8 Lessons learned from lobbying Washington D.C. & Ottawa, Canada 2016-17

In November 2016, I had the thrill of lobbying Congressional Offices in Washington D.C. and parliament offices in Ottawa Canada for climate action. This was a follow up trip for me from lobbying Congressional Offices for climate action in November 2015. I enjoyed the 2015 trip so much I blogged about it soon afterwards, 8 Lessons I learned lobbying Congress on climate change November 17 & 18, 2015.

This year it took me much longer to write this blog because I did feel very depressed after the November 8, 2016 Presidential Election. I felt like that election was a gigantic step backwards for taking U.S. and global action to reduce the threat of climate change. Months later, I still struggle to motivate myself to write my blog and act on climate change.

However, my friend Carole Holomuzki asked me to write this blog post last November. I am still determined to keep my promise to my good friend Carole. Thus, I am going to share with Carole and you:

8 Lessons I Learned Lobbying in Washington D.C. and Ottawa Canada 2016-17:

1. “Action is the Antidote for Despair.” – Joan Baez.

The first two nights after the November 8th Presidential Election, I could not sleep. I could not understand how the U.S. could elect Donald Trump as President. So many statements he stated during the campaign I found to be sexist, racist, ignorant, and offensive. I could not comprehend how people could vote for him when he seemed so ill-prepared and uninformed to be President. On climate change, it felt like 6 years of my work of organizing, writing and giving public talks got flushed down the drain since Trump intended to reverse all of President Obama’s climate policies.

The Sunday after the election, I arrived in Washington, D.C. to attend Citizens’ Climate Lobby‘s November Education Day. It was the best comfort I could have received after feeling crushed by the election. It did re-energize me to be around hundreds of other climate advocates, volunteers, and the staff of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. All of them felt crushed by the election, but we were determined to carry forward. However, we were excited to be around old and new friends. We were excited by the growth of our organization, all of our efforts, and the progress we were making with members of Congress.

Winston Churchill once said, “If you are going through hell, keep going.”

I am not sure where I would have been last November if I had not taken these inspiring trips to lobby in Washington D.C. and Ottawa Canada. It was the perfect medicine for me and so many others. Joan Baez did say it best,  “Action is the Antidote for Despair.”

Dr. David Orr said, “Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up.”

Donald Trump will attempt to roll back and reverse as many climate policies as he can.

However, the most important thing is not to give up in despair, but act. You will feel much taking action.

2. The Democrats were completed dejected but the Republicans were bewildered

Before our lobby day, we expected the Democratic offices we met to be defiant and determined. However, we found them to be completely dejected that voters in swing states had rejected them so thoroughly.

I attended a meet-and greet-coffee with Senator Claire McCaskill from Missouri.

Brian Ettling meeting with U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill from Missouri.

She had this observation for an audience of Georgetown law students and constituents attending the gathering: “I hate to be less than lady like and say this but, here it goes. To me, it felt like voters in Missouri and middle America gave the Democratic Party the middle finger.”

We were quite surprised by the dark cloud we saw hanging over the Democratic offices. They did not seem to be in much of a mood to talk about climate policy or anything else. Yet, climate change is just physics and chemistry. It does not care who was elected President. It just responds to whatever forcing it receives. Therefore, it was still important to engage the Democrats even if the political climate did not seem good at the time.

On the other hand, we expected the Republican Congressional Offices to be all puffed up and gloating after the election. However, they seemed to be much more bewildered, confused and subdued after the election. Trump had run against traditional Republican positions such as free trade, the war in Iraq, etc. They were not sure at all what he was going to do on health care, the economy, climate change, etc.

Surprisingly, the GOP offices seemed to be much more open minded about Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s proposal of carbon fee and dividend. They were not ready promising to support it. However, the offices seemed more open minded to hear about it and engage us, where they would have been more resistant and hesitant in the past. Trump really seemed to shake things up for Republicans also. Thus, they seemed to be more open to chat with us about climate change.

4. The methodology of showing respect, gratitude, and appreciation for members of Congress works. 

This was my second year in a row of lobbying Congressional Offices in Washington D.C. I had met with the staff of District Office of my member of Congress, Rep. Ann Wagner (MO-02) since 2014. Even though Rep. Ann Wagner is a very loyal conservative Republican who rejects taking action to reduce the threat of climate change, all of my meetings with Rep. Ann Wagner’s staff have been very positive.

