It’s Time to Play a Big Role

I am so pleased with the new emphasis in the RC Community on care of the environment. It is hopeful to see RCers putting their minds to work on the interesting question of how to enlist other humans in the great challenge of moving modern human societies into sustainable practices.

I’ve made some big changes in my life in the last year as a result of my decision to put solving climate change in the center of my life. Last summer I stopped a teaching job and joined the staff of Citizens Climate Lobby as their first program director. Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL) focuses on training and supporting volunteers to become advocates for national climate change legislation by building relationships with their members of Congress, local editors, and community leaders. I had already been volunteering many hours a week for CCL. I had organized a chapter in my town and then organized chapters across my state. My new job is to “ensure the success of every chapter” in our organization. Not a small job in an organization that is growing rapidly. We’ve added thirty chapters in the last four months. I love my job and have drawn on RC theory and practice repeatedly as I’ve supported our volunteer leaders.

APPLYING RC

Much of what I teach and model for our group leaders is based on what I learned about leadership from Harvey Jackins, for example, that it’s helpful to bring a proposal to the group and solicit feedback, that all organizing is based on one-to-one relationships, and that people do better when they are appreciated for their work and encouraged to try lots of things.

One of the first things I proposed when I came on staff was that we hold a series of local conferences for our volunteers. The executive director and I held ten conferences in five months. At each one I led a session on listening skills in which people did several mini-sessions and had the chance to work on the feelings that had gotten in their way as they’d organized on the climate.

One conference had many more men than women, and I decided to talk about the work I had done with men in RC and the things I’d learned about men as a result. An unusual number of the men cried during the mini-session that followed. It was great to be a visible ally to men.

I am beginning to gather people in the organization to think about how to build relationships with people of the global majority, since most of our volunteers are white.

I am grateful that I have wonderful Co-Counselors who keep me discharging. This helps me to stay hopeful and open with people, to face my own fears as I get more and more visible, and to keep some bit of balance in my life against the pull to work too much.

FOCUSING ON RELATIONSHIPS

The thing that attracted me to CCL in the first place was its focus on creating change by building relationships and working to reach the minds and hearts of politicians who don’t recognize the problem of climate change. This is more effective than blaming them and fits so well with our perspective in RC that people are inherently good and cooperative. It is also much more heartening to assume that politicians are people who can be reached through listening, and information based on their values, versus people who are stupid, selfish, and bad.

I found it refreshing to switch away from organizing events, like protests and marches, because when an event is done, it’s over. With a focus on relationships, my activities are based on many small human contacts that build over time. There’s a place for both kinds of organizing, but I think that in the end it’s human connection through relationships that’s going to pull us through the challenges we face.

In this period of intense polarization in the U.S. Congress, you would think that a perspective like ours would get nowhere in the face of people’s discouragement about our political system. But in fact many people get excited when offered the chance to work from a more hopeful, human perspective, and our organization has been doubling in size every year for the last four years.

I think that people in Congress like us because we don’t come into their offices and yell at them. The primary rule of our organization is that we can meet with an elected official only if we can do it with respect, appreciation, and gratitude for his or her public service. Some prominent conservatives have met with our members repeatedly. In fact, one of the surprises of my work is that it has often been easier to work with conservatives than liberals. As I’ve discharged more and more of my discouragement, fear, and internalized oppression, it’s become easier and easier to enter a room and find myself liking the aides and officials there. Taking on1 this challenge has changed me in many good ways.

Because the majority of our volunteers come from a liberal background, we work on how to appreciate and speak to the values held by conservatives and provide ongoing support to help people persist in their efforts. I spend much of my time in conference calls with group leaders and with the regional coordinators who support them. We model and practice with each other the things we need to do in our lobby meetings: listen, appreciate, engage, and keep coming back.

SEEING CHANGES

I’ve seen things change in the three and a half years I’ve been involved with CCL. I’ve seen our legislative proposal move from total obscurity to increasing prominence in discussions of what to do about climate change. I’ve seen the U.S. media take up the issue of climate change again. (The largest newspaper in my state has been printing frequent editorials on the subject, in part because of the encouragement and information I’ve given the editor.) I’ve seen the new Pope become an advocate for sustainability. I’ve seen individual volunteers become less angry and frustrated and more hopeful and effective.

I’ve also seen other things change. I’ve seen the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere go above four hundred parts per million. I’ve seen or read about a lot of extreme weather. I’ve seen the cost of climate change in money, lives, and lost species go up every year.

SHARING WHAT WE KNOW

We Co-Counselors have a lot to offer. We’ve learned a lot over the years about listening, helping people change, leadership, organizing, and the power of a rational perspective. We’ve learned a lot about racism and how it intersects with everything else. I like hearing about the listening projects2 and the environmental-justice work RCers are doing, and about how United to End Racism3 is helping environmental and climate-change organizations become more diverse. All of that matters and is important. And I think that in addition, we have many skills that are needed inside these organizations. We are good at relationships and perspective, and that’s what organizing is all about. Citizens Climate Lobby is a good fit for people who are good at listening and supporting people to make changes, but all organizations can use people with these skills.

This is a good time to decide to play a big role, the biggest role we can imagine, in ensuring that this beautiful web of life on earth persists for many more generations.

Madeleine Para
Madison, Wisconsin


1 “Taking on” means undertaking.
2 In an RC listening project, several Co-Counselors go to a public place and offer to listen to passersby about some important issue, such as racism or the environment. They may hold signs that invite people to share their thinking about that issue.
3 United to End Racism is a project of the Re-evaluation Counseling Community in which teams of Co-Counselors go to wide-world events and bring the tools of RC and what RCers have learned about ending racism to other organizations working for social change.


Last modified: 2017-05-07 06:35:41+00