Lobby training builds people’s political power for 2017 and beyond
By Erica Flock
After the 2016 election, many people are asking themselves how to act in the face of threats to the environment, justice, health, and equality. While continuing to offer climate solutions, Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteers also have much to contribute to the larger conversation about activism in this new political climate. CCL’s mission of helping people experience breakthroughs in their personal and political power applies to all issues.
In the bewildering days following the election, our Washington, DC chapter co-leader Max Broad thought it would be meaningful to host a general lobby training to put this concept into practice. We hoped the event would not only provide practical tools for those looking to get involved, but also bring people with diverse concerns and passions together, fostering productive conversations and a sense of shared purpose.
The power of partnerships
In our chapter, we’ve found that events are more successful when we co-host with another group, so we enlisted crackerjack lobbyists Emily Wirzba of the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) and Camila Thorndike of Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) and Our Climate to co-lead the event.
FCNL in particular has trained thousands of people to lobby on criminal and economic justice, peacebuilding, the environment, and many other issues. Emily helpfully shared the resources she’s used to conduct other lobbying trainings and put together a slideshow, which we supplemented with CCL training materials.
We announced the event to our local CCL email list and Facebook page, but also reached out to other grassroots advocacy groups in our city. Despite frigid temperatures and an event date bumping against winter holidays, around 40 people showed up looking to get engaged.
Structuring the lobby training event
Emily, Max, Camila and I took turns sharing our tips on holding an effective lobby meeting at any level of government. We covered how to prepare for and organize a meeting, how to have conversations on facts and values, and how to avoid common pitfalls. Max moderated a fun audience exercise on listening skills that he’d picked up from a CCL conference.
But the most popular part of the event was when we shared success stories. From the inspiring community art project that Camila spearheaded in Oregon, to Emily’s story about middle school students who convinced a Republican member of Congress to act on climate, to Max’s example of DC-based CCL volunteers delivering constituent letters from around the country directly to Capitol Hill, we illustrated multiple ways to influence elected officials.
Finally, we broke into smaller groups to hold either a mock lobbying session or a conversation on how we might apply these lobbying tips. In my group, there were people working on affordable housing, human rights, and paid family leave; people working on international issues, and people working at the state and city levels; people who had lobbied before and people who hadn’t. As someone who rarely steps outside the climate “bubble,” I found this conversation inspiring and informative.
Keeping up the momentum
In a follow-up email to the participants, we invited people to get involved in our respective organizations. Like CCL, FCNL regularly holds annual conferences and citizen lobbying days. The Chesapeake Climate Action Network is working on passing fee and dividend/rebate at the city level in DC. For anyone looking for ways to jump in, there was no shortage of opportunities.
Several participants emailed us afterward to tell us how much they enjoyed the workshop. “I just want to say that this was the best post-election event I’ve attended,” said participant Katherine Cunningham. “I loved the diversity of the group and was encouraged to hear about ways that DC citizens can get involved despite a lack of [voting] representation in Congress.”
As more people consider activism in 2017 and the years ahead, CCL volunteers can offer tools, collaboration, a listening ear, and examples of success. Working together and empowering others will help us advance not only climate change solutions, but progress on all the issues we care about.
Erica Flock is co-leader of the Washington, DC chapter of CCL. She can be reached at *protected email*.