The Thrill of Speaking Up: Why we should all be lobbyists

The fossil fuel Divestment movement is growing. Colleges, religious institutions, private investment groups, and individuals from across the country are taking a stand and removing their financial support from an industry that is profiting by wrecking the planet. And while the actions of colleges and churches have received a lot of publicity, a huge source of support for the fossil fuel industry comes from our own government.

We rail against the sway high-powered lobbyists have over our representatives, but rarely realize that we, too, have the ability and the right to lobby. 

You may be aware of the massive tax breaks and subsidies (totalling over $20 Billion a year) that are given to fossil fuel companies by the US government. But until recently I didn’t realize that our state governments also invests millions in fossil fuel companies through state employee pension funds. Obviously this is a problem because the fossil fuel industry’s financial interests directly conflict with the best interests of the public. People want to live in peaceful, healthy communities, while fossil fuel companies want to continue building dangerous extraction projects with disruptive and often leaky pipelines. While people (especially young people) want to live in a world without the disastrous effects of climate change, fossil fuel companies’ very survival depends on continuing to cause climate change through continued burning of fossil fuels. Fossil fuel companies’ fiscal obligations and our government’s obligation to protect the health, safety, and well-being of its people, are irreconcilable.

In Massachusetts, 14 towns and cities have passed resolutions in support of fossil fuel divestment, more than any other state. So it made sense for the Boston-area ACE Action Fellows to bring our voices to the state level, as part of a state-wide coalition to make MA the first state to fully divest from fossil fuels.

On Thursday, April 24th, a group of eight Action Fellows (including yours truly) met at the Massachusetts State House to lobby the Speaker of the House and the Chair of the Ways & Means committee about passing two Divestment bills currently being considered by the legislature, one of which would create a commission to study divestment, and the other which would immediately begin to divest Massachusetts state pensions.

Rarely are young people’s voices heard when it comes to policy decisions, which was evidenced by the conspicuous lack of young people in the building at the State House. The ACE contingency alone probably skewed the average age in the building down by a couple years--making our presence there more powerful. We dropped by the offices to meet whoever they had available to speak to us, and I was surprised by how open the offices were, as well as how willing to listen the aides and representatives were. In spite of it being in the midst of budget week, one of the most hectic times of the year for the Office of Ways and Means, they still made time to hear our thoughts. Speaking up for ourselves was kind of thrilling, and made me wonder why we aren’t taught how to set up meetings with our representatives in school. Shouldn’t this be considered one of the most important aspects of our education, particularly in a society that reveres democracy?

We rail against the sway high-powered lobbyists have over our representatives, but rarely realize that we, too, have the ability and the right to lobby. Our representatives are beholden to us, which means that, while they have a responsibility to look out for our interests, we also have a responsibility to let them know, through letters, in person meetings, emails, and social media, exactly what we want and why. Before ACE introduced me to the idea that citizens too could lobby, I‘d always just assumed the government would naturally know what my interests are. However, after our trip to the State House, I realized that there’s often so little direct input and pressure from the people that it’s no wonder our reps are often side-tracked by corporate lobbying. The office I lobbied wasn’t even very aware of the existence of the divestment bills, but simply by dropping by and talking to them for a few minutes, we changed that.

Here’s my challenge to you. Want something to happen? Think climate change is important? Right now, look up who represents you in your state government, and send them an email, or better yet, give them a call. Join the Get Loud Challenge where you can support this and other climate action campaigns. If you want to step up in person, join us at the YouthCAN Summit on May 14th, and come to our next lobby day at the statehouse (no experience necessary, anyone and everyone is welcome)!

Kind of thrilling, don’t you think?

 

Emily Chan is a 2015-2016 Action Fellow in New England. She attends Cambridge Rindge and Latin High.