Squeaky Wheels Get the Oil
The Sacred Earth Matters group at Seattle’s University Congregational UCC believes advocacy for legislation works, and we have learned lessons that would apply broadly for churches across the country.
Why Advocacy Makes a Difference
While the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries’ spending on lobbying and campaigns reinforces the partisan divide on renewable energy and environmental issues, raising one’s voice matters. Bill Gates in his 2021 book How to Avoid a Climate Crisis says, “Policy makers… decide what to prioritize based on what they’re hearing from their constituents. In other words, elected officials will adopt specific plans for climate change if their voters demand it.” The accepted norm here is that 5-10 phone calls or emails from constituents are often sufficient to gain the support of a legislator on a bill.
How We Got Started
With this understanding of our own power to make a difference, Sacred Earth Matters (SEM) decided to raise its voice in addressing our state legislators in Olympia, Washington. Our advocacy committee reviewed pre-filed bills being introduced in the legislative session and the emerging lists of priority bills for environmental organizations. Then, SEM used a table in the narthex to recruit people for an advocacy email list. It helped that the UCC’s Jim Antal, as a guest minister, had stressed the importance of advocacy in combating climate change.
Today, we have about 150 people on our email list (only a handful have ever asked to be deleted), and SEM’s alerts are often shared with relatives, friends, and co-workers. Since we know each recipient’s legislative district, we know we’re reaching the legislators in at least 19 districts in the metro area (39% of the legislature).
How It Works
Everyone knows the list itself is shared with no one, and alerts are sent as blind copies to recipients. There’s only one alert with one bill each week during the session and “occasional” environmental alerts throughout the year on local and national issues.
A legislative alert includes a brief description of a bill with optional links for additional information plus the names of “our” legislators who are its co-sponsors and/or members of a committee scheduled to vote on it. Washington has a fabulous legislative hotline, and its tollfree number is included in every alert along with a link to the bill which enables people to send written comments to their legislators. Either way, it takes only 2-3 minutes for people to urge legislators to support a bill.
The recurring feedback is “Thank you for empowering me to take this action. I could never manage to raise my voice if you weren’t spoon feeding me this information.”
Scorecards for how our legislators voted on SEM’s approved priority bills are sent to the email list recipients once the session ends. They’re sent again prior to primary and general elections with some potential topics to discuss with legislative candidates.
Growing and Envisioning
We’ve started using the church bulletin and UCUCC’s weekly email blast to solicit broader support within the church for both legislative priorities and environmental alert topics. A few non-UCC churches and environmental groups have also asked to meet with us. It’s increasingly apparent we need an even bigger advocacy program, and raising the volume isn’t that hard once the research has been done. So, we’re contemplating reaching out to other UCC churches in metropolitan Seattle, western Washington, or perhaps the entire state.
Lon Dickerson is a member of Sacred Earth Matters at University Congregational UCC in Seattle, Washington.