Her highest priority issue in Congress is working on bipartisan solutions to stop sex trafficking. Thus, in my meetings with her staff, I always thank Rep. Wagner for her efforts on this issue. The deeply appreciates this sincere show of gratitude. It helps relax the staff that we are not there to just lecture them and shame them to act on climate change. They seem much more open to listen to my concerns to address climate change. Citizens’ Climate Lobby has one rule: we only meet with members of Congress and their staff showing appreciation, gratitude, and respect.

Joel Olson, Darrell Hart, Brian Ettling, Kris Cook: Energy Aide to Rep. Ann Wagner (MO-02), and Miranda Phillips in front of Rep. Ann Wagner’s Washington D.C. Office from Tuesday, November 15, 2016.

I fully attest that this methodology works. Staff of Rep. Ann Wagner are always happy to see me in our lobby meetings. Even more, I had a breakthrough at this meeting. The energy aide of Rep. Wagner wanted my assessment of why did the Washington state ballot initiative 732 failed during the recent November election. I was a little caught off guard because I had prepared hard to just talk about CCL’s carbon fee and dividend proposal.

One week before, I e-mailed this aide links to Wall Street Journal commentary supporting a carbon tax from October 2016 and another WSJ article, A Growth-Friendly Climate Change Proposal. Amazingly, he read the articles and he prepared questions for me. This aide was using me as a resource and he jotted down notes as I shared my observation why the Washington I-732 failed. At Citizens’ Climate Lobby, we aim to be unbiased resources for members of Congress and their staff. We want to build trust with them so they will more openly consider our proposal. Personally, this felt like a victory for me to be a reliable resource for the office of a conservative Republican.

Overall, it does feel like this approach is working. Over the past year, 36 members of the House of Representatives, 18 GOP & 18 Democrats, joined the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus to exchange ideas on climate change solutions. This year, 17 House Republicans co-sponsered House Resolution 195, calling conservative Republican action in the House of Representatives on climate change. These measures were largely pushed by the thousands of CCL volunteers directly asking their member of Congress to take these steps.

One of the greatest politicians of all time, Abraham Lincoln observed:

“It is an old and true maxim that ‘a drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall.’ So with men, if you would win a man to your cause, first convince him you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart; which say what you will, is the great high road to his reason.”  

5. It is more effective to meet with staff or members of Congress than to protest in front of their offices.

I wrote about this my November 2015 blog and it was still very true last November. This Citizens’ Climate Lobby Conference and Lobby Day happened just one week after the 2016 Presidential election. Emotions were still very raw. Apparently, there was big protests of young people front of the Capitol angry that Trump won, in what they perceived as a stolen election.

The word among CCL volunteers inside the buildings was not to cross the street in between the House Office Buildings and the Capitol Building. Otherwise, you could be delayed by the protests. However, I never saw the protests. There are tunnels between the House Office Buildings and the Senate Office Buildings. One can avoid walking out into the street to avoid the weather or protests, if they chose. Plus, the buildings have thick marble walls. Thus, I never heard any of the protests either. As a citizen who felt crushed by the election results, I was glad to know they were there. It was interesting to see that the Congressional staffs that I engaged seemed completely unaware of the protests. Business was still happening as usual.

This was another reason why I felt great about lobbying that day. It was wonderful to take the voices of the protestors into the Congressional Offices with a calm, measured approach to build consensus — that’s what will bring enduring change.

6. Canadian members of Parliament really wanted to hear the American Perspective

In September 2016, my friend Cathy Orlando of Sudbury, Ontario, who is the Canadian National Manager for Canada Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCCL), personally invited me to attend the CCCL Conference and Lobby Day on November 26-29th. I really do admire Cathy as a climate organizer. Plus, my friend Doug Grandt went a couple of times to the Canadian CCL Lobby Day. He always seemed to have a great time attending. Even more, my wife Tanya to decided to join me at the last minute. I was thrilled to have her with me, so it made it a trip of a lifetime.

Tanya Couture and Brian Ettling in front of the Centre Block Canadian Parliament Building, November 28, 2016.

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives represent district with an average of 700,000 Americans. On the other hand, members of the House of Commons in the Canadian Parliament have ridings representing an average of 100,000 Canadians. U.S. Representatives represent a much larger group of people than their Canadian counterparts.  Thus, if you travel to Washington D.C, you are much more likely to meet with the staff of a member of Congress if you are a constituent. Whereas, in Canada, you have a much greater chance of meeting face to face with the member of Parliament. Ironically, the Canadians that I lobbied with were shocked that you meet most of the time with the Congressional staff, not the members of Congress, if one chooses to go to D.C. to lobby. They flat out told me that Canadians like them would not tolerate traveling to Ottawa and just meeting with the staff.

