Climate change advocates take skills to next level at Portland regional conference
By Tamara Staton
“You spent your whole weekend at a climate conference?” my friend asked me in surprise, as I shared excitedly about our Greater Pacific Northwest Regional Conference last weekend in Portland. It wasn’t the climate part that surprised him so much as the idea that one would spend most of their weekend at a conference.
It’s a good question, really. Of all the things to do on a sunny weekend in the rainy Northwest, why would 110 committed citizens come together with the intention of ‘Creating the Political Will for a Clean Energy Future and Expanding Their Tools for Communication’? Were they drawn by the panel presentations on topics ranging from health and dividend to electric vehicles and solar energy? Or was it the allure of the famed CCL Executive Director Mark Reynolds — the voice behind the Saturday conference calls?
The Greater Pacific Northwest Region includes the far-reaching states of Alaska and Hawaii, as well the mainland states of Oregon, Washington and Idaho. While the majority of participants were from surrounding locations within 4 hours of Portland, one sincerely committed volunteer made the 2,400 mile-trek from Alaska, planning his vacation around the conference. A number of other volunteers drove the scenic 8-hour journey through the basalt columns of the Columbia River Gorge from our new chapter in Boise, Idaho.
“I especially liked Sunday morning,” Boise Group Leader Liz Roberts told us. “Hearing from other chapters about what’s working and what’s not was really insightful. I am very pleased that I went, and many of the people in the group were happy, as well. Meeting Mark was a big highlight, too.”
There’s great agreement on that point. We had the opportunity to be inspired by Mark through a number of conversations and presentations from the podium, but the advanced lobby training entitled “Move Over Mis-conception” supported us in becoming the type of listener that has others eager to hear our message. Many of us in the room believed that we’re already good listeners. We wait our turn to speak. We look them in the eye. We politely wait for a pause in the conversation, and then insert our well-practiced laser talk or question, with the unconscious intention to steer the conversation in the direction that proves our point.
“I learned that I’m not a very good listener,” says Steve Ghan of the Yakima, Washington, chapter. “I really had trouble with that. But Rob Briggs just blew me away, sharing about an interaction he’d had with a local climate denier. He did exactly what we’re supposed to do…getting them to connect with him, building common ground. Really impressive.”
It takes practice, this listening thing. Beginning to come from a place of curiosity, and looking for shared values. It’s a whole different skill set that we’re building.
On his train ride to California after the conference, George Donart, Alaska State Coordinator, and Anchorage Group Leader, found himself with the perfect opportunity to practice these skills. In the adjacent seat sat a Mennonite pig farmer. Soon enough, the farmer was sharing not only about the farm he’d been given by the former head of Shell USA (and current CEO of Citizens for Affordable Energy) but also about his belief that we need to stop talking past each other in this country. Eager to share what we do in CCL, George found himself champing at the bit.
“My instinct was to whip out my cards and start talking about CCL. But no, I’m going to listen, I told myself. Like Mark said, ‘Show them that we are interested. Give them a chance to talk about what their values are’.”
For some, it’s the people that pull them to a conference, and the opportunity to come together in community. “It means a lot to me to be able to get together with people locally because I don’t fly,” shares Anne Engstrom, group leader in Seattle. After 7 years with CCL, starting what was then the third CCL chapter in the world, she still gets so much out of the personal interaction and sharing.
Alan Hardcastle, with our new Olympia chapter, decided to participate for similar reasons. “It felt important to […] meet and interact with other CCL leaders and find ways to best support our new chapter. The agenda looked rich, and there was lots of time to network, which was a very appealing feature.”
Our intention in planning the conference was to not only provide multiple opportunities for connecting but to create a strong balance between education and training, between the input of information and then opportunity to apply that information in hands-on workshops in the afternoon.
In the morning, six speakers addressed their vision of a clean energy future and how they are making it happen. Dan Golden, Co-Founder and Policy Director of Oregon Climate, shared 3 simple yet powerful slides on “Why the Dividend is our Best Bet.” In a survey comment, one attendee shared, “Dan’s rationale for a dividend as the only sensible use of funds from a carbon fee […] is monumental, especially as it strikes at the heart of some liberal agendas…”
A local Portland volunteer offered a similar perspective, expressing the sentiment of many in the room. “I had questions about the dividend, wondering about whether it might be better to funnel the revenue into renewable energy or similar. But after listening to Dan’s talk, it’s very very clear to me now how important the dividend is. We need to get this thing passed.”
That statement comes from a long-time CCL volunteer who’d been feeling disenchanted. Regarding her initial hesitation to attend the conference, Chris Abernathy says, “I know that CCL is important. But sometimes it seems like we’re never going to make progress on this. Going to the conference left me feeling inspired, hopeful and informed, especially about the dividend.”
This is a powerful statement and loudly speaks to the struggle that many of us have as CCL volunteers, in it for the long haul. While some approaches produce seemingly immediate results and include exciting ventures like hanging from bridges, others necessitate the building of relationships, which doesn’t happen overnight. It takes patience, and a willingness to stick it out and put your heart in it. Regional conferences provide an opportunity for us to do this together, knowing that we’re not alone, feeling the power of being stronger together.
“You get a sense from hearing Mark speak that this is an organization with members who are putting their souls into the work,” says Alan Hardcastle from Olympia. “That’s inspiring and amazing. Everyone there could be doing something else with their time, but they chose CCL and to be at the conference. To realize you’re among them is powerful.”