The annual meeting of the Citizens Climate Lobby, as in previous years, is being held in the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, DC. This is a huge and old hotel, reminiscent of the Palace Hotel or the Mark Hopkins in San Francisco, or other venerable hotels that have achieved status as icons of a prior age. This is the place for inaugural balls and celebrity sightings, the place where the Beatles rented an entire wing. The ambience is stately, elegant, ornate. Frank Sinatra croons in the background. Clusters of guests lounge in islands of leather and gold.
For a few days, here in the heat of the nation’s capital, here in the luxurious ambience of a massive carbon footprint, air conditioning turned down so low one regrets not bringing a sweater, here is where citizens plot the overthrow of the established order of the carbon economy. We occupy huge meeting halls, hold large group training sessions for novice lobbyists, plot regional strategies, break out into smaller workshops on Latino Outreach, Powerful Listening, the Health Impacts of Climate Change, Getting in the Door of Your Congressional Office, Meeting With Editorial Boards, the progress of the Paris Climate Negotiations and Fundraising. We listen to speakers including climate scientists, marketing experts, economists and lawyers. They are good. They are all worthwhile.
There is not nearly enough time to assimilate all there is to know. We study the accumulated material on our targeted legislators. We meet in small groups to plan the direct meetings with their staff or even in some cases face to face with the Member of Congress. We have no illusions about what can be accomplished in some of them. But that is no impediment to seeing new possibilities for persuasive action everywhere.
The lobby day arrives. Nearly a thousand members of CCL descend on Capitol Hill for hundreds of meetings. Some are scheduled for only two or three meetings. Others will be visiting up to ten different offices because of their established familiarity with those legislators and because of their experience.
We enter the marble and wooden halls of government. We leave plenty of time to pass through the usual security, get lost looking for the target office in a maze of strange numbering systems, doubling back two or three times until we get it right. We meet our team outside the door, announce our arrival and wait to be invited inside.
Everyone is very cordial, welcoming. Introductions are made, pleasantries are exchanged. All the aides are young, fresh and whip-smart. Some are burdened with responsibility for up to 14 different policy areas. They are not highly paid. They live 2-3 to an apartment at the further ends of the metro lines. But they are also cutting their teeth in the trenches of government of the most powerful nation on earth. And now, in these offices, they are surrounded by CCL members twice or even three times their age.
We talk about why we are there. Republican staffers are reserved, non-committal, cryptic in their body language and expressions. More substantive conversations may occur with democratic representatives, but everyone is aware that if the legislative logjam blocking the enactment of a carbon pricing measure in the US is ever to break, some dramatic changes of a few key hearts will be required. We are not deterred.
We say our farewells, designate the author of follow-up communications, leave the Thank-You note and rush off to our next meeting through the warren of tunnels underneath the House and Senate office complex.
If we can get an escort, we can even use the electric trolley system to get from the Capitol to the Senate offices.
Inside those offices, we were cool. We were informed. We were impressively informed and impeccably respectful. After we are finished, we go outdoors to be mugged by the heat and humidity, where we recover, in some cases, from the mugging we just got indoors.
A steadily rising price on carbon with all the revenues returned to families in the form of a monthly dividend may be the best way of turning around the environmental crisis bearing down upon us, but it’s not yet the solution of choice in this town.