Last week I joined over 600 other Citizens Climate Lobby
volunteers for the annual Congressional Education Day
. CCL's main lobby day occurs in June, when we meet with over 500 offices of Representatives, Senators, and Delegates
to discuss our proposal for a revenue-neutral carbon fee and dividend with border adjustments. The organization's Legislative Director, Danny Richter, then analyzes all of the meeting notes and identifies topics brought up by members and their staffs. For both Democrats and Republicans this year, the top topic was the Climate Solutions Caucus
while the second and third topics for Republican offices were jobs and the border adjustment while Democratic offices talked about the Paris accord, jobs, and the dividend. In November, CCL volunteers pay their way to Washington again to share those results, letting congressional offices know how other offices have been responding to our proposal. CCL leaders say they're not aware of any other group that meets with approximately every office in one day nor of one which can then share aggregate results of Hill-wide behind-closed-door meetings.
One of the most promising findings in this year's analysis is the degree to which GOP offices are engaged in our conversations. For the past four years, Dr. Richter has recorded the staff or member engagement level with CCL volunteers. Tier 1 covers meetings where staff showed genuine interest; Tier 2 meetings had quiet but not uninterested staff, and Tier 3 represents meetings where staff were either combative or totally uninterested. In 2014, the ratio of Tier 1 to Tier 3 meetings with Republicans was 3:1. Each year the number of interested offices has increased and the number of cold offices has decreased; this June we had 21 active and engaged meetings for every combative or disinterested meeting. While popular perception may hold that Republicans don't care about climate change, Citizens' Climate Lobby has found that many GOP lawmakers acknowledge, at least in private, that climate change is a significant concern for America and many of them think the federal government should take some kind of action. This is not to say that they're all ready to turn our proposal into law&emdash;many of them have significant concerns or they prefer a different approach. There was a sense at the CCL conference and among staffers on The Hill that opinions had shifted significantly in the last several years and that bipartisan legislation tackling climate change could come soon. I find this really exciting, and I plan to continue helping build political will for a federal climate solution.
Some personal notes:
Conference organizers said that the dress code on The Hill is formal: offices aren't likely to take you seriously unless you're wearing a suit and tie or socially-approved female- or military-equivalent. I got a suit and dress clothes when I was a senior in college (prior to a national honor society meeting), figuring that as an adult I'd need to wear a suit on occasion. Based on the CU Buffs lapel pin, I don't think I've worn the suit since I left college, so maybe this outing means I'm finally a grown up at age 38.
I heard from other CCLers to expect a lot of walking, since Senate office buildings are on the northeast side of the U.S. Capitol while House offices are on the southeast side, with under-street tunnels connecting the office buildings on each side. I lucked out with three straight meetings on one side. Some folks with short times between meetings told me that some kind staffers had helped them get access to the underground trolley below the Capitol building
, which sounded pretty cool.
Speaking of walking and subways, both of them were effective modes of transport in DC. The town is designed with the assumption that a lot of people won't be driving a car, so sidewalks are wide and trains are frequent. The subway system also seemed significantly more cheerful and less grimy than New York's. A friend who used to work in DC told me about the bike path along Rock Creek, so I had a lovely walk from the National Zoo (home of photogenic pandas) to Georgetown, the C&O Canal
(now a national park that's 185 miles long and about 30 yards wide), the Potomac River (where I found a Chartres labyrinth overlooked by a bird of prey), the Lincoln Memorial, Korean War Memorial, and Vietnam War Memorial. After five hours of walking, my thighs were sore for two days.
I met with four offices in and around my state. Although I'm not at liberty to discuss the details of those meetings, I'll say that I felt all of them were positive. Republican staffers I met with were interested in our proposal and expressed very specific concerns about policy details and how it might affect their constituents. This is exactly the sort of meeting we want to be having. And offices, even ones who disagree with us, are generally happy to meet with us, in part because they know we're not going to come in and yell at them.
Part of the CCL approach to congressional meetings is to start with an appreciation. It doesn't have to be about climate, but it needs to be something you truly appreciate about something the person has done or said. In one meeting that we were a little trepidatious about, the meeting quickly dove into the policy discussion before I had a chance to share the appreciation. After a spirited discussion about climate and energy policy that lasted twice as long as we expected, I wrapped up the meeting with my appreciation. This led to another five minute discussion on a different topic on which our group and the staffer shared a lot of common concerns.
Maybe we lucked out with the location of the conference hotel, but there's a lot of really good food in Washington from around the country and globe. I had fantastic Afghan curry, Lebanese lamb stew, a crawfish-prawn-sausage boil, and some good bagels.
The National Mall is bigger on foot than it appeared in my minds eye after looking at maps. I arrived in time to get a Burner welcome, do some dancing, and watch the temple burn at Catharsis on the Mall
next to the Washington Monument, which is right in the middle of the mall. The Lincoln Memorial at one end and Capitol building on the other seemed quite distant while the White House, which looks as if it's just a few small parks away on a map, seemed rather small. One could probably explore all of the monuments on the National Mall in a day, but it would be a long one.
Speaking of the Lincoln Memorial, despite having seen countless pictures of it, I was unaware what's in the wings. The left side has the Gettysburg Address
, which begins with one of the most famous sentences in English but which I don't think I had previously read in its entirety. It's really good and remains relevant today, the 154th anniversary of the speech. The other wing features Lincoln's second inaugural address
, which I found quite powerful. Also notable to contemporary debates, when some folks claim that the Civil War was "not about slavery," Lincoln's contemporary remarks make it pretty clear that he (one of the two primary belligerents) thought it was. Above the speeches are two murals
with perhaps the most White Savior imagery I've ever seen
The Korean War Veterans Memorial
, newer and much less famous than the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
has a set of white soldier statues in a triangular field. Their features
are much less distinct than most statues, creating a really beautiful ghostly sense of almost-presence. I was there a day after Veteran's Day so there were a lot of floral wreaths sent by various veteran and civic groups along the also-ghostly black granite mural.
I was familiar with the design and context for the Vietnam Veterans wall. But what was much more emotionally salient, and also familiar from Burning Man's temples, was all the offerings and remembrances left at the foot of the wall. These ranged from candles and flowers to photographs to poems to boots and hats. Much more than a name, these give a sense of the character and humanity of the Americans who lost their lives in that unwinnable war.
Before planning this trip, I had not previously realized that "The Smithsonian" is not one museum but half a dozen under an organizational umbrella. They line the eastern arm of the National Mall with striking architecture. Following a tip from my friend, who worked for The Smithsonian, on my last day I headed for the 4th floor of The National Museum of the American Indian
. The shape and color of the building's exterior clues you in that it's got a bit of a different flavor and the tone of the exhibits made clear that Indian people were involved in telling their own story: it wasn't simply a monument to the collected artifacts of colonialism, which is how the British Museum feels. The 4th floor features a long curving exhibit structured around the cycle of the year, the moon, and the stars. Several alcoves introduced the world view of a different indigenous American people and how it plays into their culture, from dress to tools to housing. The other half of the floor is an exhibit dedicated to treaties between Indian tribes and the United States. I had learned from A People's History of the United States
that every US–Indian treaty had been broken by the United States, but I didn't know a lot about the particulars. This exhibit does an excellent job of presenting the context, negotiating perspectives, and treaty technologies (from wompum belts to written documents signed with an X to modern legal documents) of over 300 years of treaties between White and Indian groups. The exhibit shows how treaties were broken or subverted, whittling away at tribal land through paperwork and occasional extreme force. It's a remarkably fair and informative exhibit, well worth a (free!) visit for anyone visiting the nation's capital.