Democracy. Not a Spectator Sport.

 

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Karen Chapman always had her hand up. She said things that were smart, provocative, often challenged the textbook and sometimes even the teacher. It was twelfth grade civics. She had informed opinions about civil rights, women’s rights, and the war in Vietnam. I studied her. Even the way she raised her hand. Strong and straight up in the air. The resonance of her voice. No apology. I didn’t know how to get from where I was—reticent and uninformed—to where she was.

When I was a kid, we didn’t talk politics—or art or culture—at the dinner table. My dad talked about his day, where he had lunch and who he played golf with. Or he lectured me and my three younger sisters on why the sky turns pink and orange when the sun sets, or why it is easier to lift something with a lever and a fulcrum. Math, engineering and chemistry.

My parents considered themselves liberal democrats. They voted for Adlai Stevenson and John Kennedy, they had friends who marched against the war in Vietnam, friends who made noise about nuclear energy. They never marched or made noise.

I tried reading the newspaper when I was a kid.

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I used to think courage was the absence of fear,

until preparing for a face to face meeting with my brand new member of congress.

900 of us were in Washington D.C. in June for the Citizens’ Climate Lobby annual conference.

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Six of us from the district, nervous and excited, prepped for our Tuesday meeting. But it got rescheduled for Thursday. My teammates had to leave on Wednesday.

Leaving me, alone.

The funny thing is I have a great member of congress. He’s a smart, receptive, eager guy and climate change is one of his top priorities. He’s not mean, or belligerent, or full of himself.

So what was I so afraid of?

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“Climate’s not really my thing”

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“I’m writing a book.” I say. “Personal stories about ordinary people working with congress to reverse climate change.

People in their twenties and seventies,  Republicans and Democrats, scientists and elementary school teachers.

They live all over the country; New England, Wyoming, Florida, Texas. Most of them don’t think of themselves as political.

But they are worried and they want to do something that will matter.”

“Hm. Interesting.” Elizabeth says. “I’m glad you’re doing that. I’m not really into that stuff. Climate’s not really my thing. And I hate politics.”

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Scott Takes A Leak

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“In 1992, I went with a group of RESULTS volunteers to visit Professor Yunus and the Grameen Bank.  We arrived in Dhaka, received briefings and then we went out in two’s and three’s to different villages throughout Bangladesh.  There, we met with bank workers, learned how the bank operated, walked with the bank workers into the villages, met the women borrowers, and heard their stories.  Every single one of them had their own incredible story.

When I was there I had thoughts, I am sure, similar to what one might have had being in the laboratory of Edison.  I knew this was going to be very big, very very big!”

                                                                                                             ScottLeckmansurgeon_web                                          My crazy friend Scott Leckman is the chair of the RESULTS board.  When he’s not in Dhaka, he’s a general surgeon in Salt Lake City. He has the most wry sense of humor of anyone I’ve ever met.  I could be doubled over with laughter and he

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Wild Goose Chase?

     geese on lake

My friend Jeanne started calling me Goose. As in flying with the… That got me thinking. About being on a wild (goose) chase. Up and down the east coast, for almost six weeks now, my little rolly suitcase, my ever present computer, ‘in pursuit of something near impossible.’ 

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Talking to people who feel confused, cynical, resigned beyond any wit of hope— about the climate—and inviting them to get into the game.

I had lunch in Washington DC yesterday with my old friend Peter Fiekowsky.  The thing about Peter is he’s always asking questions that make my brain want to squirm.  Making me think about things I didn’t even know I could think about.

Over a burger and french fries, he says to me,

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“The world became accessible to me.”

It’s Tuesday morning.  Day 25 of my east coast interview trip. It’s raining–again. I’m on the train from Philly to Penn Station and on to the middle of Long Island for my ninth interview. The train is where I do my best writing. Surrounded by people in their own worlds–lost in conversation with their seat mates, playing solitaire on their computers, sleeping with their heads flopped to one side or passed out on their tray tables. People in between. Here and there.

I’ve done eight interviews so far. There’s nothing better than listening to someone tell their story–listening as they tell me about making that first phone call to their representative’s office–their voice shaking.

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Raising The Streets

I met Jay Butera for the first time at the Citizens’ Climate Lobby conference in DC last month.  But his reputation preceded him.  He’s a mythic figure in the organization.  I admit, I was surprised when I met him.  I expected a blustery, larger than life, less than humble man.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Jay is a soft-spoken, good looking, gray haired guy.  He has a gentle, thoughtful manner. He seems reserved, almost introverted— until you start talking about

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Maintenance Required

The  light flashes on the dashboard of my Prius—yes, so predictable, I drive a Prius.  Maintenance required, it says.  I call the dealership and make an appointment for 7:30am Tuesday morning.  On the day of the appointment I bring a book and a writing tablet—enough to keep me busy for the one hour it will take to service the car.

One of the things I love about this dealership is that they wash your car after every service—whether I’m having my oil changed or getting a full service.  It’s a little thing, but it makes me feel taken care of.

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I pull up to the service window to check in and there in front of me hangs a huge banner which reads, “Due to drought conditions, we will no longer be providing car washes with your service.” 

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Milking Minnie, Chasing Chickens

I’m sitting on a single bed in Elli’s farmhouse an hour and a half outside of Richmond, Virginia.  Everything is green and wet.  Full of itself.  I can smell the water in the air.  So unlike Los Angeles.  This morning Elli milked Minnie, while I swatted flies from my face.  We tromped through the overgrown pasture, weeds scratching my arms, sweat dripping from my forehead while I collected duck eggs in the curve of my shirt.  Then we made our way to the pigs, mud oozing beneath my Nike running shoes, feeding them cucumbers from the garden.

Minnie

Now Elli is in the kitchen making cheese, separating the curds from the whey.  Not my usual Sunday experience.  If I were at home in LA, I’d be at the farmer’s market, with my cloth bags, buying chicken, kale and mixed lettuce from the local farmers.

When Elli isn’t in the field, she’s on the phone talking with new Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteers.  She has a charming, impish way of bringing you in, making you feel like you can do the impossible.

Chasing chickens

Her farm is my first stop on a long journey around the country, talking to Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteers who are working to ‘create a sustainable world.’

CCL (citizensclimatelobby.org) is my antidote to despair.   The climate challenge so big that most of the time I want to stick my head in the sand and wait till it passes.  But CCL gives me a way to get into the game, to do something tangible—to make a difference. 

So, there you have it.  I’m on the road.  Listening.  And writing.  And capturing the stories of hundreds of people who inspire me to keep going.  It makes me feel less alone.  I can’t do it by myself, I can’t do it all.  But I can do my part.  And my part is to tell the stories.