How the power of youth lobbying swayed Rep. Jackie Speier

Representative Jackie Speier

Members of the CCL San Mateo Youth chapter meet with Representative Jackie Speier.

How the power of youth lobbying swayed Rep. Jackie Speier

By Elise Koepke

Young people are on the forefront of climate activism. From the progressive Sunrise Movement to nonpartisan organizations like Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) the younger generation is realizing the power of direct contact with decision makers—and they’re using that power. Recently, student leaders have been empowered to meet directly with their legislators rather than with their representative’s environmental aide.

That’s exactly what a group of San Mateo high school students did. After hearing Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) member Elaine Salinger speak at their school clubs about a carbon fee and dividend policy, the students expressed interest in getting involved with CCL and climate advocacy. The group consisted of high schoolers Roisin McElarney, Justin Huang, Ruby Lawrence, Rachell Le, Elijah Lurie, Josh Wing, Kelly Chan, Finley Liquete, Jordyn Williams, and Emna Sellami. Most of them first-time climate activists, the students spent the month of August preparing to meet with their local Congresswoman, Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA-14), to discuss climate action and advocate for H.R. 763. 

What first-time lobbying looks like

With a common goal in mind, the group began meeting weekly over Zoom to determine their policy-related asks and draft an agenda for the meeting. They hoped to get Congresswoman Speier, active on climate-related issues and already a co-sponsor of H.R. 763, to support Representative Ted Deutch’s reintroduction of the bill and to promote congressional action on climate change.

Guided by Elaine’s CCL experience and support, the students met multiple times over several weeks to prepare for an effective meeting. “We had to make the most impactful presentation possible in the shortest amount of time, which was a bit intimidating at first, but I think we achieved it,” said Ruby Lawrence. On top of organizing the meeting, several students in the group found other ways to reach out to their communities and support environmental efforts. During the election season, members participated in phone banking and volunteered at local polling stations. 

After finalizing their message and rehearsing their scripts, the students met directly with Congresswoman Speier for a virtual meeting via Zoom. In CCL fashion, they opened the conversation by thanking Rep. Speier for her consistent support of environmental legislation and sponsorship of H.R. 763.

“The youth meeting with Representative Speier went incredibly well. The Congresswoman was even more receptive than last year, and not only agreed to our requests but actually suggested more ways to further our cause!” said senior Roisin McElarney, president of the CCL youth chapter at Aragon High School.

In addition to asking one of her House colleagues to co-sponsor H.R. 763, Congresswoman Speier agreed to add the bill to her website and schedule an En-ROADS training for her legislative aide. The representative also pledged personal involvement, offering to speak at a climate event the students may plan. After such a positive experience, the group looks forward to connecting with Congresswoman Speier for a follow-up meeting in the spring.

The power of the youth

The group’s success speaks volumes about the power of the younger generation to influence climate policy. “The Congresswoman expressed that she feels a specific obligation to the youth, and wants to avoid us suffering the consequences of international inaction on climate,” Roisin explained.

Their success shows – no one is too young to make their voices heard and influence change.  Looking back on the process, the group has some tips for young people looking to get involved in climate lobbying.

“I think the first bit of advice I can give is to just go out and do it,” said Justin Huang. “Even if you fail, there’s no harm in trying. The second thing is preparation is key. When (yes, when not if) your congressperson agrees to meet with your group, make sure you know exactly what you need to address and make sure you are educated on those topics.”

For Roisin McElarney, climate activism is just as much of a priority in her life as her school and extracurriculars. “In my experience, the best way to make time for climate activism is to make it a habit, either by attending regular club meetings or events or just by being part of the community,” she said.

 Elise Koepke is a communications intern with Citizens’ Climate Lobby. She is a recent graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology, where she studied Earth Science.