In Ottawa, my wife and I ended up participating in about 5 meetings with average size groups of 5 Canadians with the meetings with the members of Parliament. If wonder how useful Americans could be in these lobby meetings, you would be surprised. The American Presidential election just happened a few weeks before these meetings. The members of Parliament did want to hear our perspective on this as they were deciding what to do next with their climate policy. I assured them that my meetings with Congress staff in Washington D.C. just two week lobbying with Citizens’ Climate Lobby before went great. The Republican members of Congress were very surprised by the outcome of the election. They were unsure what Trump was going to do and they seemed much more open minded and interested in hearing CCL’s policy of carbon fee and dividend. It felt like being their sharing the American perspective gave the Canadians hope that they should continue their movement towards a national carbon tax.

7. Canada is moving forward with national carbon pricing, regardless of what Donald Trump does.

This conference came on the heels of the big news that on Monday, October 3, 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada will establish a floor price on carbon pollution of $10 a tonne in 2018, rising to $50 a tonne by 2022. That  While the U.S. was taking a gigantic step backwards with federal climate policy with the election of Donald Trump as President, Trudeau’s announcement showed Canada had taken a big step forward on climate action.

Thus, the lobbying felt totally different in Canada. Instead of trying to lobby U.S. members of Congress to do something or anything on climate policy, Canadian CCL volunteers were applauding the Trudeau government for taking a step forward. The lobbying in Canada was focused on making sure that this carbon tax will be implemented. Even more, these citizen volunteers were lobbying for this carbon tax to be ratcheted up to be more more effective to meet the Canadian commitment to the December 2015 Paris Accords and reduce the global threat of climate change.

Members of Canada Citizens’ Climate Lobby and Brian Ettling meeting with Member of Parliament, Peter Julian, of the New Democrat Party.

Before the start of this conference Canada Citizens’ Climate Lobby released this statement:

“The reality is Canada’s current GHG targets are woefully inadequate and the current carbon pricing plan needs improvements and more details. While CCL was on Parliament Hill, the government of Canada approved two pipelines, adding to the concern that climate change is not being taken seriously by the government.

Volunteers at the conference acknowledged that Canada’s climate targets are currently inadequate and that there is a grave risk of losing the political resolve on the gains Canada has made to secure a healthy climate in the lead-up to next federal election in 2019.”

It was very inspiring to see Canada taking a step forward getting ready to implement a national carbon tax. On the other hand, it was sobering to learn from my Canadian climate friends that their Government was taking a very timid and inadequate steps to address the reality of climate change. It was a lesson to see that even when we eventually get the U.S. Congress to the point where they will pass a pass a national carbon tax, it will probably be woefully short of seriously addressing the problem. Therefore, as American climate advocates, we still have a very long fight ahead.

Volunteers with Citizens’ Climate Lobby Canada, including Tanya Couture and Brian Ettling, on the far right side, lobbying on Parliament Hill, Ottawa Canada, November 28, 2016.

8. I love lobbying Congressional Offices for Climate Action

I have been lobbying Congressional Offices for 3 years now. I really love it. I feel like I have a knack for it. I will be blogging on future posts how my lobbying went in March in Missouri District Congressional Offices. I love establishing and maintaining positive and friendly relationships with the Congressional staff. I love looking for the sweet spots of common ground where we might be able to work together on climate related issues. I love showing them the tenacity and determination that I am not going away, even if they are nowhere close joining me to act on climate change in Congress. I love the planning and homework that goes into making these meetings a success. I love that I have now been doing this long enough that some of these Congressional Offices are starting to see me as a valuable resource for them. I love all of the friends I have made in Citizens’ Climate Lobby as I have lobbied with them.

I full realize this is not everyone’s cup of tea. It is not everyone’s approach to sit down with political parties and individuals they detest to make a difference on climate change. But, it is my love and passion. I hope to continue lobbying as much as I can.

Even more, my wife and I just grabbed the domain name for www.climatesolutionlobbyist.org. We hope to eventually transition to that website. We want to set up a 501c4 so I can fund raise and find supporters and sponsors so I can lobby full time for climate action. That’s my calling now!

Stay tuned…