I had no intention of going to the Citizens’ Climate Lobby annual June conference this year. I’d been working with CCL for nine years, had been to eight conferences, had had 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, stashed my Climate Change Warrior cape in the back of my closet and took long naps in the middle of the afternoon. I was tired and a little lost.
But then, sometime in May the little voice in my head whispered, ‘Go. Just go to Washington D.C.’ I’ve learned over time to trust that voice so I booked a flight. With a caveat.
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, the number of registrants was well over one thousand—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, as Mark Reynolds, CCL executive director took the stage. “How many of you thought things would get easier after the bill was introduced?” He laughed. We all laughed—in a despondent kind of way. (The good news–after ten long years of relentless persistence on the part of hundreds of volunteers, CCL’s bi-partisan carbon-pricing bill—H.R. 763—was introduced in the house. The not so good news–it was still harder than hard to move things forward.)
In spite of continued resistance from powerful forces, Mark words ignited something in me and by the time he was done talking, I was no longer tired. The ballroom was 1,505 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 towards the teens and twenty-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 thirty in my first lobby planning meeting; but we three white folks over sixty managed to do most of the talking.
I jumped in fast. “I’d love to be the one who asks the Congressman to take next steps.” 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 little voice in my head returned, ‘Why are you making the ask?’ This time 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 twenty-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 thirteen-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 twenty-something I talked to inspired me with their courage, creativity, smarts and willingness to speak up. It was in my interactions with the teens that my best self emerged—the me who can listen, coach, and empower and who can connect and bring joy.
I’m delighted to turn over the reins. Now I don’t feel so lost—but I’m still jonesin’ for a nap!