For climate hope, I’m putting my money on the millennials

Tyler Dec

CCL volunteer Tyler Dec gives the thumbs up in the Rayburn cafeteria as he preps for his next meeting on Capitol Hill.

For climate hope, I’m putting my money on the millennials

By Davia Rivka

“Don’t expect him to be gracious, much less crack a smile,” I say to the team before we meet with a veteran Democratic legislative aide. “I’ve had many meetings with Darryl (um, not his real name), and let me just say, communication is not his strong suit.”

There are six of us, four first-timers to Capitol Hill. They keep straightening their ties and smoothing down their skirts. Taking in big gulps of air and adjusting their smiles. It feels only fair to warn them. Warn them so they don’t take it personally when Darryl doesn’t say a word or blink an eye.

We walk into the office and sit down at a long table. We are joined by Darryl’s assistant Rosie (also an entirely made up name). After we introduce ourselves, I ask Darryl and Rosie to say a word about themselves. Darryl manages to mumble a word or two without moving a muscle on his face. I can feel my teammates stiffen, pull their notes in a little closer.

Rosie, on the other hand is wildly alive and ready to play.

“I just graduated from college,” she says, her eyes on fire. “And I’m really concerned about climate change.”

Yes! I think to myself. An ally. A voice of courage pushing out from under the weight of cynicism.

The meeting lurches forward like a car in the wrong gear. It stalls, sputters, groans. The team is doing their best to read and respond to Darryl’s inscrutable face and muttered responses.

At twenty minutes we dismiss ourselves with forced smiles, timid handshakes and thank you’s and high tail it to an empty corridor to debrief.

Like an aging helium balloon, the team has lost its buoyancy.

“Hey, that’s the most animated I’ve ever seen him,” I tell them. “Trust me! That was progress. He even reiterated several times that climate change is a big concern for his boss.”

But it’s Tyler who sees the rainbow. “I bet the minute we walked out the door Rosie Googled CCL. She was definitely interested in what we’re up to.”

It takes a millennial to know a millennial.

We finish our debrief, and Valerie suggests we go back to take a photo in front of the congressional office. As providence would have it — it’s Rosie who volunteers to snap the shot.

While we’re posing she confesses. “I was just checking out the CCL website!” she says, not even trying to contain her excitement. “You guys are really impressive! 1,000 people at your conference and 800 people on the hill.”

Something shifts. It’s like she’s one of us — now that she’s out from under her painfully shy counterpart.

“If you need anything.” She says, and then repeats, “Anything. Please don’t hesitate to call me.”

Out of earshot, at the end of the hall, Tyler high fives me. “Did I call it or did I call it?”

Tyler called it.

And that’s why I’m putting money on the millennial legislative aides on both sides of the aisle. I’m putting money on the underground conversations in the Rayburn cafeteria. I’m putting my money on the quick, savvy, concerned legislative aides whose lives hang in the balance. I’m putting money on the aide-to-aide conversations that will turn the tide.

Like kids from divorced families who try to get their parents to talk to one another, wily and undaunted, they will be the ones who will pair the Democrats and Republicans. They will be the ones who grow the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus two by two; donkey/elephant, elephant/donkey. Until the rest of the world can’t help but notice that Congress is not broken. Until the rest of the world can’t help but notice the emerging open hearted, courageous willingness to do whatever it takes to work together.

It was a good day on the hill. Thanks to all the millennials who are not waiting to be tomorrow’s leaders. Thanks to all the millennials who are taking the reins right now. Thanks to all the millennials who are the leaders of today.

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Davia Rivka is a Los Angeles-based climate change warrior who is hard at work on her second book: a collection of inspirational stories about the extraordinary work of Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteers. Check out her blog at daviarivka.com.

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