Recently, Moms Clean Air Force brought a team of volunteers, field organizers, and staff members to Capitol Hill. We were there to talk about climate change.
We visited close to 50 different Senate offices that day, meeting with Senators and their staff members. We met with both Republicans and Democrats alike to discuss how climate change will harm our children’s health — and why we care so much, as parents, about efforts to curb unfettered carbon dioxide and methane pollution.
We talked with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, sharing our message in a personal, immediate way. It wasn’t easy for our volunteers and field organizers to travel to DC to do this. Many left small children in the care of partners and relatives. (One fantastic DC volunteer even brought her 4 -month-old son with her to the meetings!) But, as often happens when moms talk to lawmakers, it was a lesson in the power of civic engagement.
What Is Civic Engagement?
It sounds like a complex process, but civic engagement just means taking an interest in what our lawmakers are doing. Paying attention. Connecting the dots between policy choices and the world we leave to our children. And then saying something about it.
Last week’s visits highlighted something else for me: Civic engagement thrives when we have civil engagement. And by that I don’t mean that we have to be polite and deferential. By all means, there are times to be forceful and determined, and we certainly made use of those qualities in many of our meetings last week. But we were also civil. We listened to each other, and we kept our minds and hearts open to the possibilities inherent in having real conversations. We respected the human beings with whom we were meeting. And that paved the way for meaningful interactions.
We delivered cards signed by constituents from all across the country, saying, “Please protect our children from climate change.” Many of those cards were decorated with handprints, drawings, scribbles, and stickers from your children, and the Senators and their staff were happy to receive them.
Some of our meetings were inspiring. Others were puzzling. But from all of them, a few lessons emerged.
- Senators are people too. They have limited time, yes, and a high stakes jobs — but they welcome conversations with constituents. They work for you, after all. And they, too, are moms, dads, and grandparents. There is common ground among us, and it’s part of the process of civic, and civil engagement, to find that common ground.
- Be generous with information. Many of the Senate offices we met with – even those who deny that pollution is causing dangerous climate change – wanted more information about the health impacts of climate change. They were eager to learn more about the new policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics, for example, which highlights the grave health threats of climate change. And they wanted information about the health impacts of climate change in their states. It’s part of the process of civic, and civil engagement, to pass no judgment about what people do or don’t know, and instead to offer the information that we have.
- Speak from the heart. I watched it happen over and over: A mom shared her story about why she cares about climate change, and a senator or a staff member listened. It’s these genuine stories that will ultimately create the tidal wave of political will that we need to address climate pollution and protect our kids. We want to solve this problem, and our stories help reach across the partisan divide to lay the groundwork for doing so.
So, go ahead. You can do it too. Find out how to contact your federal lawmakers. Then pick up your pen, or your phone, and say it loud. Keep it civil, please.