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Thursday, October 15, 2015

My First Time at Sierra Club's Citizen Lobby Day by Kevin Duffy

The Sierra Club Michigan Chapter’s Citizen Lobby Day is one of our marquee events, where members converge in Lansing to educate lawmakers about important environmental issues. Our goal is to empower people to have a voice at the capitol and hold lawmakers accountable for their environmental votes. On October 14, over 65 environmental activists from every corner of the state came together to fight for progressive clean energy policies and to advocate for a ban on fracking. What follows is a personal reflection on the event from Kevin Duffy, our Communications Intern who had never before lobbied a lawmaker.

My First Time at Citizen Lobby Day
Kevin Duffy

A former environmental journalist, my first experience at Citizen Lobby Day was not what I had imagined. Of course, what I had imagined was battling the same disconnect I felt as a writer who was rarely granted a timely interview. It was not at all like that. I vigilantly shadowed a day’s worth of meetings with state Representatives and Senators, not one of them late (another surprise). The opportunity offered by the Sierra Club not only remedied the detachment I previously felt, it offered direct government engagement. Further, it reinforced my understanding of the issues – clean energy, hydraulic fracturing – and empowered me (as I imagine others) to take the policy plunge. It also allowed me to chase the environmental cause with force, Sierra Club providing the materials I needed – materials I also happen to support.

A well-organized event, I never felt lost in discussion and was motivated by the turn out. The number of available legislators alone motivated me to take action. Other citizen lobbyists spoke on their expertise including a wide range of backgrounds such as first-responders, a church youth group, professional educators, solar home owners, and well-informed activists. There were many understandings and perspectives to share, but a collective voice spoken. Sierra Club defended the definition of renewable energy, fought for fair access to solar, emphasized Michigan’s dependence on clean freshwater and demanded accountability on companies who frack for natural gas in the Great Lakes state.

Activists Suzanne Love, Steve Rall, Dave Errickson and Dawn Flemming 
met with State Representative Tom Barrett (R-Grand Ledge).

Most of the issues are not inherently polar – the right to a healthy body and environment – but competing positions related to policy and political affiliations have a tendency to make issues that exactly. However, that’s where I gained most useful insight. Even Representatives or Senators who historically rejected the importance of issues I valued could show an understanding and in turn build an open narrative. I was not alone in thinking this. Speaking to other participants, I learned how some hesitated to enter a potentially edgy meeting and others who hoped for belligerent debates. In either case (and all those in between), everyone seemed pleasantly surprised by at least one or two points of conversation with their elected officials. Whether or not that meant they could support the legislator’s position or bill, it again opened a valuable dialogue – one that requires active or repeated participation. I learned that you can affect someone’s position on the environment. I know my Citizen Lobby group did.

State Representative Sam Singh (D-East Lansing) took time to meet with Sierra Club members Rob Zimmer, Diane Moore, Lindsey Diamond, Bill Rittenber and Mark Meadows.

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