After the Election- Play the Whole Hand (Part 1)

For those of us who care about clean water, clean air, and clean energy in Texas, election day wasn’t too great of a day. Actually, it was a massacre for our Texas climate hawks.  We need to hunker down and retool. Didn’t think we were going to give up, did you?

We won’t be getting new and improved TCEQ commissioners who care about enforcing the law and protecting public health. We’re stuck with guys like Brian Shaw, who are “committed” to moving dirty permits, like Las Brisas’ air permit, “as quickly as possible.”

But changing our political leadership to change the political scene is not the only way to play the game.

We tend to lock ourselves into the idea that voting is the only card we have to play.  Or perhaps others are telling us that voting is the only way- civic engagement organizations, political organizations, and MTV spend massive amounts of time and money on getting out the vote. And when it doesn’t go our way, we get disappointed and disenchanted with the whole thing (that thing being democracy).

But there are other cards to play.  There are other cards in the deck.  We’re just not as used to playing them. And folks, we are going to need the whole deck of cards.  Things are about to get really, really interesting.

Let’s call voting card #1.  Which means…

Card #2: Calling/writing to your elected official. A lot of people think that when it isn’t an election season, it’s the off-season. Not so. Quite the opposite.  Politicians don’t get a whole lot done during election season (and if it looks like they are, they’re pretending).

But guess what? There’s a 19-year-old intern who has to read every single piece of mail and receive every single phone call made by constituents to that politician’s office.  And they have to take notes on every single constituent comment.

Let’s pretend that the political hot topic of the moment is a bill that would allow for something other than water in the drinking fountain. Concerned Texans call their politician, and the 19-year-old intern’s notes look something like this:

People who support fruit punch in all public drinking fountains: 27
People who support rum and coke in all public drinking fountains 35
People who think the government should stay out of public drinking fountains: 12
People who think that clean, cold water in public drinking fountains is just fine: 66

So, at the end of the day, the intern reports to a legislative aide, who then reports to the chief of staff, who then informs the politician that while a lot of people are interested in having things other than water come out of public drinking fountains, and some skipped high school government, cooler heads have prevailed and constituents want cool, clean water coming out of their public drinking fountains.

Why this matters: I like to call this providing “political cover”. Politics is a pretty brutal game, and politicians will be politicians.  Very, very, very few will stick their necks out and vote for a bill simply because they believe it is good, or right.  They need to know that their constituents support this bill.  They need to know that they are stand with the public opinion. They need political cover, so that when an intrepid reporter asks them why they voted a certain way, they can say, “It’s what my constituents wanted.”

It’s a numbers game.  The more we call, the more we write, the more political cover we can provide. The numbers. Will. Win.

Now, imagine what can happen if thousands of people call, write, and email their elected officials, united around a single issue. The Sierra Club can claim a huge network of members, activists, and supporters.  If we are all working, united, around certain issues, we can out-call, out-write, and outnumber anybody.

Card number 3: The lobby visit.  Lobby visits are not just for overpaid people in suits.  Lobby visits are for people. Lobby visits are for you.

We could talk about this… but what you should do is attend the Sierra Club Chapter’s Legislative Workshop on November 13th in Austin.  Or you could attend the Sierra Club’s Learn to Lobby Clinic on November 8th in Corpus Christi.  And if neither of these work for you, email Flavia.delafuente@sierraclub.org, and we can make a lobby clinic happen in your part of Texas.

Hunker down, folks.  It’s time to redraw our strategy, because when it comes to fighting for clean air, clean water, and clean energy, giving up is NOT an option. La unión hace la fuerza.

More cards to play, coming your way, next week. Stay tuned.

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