By Davia Rivka
I had no intention of going to the conference this year. I’d been working with CCL for nine years, attended eight conferences, held hundreds of climate conversations with new folks, and raised gobs of money. It was enough already. Several months prior to the conference, I’d started to pull back, stashing my Climate Change Warrior cape in the back of my closet and taking long naps in the middle of the afternoon. I was tired and a little lost.
But then, sometime in May, a little voice whispered in my ear, “Go. Just go to D.C.” I’ve learned over time to trust that voice, so I booked a flight.
I’ll go, I bargained, but when it gets to be too much, I’ll slink off to my room or take a walk in Rock Creek Park. By the time I’d twisted my own arm into signing up, all the lobby slots were taken and the number of registrants was well over 1,000—enough to overwhelm even a seasoned extrovert.
“I’m going to play it by ear,” I told my friend Ellyn when I arrived at the hotel on Saturday night. Still not quite sure why I was there or what had changed my mind, I confided, “I might not go to any of the sessions.”
“Yeah, I know, me too.” She was also a long-time veteran trying to find a new place for herself in the climate conversation. “But,” she said, “I can’t totally disappear because I’m chaperoning a high school student.”
Ellyn and I dropped our suitcases at the hotel, washed off the long day of travel, and walked up Connecticut Avenue to find a quiet place for dinner. The evening light was soft, and the air was surprisingly cool. Everywhere we turned, there were people wearing CCL buttons, ready with big smiles and hugs. I watched myself start to soften, even maybe get a little excited.
I showed up early Sunday morning and sat in the front row, right in front of Mark Reynolds. “How many of you thought things would get easier after the bill was introduced?” He laughed. By the time Mark was done talking, I was no longer tired. The ballroom was 1,541 people full of fierce optimism. There was no way I was going to slink back to my room!
At the break, I found myself gravitating toward the teens and 20-somethings—their unbridled spirits juiced my beleaguered soul. The voice whispered in my ear again. “Connect with them. Imagine the possibilities if you paired your hard-earned elder wisdom with their refreshing lack of cynicism!”
The chance to connect came right away—and I almost blew it. There were four folks under 30 in my first planning meeting; Sophia, Paolo, Edie and Emily, plus two moms in their 40s and three of us white folks over 60 who managed to do most of the talking.
I jumped in fast when we were assigning lobby meeting roles. “I’d love to make the ask,” I said. The liaison wrote my name on the meeting plan. “I’m seasoned, articulate, and already have a relationship with the office. It makes sense for me to do it,” I justified to myself.
A few hours after the meeting, as I walked down the hallway to the ballroom, the voice returned,“Why are you making the ask?” The tone was snarky and filled with accusation. “Step aside. Give someone else a chance. You’ve had your time.” It was true—how delicious would it be to watch a 20-something step up to the plate?
I texted Emily. “How about if you make the ask? I’d be happy to coach you.” She didn’t hesitate for a heartbeat. “Thank you. I’d love to!”
By our second planning meeting, I’d learned my lesson and encouraged 13-year-old Samantha to make the ask. Despite her outward reticence, I could see her inner fire. She had poise, knowledge and a lot of skin in the game. “Yes,” she said. “I can do that.” And she did.
Every single teen and 20-something I talked to—Emily, Sophie, Paolo, Edie, Samantha, Mia, Shadrach, Sophia, Erin, Sebastian, Jillian, Piper, Sami, Justin, Roisin—inspired me with their courage, creativity, smarts and willingness to speak up. Strange to say, but it was in my interactions with them that my best self emerged—the me who can listen, coach, and empower, who can connect and bring joy.
2019—best conference ever. I’m less worried, more optimistic and am happy to hand over the reins. Now can I take that nap?