Climate advocates must listen to progressives’ concerns, too
By Carla A. Wise
Here is just one of my personal highlights from the June Conference: I was in a meeting with three other CCL volunteers and a staffer for a conservative member of Congress when the staffer asked about CCL’s position on nuclear power. His question led to, I am proud to say, a magical CCL moment. After explaining that CCL has no position on nuclear power, that we are interested only in stabilizing the climate, we had a thoughtful give and take. Volunteers listened, didn’t speak too long, and one woman spoke about the evolution of her personal perspective on nuclear power. I felt a shift in the room — a warming up to us, a mutual respect starting to grow.
At this year’s Conference, I was deeply impressed with how far CCL volunteers have come learning to listen to and communicate with Republican congressional offices. I was part of a team lobbying a Republican Senator, and that meeting, too, went extremely well. A huge highlight was the reception celebrating the Climate Solutions Caucus, a testament to the leadership of several Republican offices, but also to the incredible work of CCL volunteers led by Jay Butera. I got to work with several members of CCL’s Conservative Caucus from my home state of Oregon; they were amazing! Educating ourselves, developing these skills, has taken years and is ongoing, but where we are today is truly heartening.
Yet I don’t think we have come as far with liberals.
Why is it that even though most Democrats are in favor of strong action to address climate change, we CCL volunteers so often come out of our meetings with Democratic congressional offices feeling just a little discouraged?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. One problem may be that we have too-high expectations for our lobby meetings with Democrats: the first time I met with my member of Congress, a liberal Democrat, I expected him to be excited about CCL’s proposal, but instead, he was somewhat skeptical. Some of that had to do with questions about details of our proposal. But many Democrats, including my member, are also frustrated and discouraged after a decade during which they have felt that nothing they care about can be accomplished.
I believe part of the reason we are sometimes discouraged after meetings with Democrats is that we CCL volunteers have not worked as hard learning how to listen to and communicate with progressives and those on the left. This lack of emphasis has perhaps made sense until now — we had more work to do with conservatives, so we focused most of our efforts there. Much of CCL’s training and education, many of our monthly calls and workshops, have been aimed at reaching out to conservatives.
But this needs to change. As we gear up for our biggest and most important year ever, 2017, the year we help Congress pass a carbon fee with revenue returned to households, we will need everyone. We will need to understand the concerns, motivations and goals of every member of Congress, left, right, and center. And we will need a good relationship with each of them.
We sometime forget that Democrats – just like Republicans – have a variety of views on the best approaches and highest priorities for solving climate change. Those of us in the Pacific Northwest see how this can lead to strife. In 2016, both Oregon and Washington had state-level proposals to price carbon run into difficulty due to disagreements on details among progressive proponents. We will need to develop every tool, every skill, and every ally, to ensure this doesn’t happen at the federal level. And, as is the CCL way, this begins with listening.
As a CCL volunteer from a left-leaning district, I have decided to make reaching out to progressives a major focus of my work this year. I am beginning an effort to build relationships and address concerns of community groups and constituents on the left in my district, so that they know, understand, and respect CCL when our moment comes. If you are interested in helping to develop CCL’s strategies and communication skills with organizations that are left of center, please help launch a new team to do this, Progressive Outreach. For those volunteers in left-leaning districts, our time is coming quickly, let’s get ready to succeed in 2017!