What a whirlwind, wonderful day – there’s so much to process from this amazing trip, but let me try to put down a few impressions. We changed several things this year to accommodate 18 riders. For example, in past years people found their own places to stay in D.C., but this year we all stayed together at the Steinbruck Center. It was a good decision. On Tuesday evening, Cricket gave a mini seminar on Hill visits to the cyclists, and passed out assignments and information packets. Everyone then studied these materials to prepare for Wednesday.
Our main job is to build and maintain relationships with our representatives. Interfaith Power & Light is a unique organization in that we regard climate change as a moral issue. We do have specific “asks” such as bipartisan legislation to support non-profits reducing their carbon footprint (H.R. 2197 / S. 981 “Energy Efficiency Materials Pilot Program”). This is the kind of program that would directly help congregations like our hosts, the UMC in Orbisonia and CRUCC in Hagerstown, with their building projects (to the left you see open space in Hagerstown ready for tenants). As we learned from Rabbi Fred at Congregation Adat Shalom, efficiency projects at houses of worship have a multiplying effect with members.
We also, of course, strongly advocate against the proposed cuts to the EPA. (The President has proposed eliminating the EPA’s entire enforcement budget, among other things.) But to be honest, these are Band-Aids on a broken arm. To keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius, we need a complete transformation of our energy system, and the earlier we begin, the easier it will be – especially for vulnerable populations. Because we take a moral perspective, we speak for those who have no voice: our fellow creatures on this earth and future generations who will inherit the climate that we are already changing.
Therefore, it is especially wonderful that we had such a large youth contingent on the trip this year – six riders in their teens! By 7 a.m. they were all up and getting ready to go, without any cajoling! We left the Steinbruck Center at 8 a.m. and took the subway to Capitol Hill en masse. Rev. Alison Cornish, PA IPL executive director, took the train from Philadelphia to join us, so we had five separate groups: Alison, Cricket, Janet & Ben, and I led groups to meetings in 17 of the 20 offices in our PA delegation. Dorothy and Louise extended our reach to meet with both Colorado Senators and two Representatives.
Each of these meetings is different, and each year is different, but let me give you some impressions from my experience and what I heard from others. First, Congress is in session, and that usually means shorter meetings, if we can get them at all. Not this year. We had lengthy discussions, often lasting 30 minutes or more. I definitely had the impression that Democrats and Republicans alike are feeling the pressure to seem more responsive to constituents.
Nowhere was this more obvious than in the office of Rep. Thompson of the 5th district of Pennsylvania (PA-5), where GT made time to meet with us himself. GT is my own Representative, and we have nearly 700 members and fourteen member congregations in his district. “My door is open” and “Let’s meet again in Bellefonte” were repeated more than once. We discussed H.R. 2197 and the EPA, but I also pressed him on his view of our moral relationship with the earth. He rejected the notion of Creation being sacred, and said rather that it is a resource that God has given us to use, while also giving us the wisdom to use it wisely. There is something here we can share and can build on. Wise stewardship of resources is central to religious teachings, and the Congressman is concerned about invasive species and the health of agricultural and forested land in the District. We are far apart, however, on the urgency of responding to climate change.
Other meetings with Republican representatives were different. Reps. Costello (PA-6), Meehan (PA-7), and Fitzpatrick (PA-8) are all members of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, along with Democratic Rep. Boyle (PA-13). Jimmy Gray in Rep. Meehan’s office, for example, was anxious to talk about responding creatively to climate change and felt upbeat about the possibilities for real change in the current Congress. He emphasized that they fully supported the EPA and he listened carefully as Brett and Casey told their stories. In Rep. Fitzpatrick’s office, we were told that “is it time to move past oil” in building a new economy.
In that last meeting, it was of great help to have fellow rider Jeff Davidson along. In addition to being a member of Faith UCC, Jeff is CEO of Keystone Nano, a cutting edge biotech company in State College. It helps to have Rev. Brett Myers who speaks eloquently about our sacred duty to care and protect nature, and in Republican offices, of course it helps that over the years at least four riders have been Republicans — including Karl Raynar who is a strong supporter of Rep. Thompson yet differs with him on the urgency of responding to climate change.
This diversity of voice is a strength of our organization, but let me also relate another strength: leadership. In addition to Cricket’s amazing organizational skills and Rabbi Daniel Swartz’s vision as president of the PA IPL board, my son Noah couldn’t say enough about Alison’s skill at facilitating the meetings that he attended. Alison accompanied the youth contingent, and Noah said she did a brilliant job of helping them formulate their stories, and then giving them the time and encouragement they needed to speak in front of power (while occasionally introducing key pieces, such as the PA IPL Board Resolution on Fossil Fuel Infrastructure).
Like all non-profits, PA IPL is dependent on hundreds of individuals and our member congregations for its operating budget, and the more than 130 donors who contributed to the bike trip financial goals (THANK YOU!) have helped us to retain our outstanding staff. All of you who have read these blogs, who have kept us in your thoughts and prayers, are part of our community, and we are deeply grateful for your support.
After our visits, a couple of us dashed off to rent two cars and a truck to transport the group back to State College. Of course, I harangued the National Car Rental representative that they need to start carrying electric vehicles (they now have plenty of range to get us back home!). Karl and Carina left early, and another car headed off to take care of Bret’s broken bike, but the remnant stayed behind to clean up, pack the truck and enjoy one last meal together (Thai food!).
PA IPL is a community of congregations and individuals responding to climate change as a moral issue, and we have found that community with one another on the road. We help one another, share the burdens, and leave no one behind. I have grown very close to these people over the past five days, but I have also grown closer to my son. Let’s be honest: I barely got any sleep last night and the four-hour drive was not easy. But Noah kept me awake with story after story, reflecting on the trip, his past year, his upcoming year at Penn State. For those of you who are parents, you know how precious these moments are when you can share in the hopes and dreams, the successes and failures, of your children.
Climate change affects us all, but by listening to, learning from, and working with one another, we can build the resilient communities that can respond to the difficulties ahead. This trip has given me that hope – thank you for being a part of it.
for all the cyclists
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or send a check, memo: bike 2017 to PA IPL 243 S. Allen St. #337, State College, PA 16801
MANY THANKS to our 2017 silver sponsor Sun Directed