On Wednesday, I went with a group of others to Washington DC to lobby against oil and gas exploration in the Atlantic. I will write more next week about the history of the issue and the specific political processes involved, but today I want to write about the experience of lobbying–something I’d never done before and had frankly not expected to ever do.
I also need to apologize for not posting on Tuesday–I was busy getting ready to going to DC.
I ended up on the expedition more or less by accident. My husband signed us up to go but then had to back out due to commitments elsewhere, leaving me to carry the family standard, as it were, to Washington, even though I had only the haziest idea of what “lobbying on Capitol Hill” actually meant. I figured I’d go and make the crowd at least look bigger and leave the talking to others.
But while I was fuzzy on lobbying, I was familiar with our cause–keeping oil and gas exploration out of the Atlantic. Wednesday’s events were a follow-up to the BOEM scoping meeting I wrote two posts about last year.
Wednesday began early for me.
I knew I had to get up at 3:45 at the very latest in order to meet the man I was giving a ride to and get both of us to DC in time for check-in and orientation at 7:30. I tend to need more sleep than average and while I got to bed earlier than usual, I knew it wasn’t early enough–I rarely have trouble sleeping, but getting myself to bed at a reasonable hour is a persistent struggle. So I was worrying about my impending sleep deprivation when I discovered my cell phone’s battery was down. I couldn’t remember whether its alarm function would work while it was charging. I went to bed with much trepidation.
And I lay in the dark, not sleeping, worrying about my alarm clock.
I think I slept an hour or two and not all of those minutes were in a row. I asked my passenger to be my driver instead, but I could not even sleep in the car. At one point I dissolved in helpless giggles, I forget why, my wonky, sleep-deprived brain behaving very much as though I’d been drinking. Eventually I got it together, but I had some concern about my performance for the day.
Actually, I did fine. My ignorance about lobbying turned out to be unfounded anyway, because my role was specifically to be an “ordinary person.” We went around in groups to the offices of various Congresspeople and the leader of each group would present our argument and then introduce us, the little people. We’d speak briefly and movingly about the threat from fossil fuel to our homes and livelihoods. Once or twice I lost my train of thought and had to apologize, explaining that I had not slept. The staffers were very understanding.
The staffers generally were very helpful and friendly. Several even made suggestions for how we could plead our case better. What surprised me was how much the Congressmembers who already agreed with us welcomed our visits. I had thought that once someone was on our side further contact would be seen as redundant. Certainly that is how it works in ordinary discourse; if you came to me and said “oil and gas exploration are bad” and I said “yes, I know, I agree,” I wouldn’t want you to keep reiterating your point. I’d say “didn’t you hear me? I said yes!” In politics, evidently, it’s different.
The issue is that the members who already object to oil and gas exploration in the Atlantic are under constant pressure from other lobbyists to change their minds. Since being in Congress means doing what your constituents want, members are eager to hear from constituents whose views they share.
The experience of lobbying taught me many things–most of which I’ll get into in next week’s post. Basically I got a window into how politics in Washington actually work. It’s not the passionate and impersonal generalities we often see from the outside, where you’re either for climate sanity or against it and in the pocket of the Koch brothers. Instead, it is specific decisions made by specific people based on a suite of considerations. If you’re friendly and polite and you speak to a Congressmember’s own interest and priorities, he or she might just say yes.