Promoting Environmental Justice with FCNL
Emily Wirzba and Scott Greenler of Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) are collaborating with faith-based and environmental communities to persuade lawmakers to take action on climate change and protect natural resources. Both come from extensive environmental and social justice backgrounds, and this month they’re sharing strategies for living Earthcare witness through a legislative lens.
Emily Wirzba and Scott Greenler of Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) are collaborating with faith-based and environmental communities to persuade lawmakers to take action on climate change and protect natural resources. Both come from extensive environmental and social justice backgrounds, and this month they’re sharing strategies for living Earthcare witness through a legislative lens. For our April 2018 issue of Vital Friends, we decided to ask Emily and Scott about their work and the strategies they would recommend to Friends who want to make energy and environmental issues a top priority for their elected officials.
Marta Rusek, FGC: Emily, you come from an environmental justice and social justice background, and you’ve studied abroad in Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador and Cuba. How have those experiences influenced your work at FCNL?
Emily Wirzba: I majored in Philosophy and Political Science at Furman University, with a Poverty Studies minor. That Poverty Studies minor was deeply influential, leading me to pursue questions like “how can we craft just policy, grounded in ethics, that will help the most vulnerable communities?” Through a Poverty Studies internship at Urban Ministries of Durham, NC, I realized the importance of both direct service and advocacy. While studying abroad in Central America, I learned more about the history of U.S. intervention in Latin American affairs, and decided I wanted to come back to the U.S. and work to change our own policy. FCNL was the perfect place to come because I could work on social justice issues by enacting structural policy changes at the federal level.
FGC: Scott, you have extensive experience with building relationships in different communities and advocating for causes you’re passionate about. And you grew up attending Madison Monthly Meeting. How have your Quaker roots influenced your career so far?
Scott Greenler: Growing up in the Quaker tradition taught me to seek out the divine within each person, regardless of whether I agreed with them or not. This is not always an easy practice, especially when you find people actively working against your deeply held values. What I learned through my Quaker practice is that agreeing with someone is not equivalent to loving them for their divine essence.
When I engage in advocacy, I am usually trying to engage with someone I don’t agree with for many or even most issues. In this scenario, starting from a place where you can seek out the divine within others provides a base for conversation, commonality, and growth.
Today, our country is incredibly polarized. I believe that learning to see the divine within those with whom we disagree is the first step towards fixing our broken political system and healing our divided country.
FGC: Scott, what’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned about the legislative process?
Scott: It might seem a bit cynical, but the most surprising thing I have found about the legislative system is that most of the time, elected representatives and their staff genuinely care about what their constituents think. On Capitol Hill, you can walk into your elected representative’s office at any time to discuss the issues that are important to you. Elected representatives have staff who comb through letters to the editor in local newspapers for comments, critiques, and opinions on policy. There are so many ways you can engage with your elected representative, and they take the opinions of their constituents seriously.
FGC: Emily, what are some of the biggest obstacles you’ve observed when it comes to achieving bipartisan environmental action in Washington?
Emily: There are many obstacles to achieving bipartisan action on climate change in Congress. Many members lack the political will to prioritize climate change legislation, because they don’t think it’s a priority for their constituents. There are still members that don’t accept the scientific consensus around climate change, but more members privately accept the science, yet don’t feel like they have the political cover to talk about it publicly. Many members of Congress have large ties to the fossil fuel industry, or their districts rely upon fossil fuel jobs, so they don’t want to take action that could jeopardize the economy of the communities they represent. I also work with members from both political parties that want to take legislative action on climate change, but don’t feel like it’s a priority for their own congressional leadership.
FGC: How can Friends and Quaker meetings advocate for policies and laws that protect the environment? What are effective strategies for convincing elected officials to take action?
Emily: In-person meetings with elected officials or their staff is the most effective way for a constituent to change policy. By building a relationship with your representatives – through respectful dialogue, thanking them when you agree with a position they take, and asking them to take specific actions – you can make a huge difference. Patience is also key, as well as a willingness to help the legislator receive the support they need in your community to take a stance on a particular piece of legislation.
Scott: The most effective form of advocacy is always meeting face to face with your elected representative’s staff. You can contact your elected representative’s office in an area nearby where you live to set up a meeting. Letters to the editor mentioning an elected official by name, or letters and phone calls to their office are all great forms of advocacy as well.
Emily and Scott invite Friends to follow the issues FCNL’s energy and environment team is tracking by visiting fcnl.org/environment or by signing up for their monthly newsletter at fcnl.org/greenhouse