Part 1: The Road to Citizen Empowerment
The Fifth Annual Citizens’ Climate Lobby International Conference in Washington, DC, spanned a week, with meetings and events from morning till night. More than 600 citizen volunteer lobbyists traveled on their own dime to be part of this historic effort. In three days of lobbying, this incredible team had more than 520 meetings with members of Congress and their staff, as well as meetings at the World Bank and with stakeholder organizations.
If you have never gone to Capitol Hill, to speak with your government, you will likely not understand the power and the beauty of this experience. Conventional wisdom tells us that government is unapproachable and disinterested in the lives and ideas of ordinary people. In fact, the United States Congress is open to constituents, and the people working there are generally eager to hear from the people they represent.
The great lesson of this week on the Hill is that it is possible to reclaim our citizenship, and doing so gives us our best shot at a better and freer future. There is information we all have, which can benefit those who make the laws that govern the course of our future; the choice to withhold that information, it turns out, is just that: a choice. This is why it is such an inspiration to gather with a family of hundreds, roughly 10% of our entire organization, to make sure citizens are integral to the conversation.
The Week Before
My experience this year began the Tuesday before, with a visit to our office, where Danny, our legislative director, and his new interns, were ensconced in the managing of printed materials and educational information for our volunteers. That evening, the policy discussion kicked off by joining Gary Witt, of our Republican-Conservative-Libertarian Caucus, and friends from the Energy and Enterprise Initiative, at an event hosted by Concord 51, a non-profit that brings together conservative groups working to build a more diverse and environmentally responsible, secure energy future.
It is instructive, to anyone who wants to talk seriously about environment, energy, climate and carbon, to know that many, if not most conservatives, want a responsible, resilient energy future, and to make sure we are not doing things that degrade the quality of life lived by people in our communities. The myth that this is not true is a major obstacle to informed, collaborative policy planning.
Wednesday morning was the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on the newly announced EPA regulations for carbon-emitting power plants. Seating in the hearing room is first come, first served, so I and many other interested people showed up 90 minutes early. There were about 50 coal miners there and other representatives of the coal industry, so none of us could fit. I found myself in a fascinating hallway colloquy with a coal company executive and a freelance journalist.
What I learned about the perspective of the coal industry was that my new friend didn’t feel anyone on the Hill really had what he called “an economic strategy” for making sure coal communities didn’t keep bleeding value to the rest of the economy, losing jobs, losing investment, losing opportunity. I explained to him that Citizens’ Climate Lobby is not against anyone in coal communities and that, in fact, our plan is specifically designed to make sure that households, small businesses and communities can continue to thrive as the economy undergoes a transition to low-carbon energy.
I shared the details of the REMI study: introducing a steadily rising carbon fee with 100% dividend to households would bring a $70-$85 billion per year increase in GDP, over and above growth projected in the baseline scenario; 2.1 million new jobs after ten years, 2.8 million after 20, with the Main Street economy benefitting most from that new investment in hiring. Best of all, real disposable personal income (RDPI) goes up, along with the labor share of income, putting communities that depend on local hiring and local investment in a better situation than if we do nothing.
“That’s the first time I’ve heard someone on Capitol Hill articulate what sounds like a real economic strategy that works for ordinary people,” he said. We spent the next hour and half impressing EPA interns, sustainability consultants, carbon pricing advocates and others, with our ability to get along and talk about common interest, a climate policy advocate and a coal industry executive. The frustration of being shut out of the hearing room, and the decisiveness with which coal miners themselves came to the Hill to represent their stake in regulatory policy, led to this very positive outcome.
This was the introduction to a week of citizen-centered lobbying focused on listening to everyone, looking for common ground, and finding ways to work together toward a smart and prosperous future. Just as we can do better with political dialogue, by taking everyone’s real-life concerns seriously, we can also learn to build our future in a way that doesn’t degrade our prospects as we do so.
What we know, now more than ever, is that by giving voice to stakeholders, we build political will for responsible solutions and increase our chances of living a freer, more prosperous future.
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Reclaiming Citizenship on Capitol Hill
2014 CCL Conference Diary
- Part 1: The Road to Citizen Empowerment
- Part 2: Connecting with the Team
- Part 3: 7,200 Hours of Education for Principled Civics
- Part 4: 600 Citizen Volunteers on Capitol Hill
- Part 5: The Full Week and Takeaways
More about the 2014 Citizens’ Climate Lobby Conference