the revenue-neutral carbon fee and dividend advocated by CCL is the best and most catalytic solution to reversing the mounting crisis.
Dr. Hsu is a multifaceted economist, lawyer and scholar, whose degrees range from electrical engineering to ecological economics and law. He wrote the book The Case for a Carbon Tax and has been tireless in sharing his wisdom and understanding on the subject. He suggested three important insights relating to the Fee and Dividend plan should be on our minds:
- The plan not only reduces emissions efficiently; it also alleviates escalating income inequality, which is worsening the market failure.
- Legal minds agree the Clean Power Plan will survive court challenges, so conservatives need to find a legislative solution they can support.
- Congress needs to boost its own popularity, and members of both parties should understand the value of Fee and Dividend to help in that area.
Anne Kelly is one of the leaders of the CERES and BICEP coalitions, working to bring trillions of dollars in institutional investment capital into balance with Earth’s ecological systems. She offered many insights into getting businesses on board with the policy, and said we are working to create a “smart political grid that’s going to do a better job of generating and distributing power” in our democracy.
Learning from each other
Throughout the afternoon, we hosted three separate hours of breakouts, for a total of 29 breakout sessions. Many were hosted by CCL staff or volunteers, but we also had leaders of other organizations, like Ken Berlin from the Climate Reality Project and Jose Aguto from the Friends Committee on National Legislation, providing instruction to more than 900 conference participants.
Between Sunday and Monday, Citizens’ Climate Education, together with Citizens’ Climate Lobby, provided 9,450 collective hours of education on economics, climate science, policy process, and effective coordination of local groups, media activity, and relationship-building.
There were opportunities for sharing best practices as well as ongoing struggles, and the challenges inherent in leading or empowering newcomers to climate policy. These 900-plus CCLers and faith leaders will now take their learning back to their local groups and their communities, to educate their peers and partners, to continue expanding the space for responsible civics.
I was able to go into meaningful detail about our Pathway to Paris project, providing background, updates on progress, and plans for the future. In that session, as in most of the breakouts, there were concrete steps volunteers could take to enhance their participation and build political will.
Hitting the Hill
On Tuesday, June 23, we took more than 800 citizen volunteer lobbyists to Capitol Hill to do that kind of work. This is the most any organization has ever brought to Capitol Hill for scheduled lobby meetings. While the work of public protest is very important, and an integral part of our democratic society, this effort is not protest, but proactive policy discussion.
So, while many people were greeting old friends they hadn’t yet caught up with, or locating their team for the first meeting of the day, there was also ongoing policy conversation and learning buzzing through the crowd. When you dream of making good policy, this is the kind of moment you can hardly imagine being real, and yet it was: the fruit of so much hard work and preparation.
As the group photo was snapped, our volunteers spontaneously broke into a rendition of “This Land is Your Land”. With American flags waving, and a patriotic folk song on the breeze, this was a moment of emotional poignancy few could miss: we are here to speak for our country, to defend our land against degradation, and to make our democracy what it aspires to be.
What we heard
We don’t go to Capitol Hill to lecture anyone. We go to share in the experience of learning together, connecting as human beings working for a stronger democracy, and making good policy everyone can support and sustain. We go to listen, and to make sure everyone, citizens and elected officials, experiences an enhancement of the respect and gratitude directed at them.
This empowers all who are present.
What we heard in meeting after meeting with Republican offices—many formerly opposed to climate action—was: We don’t need to talk about the science; we get it. What we need is to discuss solutions and how they will be implemented.
We don’t disclose the private contents of conversations, because it is paramount that our volunteers and their representatives enjoy mutually respectful working relationships rooted in interpersonal trust. But we can report on the mood of our legislature: everyone wishes there was more bipartisan or nonpartisan action on Capitol Hill, and everyone laments the divisiveness that has dominated the climate debate until now.
What may not be clear to most observers, or indeed to most who work in the Capitol and the 6 Congressional office buildings, is how to change that dynamic and achieve a new way forward. In many ways, it is citizens building personal relationships that are beginning to have the most insight into how to solve that particular challenge.
What we heard was: this matters. People need to be involved; people need to be constructive; people need to help their legislators understand:
- What they value that is at risk if climate disruption worsens;
- What kind of leadership they expect of their lawmakers;
- Whether they prefer regulation or something more market-driven;
- That they value the hard work of collaborating across party lines;
- That they expect we can be more prosperous if we act on climate.
We heard many members of Congress wanting to let people know that they hear the moral call of their constituents: the call to ethical stewardship and to meaningful leadership on the climate issue. We heard members of Congress and their staff say they want to show American leadership on this issue. We heard a lot of concern about whether the US would be competitive with China, if China leads the charge on low-carbon energy technology, and the US does not.
And, we heard time and again that everyone seems to want to join together to pass a market-driven climate solution that will build our economy and give us a better future than regulation alone could provide. We heard that some members are “not there yet”, but also that they are working their way up to it. We heard even that coal companies and offices friendly to them are looking for the right solution that achieves a fair and economically productive transition.
What we heard is: it is time to lead; an unintrusive carbon fee, with all revenues rebated to households every month, is an idea whose time has come. And lastly, and most significantly… we heard members of Congress and their staff sending the message to citizens: help us make this possible.
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