First-timer feelings: CCL’s 2017 conference, part 1
By Davia Rivka
My first CCL conference was in 2011 where 75 white, gray-haired Democrats gathered for what felt like a big family reunion. We spent a day and a half listening to some stellar speakers and then spent the next three days on the Hill, during which time I met with 17 congressional offices! That was a mere six years ago.
This year there were 1,300 people from 49 states and several Canadian provinces. Folks ranged in age from 8 to 82. There were Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, progressives and those choosing to not to identify with any particular party. There were people who had been to six, seven and eight conferences and then there were first-timers—about 400 of them. It still felt like a family reunion—only this time on steroids!
I can’t even imagine what it felt like for a first-timer walking into that ballroom on Sunday, day one, into a sea of 1,300 people. Was it overwhelming, energizing, other worldly? I wanted to know, so I asked a few people to tell me their stories.
Lisa Lee lives in Lincoln, Nebraska. She’s been involved with CCL since 2012, but this is the first year she’s been able to come to the conference. “I identify as a Republican, but I’m having a hard time saying that these days.” Her primary news source was Fox—climate change was not something she believed was real. Her turning point came when she and her husband hired their brother-in-law, a LEED certified architect, to help them build a house. When she went to hear someone speak about energy efficiency, she began to question her ideas about climate change.
“Holy cow. We need to be talking about this,” she realized. “I pooh-poohed Al Gore without even watching the documentary.” It took Lisa’s husband about a year to come around, and when he did, they hosted a movie night in their home. She’s become a kind of lightening rod in her town. That’s not easy. It gives her empathy for her member of Congress, as she knows first-hand that it takes courage to step forward in the face of so much dissent. It makes her mindful of how she talks to other Nebraskans about climate change.
At the conference, Lisa attended a breakout session to brainstorm action ideas for her region. The group decided to go to a state fair in western Nebraska, where all the Four H clubs come with their animals. “It is a perfect time to meet people and talk to them about what they see happening. Things are changing rapidly—that is both good news and bad news. Good news because it is causing people to pay attention, but bad news because cattle are Nebraska’s chief export.”
In some ways, Lisa is glad that she waited a few years to come to the conference. She said that in the beginning she was like a born-again Christian—now she says she can talk and listen without so much emotion. Her equanimity allowed her to respond gracefully, with facts and respect, in challenging congressional meetings.
Matthew Mire is 36 years old and lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas. He grew up listening to Rush Limbaugh and voted Republican in every single election—until he heard Neil deGrasse Tyson speak and he read the IPCC report. That was his turning point. The fact that the Republican party has aligned with the fuel companies has turned him against them. He’s still fiscally conservative but he believes in science, which he thinks of as being conservative.
When Matthew is not working on CCL matters, he is an accountant with a company that consults with Wal-Mart and their vendors. He wasn’t pro Wal-Mart when he started out, but he has gained more respect for them. As the biggest employer on the planet, they have a GDP of a small country and they buy more solar panels than anyone on the planet!
He left the conference with a better understanding of policy and a deeper bond with his fellow climate warriors from Arkansas. “The room was filled with an energy and intensity just like mine. I felt not alone. Knowing you’re not alone and feeling you’re not alone are two different things. I walked away feeling connected. Before the conference, working with CCL was like going to do my second job. I did the work because I felt we didn’t have a choice. After the conference, it doesn’t feel like a job but a joy.”
Click here to meet two more new conference attendees in part 2 of this series!