The Power of Participation in Government

We all have a right to participate in the government of our nation, according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In the United States, we are used to hearing that our government is “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” But how seriously do we take the opportunity and the responsibility to make our voices heard?

Today our campers participated in a workshop designed to encourage and equip them to exert their influence through lobbying policymakers. Our guests were Shae Reinberg and Sharon Bagatell, two experienced lobbyists with Citizens’ Climate Lobby. It was particularly meaningful to have Shae, who is a 17-year old high schooler, share her experiences meeting with her legislators in Washington, D.C. and to learn how she advocates for responsible climate legislation.

CCL is laser-focued on getting one particular bill, HB 763, passed into law. Sharon and Shae spent some time explaining how this bill would assess a fee from fossil fuel production and then allocate the funds that are collected to all U.S. Americans in the form of dividends, to spend as they see fit. They also explained CCL’s method of lobbying, which involves an emphasis on mutual respect and bipartisanship. Campers who chose to do so were able to use a tool on CCL’s website to write directly to their members of Congress and ask for their support of this important legislation.

Next, campers got a chance to practice skills that they can use to advocate for climate issues or any other issues that are meaningful to them. They learned that the first step is to develop a personal story, in this case a climate story, explaining the impact the issue has on them individually. Campers’ climate stories included accounts of friends losing their homes to flooding, and health concerns like worsening asthma. How would you answer these questions? What would your climate story tell?

Next, Shae and Sharon explained that in CCL’s lobbying model, it’s very important to find a way to affirm the work of the person they are meeting with. There is always some common ground to discover and honor, even when meeting with legislators who oppose their position. In an activity to practice affirmation, campers shared what they appreciate about one another. We discovered how great it feels to have our strengths recognized and called out!

The next step was to put all they had learned together into a mock lobbying meeting. The scenario was that they were meeting with a school board member to ask her to consider changing the high school schedule to a four-day school week. They learned the different roles that group members should assume in the meeting, the importance of planning their arguments, the value of knowing the background and interests of the person they were meeting with, and the need to be considerate of her time. Prepared with strong arguments, it’s not surprising that the group convinced their “school board member” of the wisdom behind their proposal!

“School board member” Sharon considers the campers’ proposal

Chances are that regardless of what issues campers decide to dedicate themselves to, lobbying skills will be a valuable asset to bring to the table. Today’s workshop introduced them to those skills and empowered them to use their voices now and in the future!

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