Told by Maddie Graham
It was New Year’s Eve. I was expecting company in less than an hour (closer to ten minutes, actually), I was covered in flour and cocoa powder (and more glitter than I care to mention), and Jordan McAuliff and I had just decided that we were going to organize visits to the offices of two Congressional representatives within the next two days.
I shook the flour out of my hair and got on my computer.
There wasn’t time to waste. Congress would resume January 3rd, and it was highly likely that on that day, they’d announce their decision regarding Representative Ocasio-Cortez’s Resolution for a Select Committee on a Green New Deal. This proposed committee would require all its members in Congress to reject money from fossil fuel lobbyists, and it would be tasked with developing a solid plan to stop the climate crisis by creating millions of jobs in clean energy by 2020. The Sunrise Movement had already held a Green Day of Action in support of the resolution, where people from around the country— mostly youth— visited Congress and lobbied their representatives to sign on, as well as mass protests in DC and in Nancy Pelosi’s California office demanding that the House Democrats back the resolution. But by January first, we and other activists across the country had only two days left to convince our representatives to sign on as well. We couldn’t visit offices on New Year’s Day, so these visits had to occur on the second.
We dropped messages into the Sunrise Slack, texted everyone we knew who’d ever come or had expressed interest in coming to a Sunrise action, and asked people to spread the word. On the day of the action, we texted last minute plans during our lunch period, while we ran around our school looking for paper to make posters with. We spent the best part of the period scribbling on to them “Green Jobs For All”s and “What’s Your Plan?” I personally don’t remember one second from the rest of that school day— my next memory is of the metro to DC. After a meandering walk from the train station to the House Office Buildings, we found ourselves standing between Longworth and Rayburn, making quick introductions, and dividing into lobby groups as some of us furiously finished writing out letters to the representatives. It was 4:40, and the building closed at 5:00. A frantic five minutes of pictures and final preparations later, my lobby group set off for Representative John Sarbanes’ office, while the other headed to Representative Jennifer Wexton’s. Show time.
We all internally rehearsed what we wanted to say as we walked through the clean, white, lemon-scented hallways of the Rayburn House Office Building. We fumbled with our letters as we passed clearly marked office after clearly marked office. A trip up a staircase, an elevator ride, a few twists and turns laid out by neatly labeled instructional signs, and we were there. Representative John Paul Sarbanes. Maryland. Please come in!
We took a collective deep breath, and then we were filing into the small, cramped office, gripping our letters tight.
Hello, we’d like to speak to the congressman, please?
The congressman wasn’t in, but we hadn’t truly expected him to be. We gave our letters and stories and hearts full of hope to the staffer who’d greeted us, and she promised to pass on the message. After thanking her and filing out of the office, we realized that the trip had been quicker and easier than expected. What’s more, the building showed no signs of closing soon, the offices were close together, and it seemed easy to visit a few more.
Our two groups ended up visiting a total of five congressional offices between us. Though we had run out of letters and handouts for the last three, we did have persistence, drive and a clear idea of what we wanted— and why we needed it.
A little past 5:30, we acknowledged, reluctantly, that the building really would close soon. We reconvened and, after snapping a few pictures, dispersed. We learned soon afterwards that the decision regarding the resolution had been made early.
Rather than choosing to implement a Select Committee on a Green New Deal, House Democrats had chosen instead to resurrect a committee from ten years ago: the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. It was a powerless shadow of a committee, without subpoena power or even a mandate to create a plan to combat climate change at the scale global experts say is needed. Furthermore, there would be no requirement that members of this other committee refuse money from fossil fuel lobbyists. That was a hard hit— but we didn’t have time to feel it. Our generation is out of time.
Throughout the planning and execution of these lobby visits, we realized again and again how formidable time can be. Our visits were conceived, organized, planned and executed at warp speed, because we had no other choice. The reality of the climate crisis is that, unless we stop it right now, it is going to cause mass destruction, poverty and tragedy for us all. Every day, our generation is told to sit down, to wait until we grow up a little, to go do homework and leave worrying to grown-ups for the time being.
We say absolutely not.
Top scientists give us twelve years to drastically cut our carbon emissions before the effects of climate change become irreversible— before everything we’ve done will have been in vain. The climate crisis will not wait for us to grow up, but that’s okay, because we are positively sick of waiting to grow up. Rather than wishing we had more time, we are going to use every available second to fight for a livable, sustainable future for all: to fight for the justice we know we need and we know we’re owed. The Select Committee hasn’t been created yet, but that’s okay.
2020 Presidential candidates are already starting to talk about the potential of a Green New Deal. Newspaper headlines across the country tell of a new generation of youth environmental activists. And organizers and activists are planning, dreaming and scheming to make sure that tomorrow is brighter and better. Representative Ocasio-Cortez’s resolution was the spark, and our generation is the kindling. We’ve grown into something powerful and unstoppable and beautiful— and we sure are glad we didn’t wait to grow up to do it.