D.C. chapter’s efforts illuminate the power of relationship building

Eleanor Holmes Norton

D.C. chapter’s efforts illuminate the power of relationship building

By Gwyneth Lonergan

The D.C. chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby has shown resilience and dedication to CCL’s practice of relationship building with their member of Congress, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton. After two years, Norton officially signed on as a cosponsor for the newly introduced Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (H.R. 2307) on April 16.

Norton is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the House Climate Solutions Caucus, and the Congressional Black Caucus. Govtrack.us ranks her as the second most politically left member of the House. Luckily, CCL’s core volunteer trainings prepare volunteers for communicating with members of Congress on all points of the ideological spectrum about climate action and about the benefits of the Energy Innovation Act. 

But it’s not just about communication — it’s about the connection. D.C. chapter co-leader Max Broad described fellow volunteer Emily Koester as the “master architect” of building their chapter’s relationship with Norton and her office. Emily joined the team as CCL’s liaison to Congresswoman Norton in the fall of 2018. When the Energy Innovation Act was introduced in 2019, Emily and the lobby team of approximately eight to 10 volunteers began their efforts to communicate with Norton and her office about the bill. 

Regular communication

After some initial pushback from Norton on the 2019 version of the bill, the team placed their energy in relationship building with her and her office. Emily ensured there was a steady stream of calls between the volunteers and the office’s staff. Whether it was to express gratitude to Norton for her activity in Congress or to discuss recent climate events, they wanted to stay in constant communication with the office. Chapter members invited Norton to a variety of events that spoke to her personal interests, and she agreed to appear as a keynote speaker at a climate fair they were planning for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in 2020. Unfortunately, the event had to be canceled due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, the volunteers persisted. 

Connecting with Congresswoman Norton’s interests

In January of this year, the chapter planned an event with the Labor Network for Sustainability to celebrate National Transit Equity Day, inviting her staff. Norton chairs the Highways and Trains Subcommittee on the House Committee on Transportation. As a supplement to the event, volunteers wrote letters to the editor (LTEs) highlighting transportation as a civil right and emphasizing the need for clean transportation. Emily emphasized how volunteers “were able to take this CCL skill set that we’ve developed and apply it to an issue that is climate-related but also spoke to our Congressperson’s focus area.”

Highlighting Congresswoman Norton’s leadership

Several members of the lobby team came up with the idea to recognize Norton during Women’s History Month (March 2021). For a whole week on Twitter, volunteers highlighted her leadership on civil rights, gender equality, and climate action. The social media campaign, which garnered significant levels of engagement, utilized the unique hashtag #EHNWeek, grouping together the dozens of tweets in one space. 

Also this year, they set up a climate town hall with Congresswoman Norton that was set to take place on April 21. Emily and the lobby team believed the event would provide “a public forum for the Congresswoman to talk about carbon pricing and other key topics, and also elevate the Congresswoman’s profile as a climate advocate.” The planning for this event had been in progress since their December lobby meeting but unfortunately had to be postponed as the House vote on the D.C. Admission Act was scheduled for the following day. Fortunately, the event has now been rescheduled for June 10.

Becoming a cosponsor

After all of these efforts, on April 16, Norton officially signed on as a cosponsor of H.R. 2307! Emily says, “we felt very optimistic” about Norton cosponsoring the current version of the bill, and the chapter was delighted to see her name added so quickly after it had been reintroduced. 

Clearly, the path to Congresswoman Norton’s cosponsorship was not linear. After Norton initially declined to cosponsor in 2019, rather than giving up, the team instead turned to relationship building and shifted their focus to supporting asks,” bills that complement the subject of CCL’s primary focus on carbon pricing. This move yielded positive results and also highlights Emily and the lobby team’s perseverance and creativity, two qualities that Emily emphasized are critical to “achieving your goals, particularly on the Hill.” Norton cosponsored one supporting ask that the D.C. team advocated for: the Challenges & Prizes for Climate Act of 2019. Norton also cosponsored the Better Energy Storage Technology (BEST) Act, which was passed at the end of 2020 as a part of the massive omnibus package. These two actions by Congresswoman Norton exemplify the successful lobbying efforts of the team and their dedication to relationship building. And, we continue to see the fruits of their labor with Norton’s cosponsorship of the Energy Innovation Act. 

Max could not emphasize enough the impact that Emily’s strong leadership had on this process. It was through her leadership, he says, that “we created a plan to move us forward” to the support they wanted to see. Emily collaborated with the chapter to create a strategic plan with key steps they could take to develop their relationship with Norton. She also empowered individuals to spearhead their own projects and cultivated a “dynamic interchange of ideas” among the team. Emily gives credit to the amazing volunteers she works with, saying, “When you have such a fun group of people to work with, it really helps sustain the effort. Even when you’re not necessarily getting the immediate outcomes you want, it gives you the motivation to keep working.”

Gwyneth Lonergan is a communications intern for CCL and a recent graduate of Wake Forest University with a BA in Politics & International Affairs and Theatre.

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