I grew up in the rural parts of Kentucky and Pennsylvania, two relatively conservative areas. Most of my friends and family are tried-and-true Republicans so it was assumed that I would follow suit. When I started working for a Democratic Congressman in college, one very prominent male figure in my family explained the oddity with a shrug (channeling Churchill) saying "If you are a Republican when you are in college, you have no heart. But if you are a Democrat when you are older, you have no mind."
This weekend, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said that kind of thinking could get the G.O.P. in trouble with young people. Indeed, he said one of the central reasons he is reaching across the aisle on clean energy and climate legislation is that he thinks the G.O.P. needs to do a better job of connecting with young voters.
"I have been to enough college campuses to know if you are 30 or younger this climate issue is not a debate. It’s a value," Graham said. "From a Republican point of view, we should buy into it and embrace it and not belittle them."
Graham is right on the money: Young people know their future is at stake and this is NOT a partisan issue. On the contrary, if America continues to ignore global warming, this generation will pay the price in the form of a disrupted climate, drought, and increased national security threats not to mention all the refugees who will need help. But if we confront this crisis, young people and old will reap the benefits of more clean energy jobs and robust economic growth.
Anyone who wants to see on-the-ground changes has to translate their climate values into climate action.
Politicians talk about values, but they respond to voters’ actions. Young voters, these are two ways you can take action. Here are three things to keep in mind about the way politics works:
1. Young Voters Need to Stay in the Game to Be Taken Seriously
There is often a sense among lawmakers that youthful causes don’t need to be taken seriously because youth voters don’t tend to vote with a lot of regularity. Many don’t think that a dedication to climate change issues translates into electoral activity.
If you don’t want to get the brush-off from lawmakers, you need to make it clear that our pleas for clean energy and self-reliance are not a passing fad; it is what will shape your voting patterns for years to come. You have to call Senators to say that you support a clean energy and climate bill. You need to turn out for primary elections to show that climate change is a mobilizing issue. And come November in order to prove that you cannot be dismissed by leaders who ignore climate change and your generation’s future – you must vote for the candidates who support clean energy and climate legislation
2. Contacting Your Senator’s Office Really Does Work
I have done everything on Capitol Hill from opening mail to working on legislation, and I am here to tell you that yes, intense, coordinated outbursts of citizen action really do make a difference.
People who work on the Hill have to juggle a bazillion issues at once. It isn’t easy keeping up-to-date on every single topic, but when voters flood an office with their opinions, Members and their staff stand up and take notice. When I was on the hill it meant I had to do the research and really engage with an issue in order to respond.
3. Repetition is Key
Maybe you have already emailed your Senator in support of a clean energy and climate bill, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it again. Indeed, if you want your action to count, you have to amplify it – repeat it.
So much of politics is about repetition: lawmakers are dealing with so many high-priority issues at once. You have to keep the repetition going in order to break through the noise. I think of it as the slow clap in a stadium. It starts with one person, but slowly the loud, rhythmic pattern catches on and more people join in. After a while, the sound is impossible to ignore.
Now, you know why you should take action. Here are two ways that the NRDC Action Fund is helping you to make your voices heard on clean energy and climate solutions:
The NRDC Action Fund has partnered with Headcount to launch a new website targeting young music lovers. The Musicforaction.org site makes it easy for people to email President Obama, Members of Congress, and local newspaper editors in support of clean energy and climate legislation. Visitors receive free "Best of Bonnaroo" downloads for visiting the site.
NRDC is also joining in a 72-hour call-in campaign with our partners over at Clean Energy Works, in which we are urging all people–but especially young people–to call their Senators’ offices in support of the bill. All they have to do is call 1-877-973-7693 to make their voices heard. So, call now!
Maybe our voices won’t break through to a particular today because he or she is too caught up with health care or financial regulation or some other issue, but if we keep calling back and emailing over and over again, they will start to hear the chorus for climate action. Now is the moment to add your voice to the mix – be young and take action.