Before the Legislature adjourned Thursday, I was in Olympia for Youth Climate Lobby Day. Throughout the Washington-style hailstorm, we stood on the steps of the Capitol Building, rallying for justice and change before splitting into our meetings for the day. Hours of waiting and ushering from one office to another taught me the deeply vested power in youth influence.
We have the inspiration and motivation that many of our legislators lack. Lobbying allows us to affect social change on several levels of jurisdiction. We have a constitutional right to be heard — and yes, there are voices that are always institutionally more powerful than others, but that’s what I believe stops most of us from trying. And rightfully so. I would be crazy to think that my 15-minute meeting with an adult climate-change denier sitting in elected office actually changed any part of his thinking. Do I think he will vote differently because a 16-year-old cried in front of his desk about low carbon-fuel standards? No.
But it matters. Lobbying is not a waste of time, and let me tell you why.
It is easy to equate lobbying with a corrupt large-scale scheme of political disorganization. From Capitol Hill to across the country, organizations and PACs use professional lobbyists in every level of service, with financial interactions serving as a key component of their work. The stories about designer-suit clad trips to a five-star meal discussing policy get so much play in the media that they cloud our concept of lobbying.
However, citizen lobbying forces have notably different, and often more influential, weight and power. Young people are central to these local lawmakers’ strategies, whether they choose to recognize it or not. A push for people-powered politics encourages youth and citizen involvement in the government. In turn, we franchise and invest in our democracy, allowing us to build stronger communities.
So yes, the people who sit in office sometimes seem like they breathe a different, more elite, air. Their all-knowing, powerful signatures, hidden behind floors of staffers, may seem like a demeaning faraway world. But do not let yourself forget that they work for you. We are their bosses, and we have absolutely every right to be heard.
So get out there. It doesn’t matter if you change their minds or not. At the very least, you are showing up. You are serving yourself and those you represent by being there — in that room — and facing the all-mighty. Show them who they work for and remind them what we want. Because at the end of the day, when they pack their bags and head home, when they think back to that 16-year-old who cried at their desk, when they think to their grandchildren and their futures, they realize that they cannot ignore us, no matter how hard they try.