Last week I stayed at a swanky hotel in Washington DC for the Citizens’ Climate Lobby National Conference. There were over 1,000 of us from all around the country, riding a high generated by our collective courage to speak truth to power. I’m certain that an innocent hotel bystander if asked, would not have guessed that this lit up crowd was a bunch of climate action heroes. Maybe soccer fans getting ready for a world cup, but not climate change warriors preparing to meet with members of congress.
On Sunday and Monday, we prepped. On Tuesday we descended on the hill like a swarm of bees, carrying nectar to over five hundred congressional offices. This was my fourth year. And I daresay, the climate has changed. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) We did not meet a single climate denier. (Climate denial was so 2014.) In fact, we met well informed, ready to take action Democrats and Republicans, super concerned about climate change and quite vocal about it—bless their courageous hearts and souls. And we met with aisle crossers—Democrats and Republicans working together to rise above the rampant mistrust and mile high cynicism.
But it was the millennials who really gave me hope.
They were everywhere. The hotel was buzzing with them; their plastic conference name badges swinging like necklaces of pride. The congressional offices were staffed with them; their smart phones an extension of their thumbs. Young, fresh faces, whip snap smart with inexplicable optimism.
Millennials get a bad rap. People say they’re self-absorbed, entitled and suffer from overinflated self-esteem. But I see it differently.
It became most clear to me in a congressional meeting with a young whipper snapper millennial who said, ‘you seriously have over 500 meetings today! You guys are awesome, call me anytime if you need anything!’
What we’re doing matters to her, because it is her life that hangs in the balance.
I saw millennials from CCL speaking up in meeting after meeting, I saw legislative aides tugging relentlessly at the sleeves of their bosses, I saw unlikely aide-to-aide conversations in the Rayburn cafeteria.
That’s why I’m putting my money on the quick, savvy, concerned legislative aides to turn the tide. That’s why I’m putting my money on the vocal, clear headed CCL millennials and generation Zer’s who made the trek to DC to meet with their representatives.
They will be the ones who get the Democrats and Republicans to pair up and join the bipartisan climate-solutions caucus two by two—donkey/elephant, elephant/donkey—until the rest of the world can’t help but notice that Congress is not broken, that there is an emerging open-hearted, courageous growing core of people who are willing to do whatever it takes to work together respectfully and civilly.
It was a good day on the Hill. Thanks to all the millennials who are not waiting for the future to become leaders. Thanks to all the millennials who have stepped into their leadership today. Thanks to all the people who lead. Because when the people lead, the leaders will follow.