Summit shows you don't have to be lobbyist — or adult — to lobby your state representative

Students from Richfield, St. Louis Park and Minneapolis pose for a photo.
Students from Richfield, St. Louis Park and Minneapolis pose for a photo with Rep. Jamie Long.
Megan Burks | MPR News

Climate change experts tell us that, while changing your personal behavior will help, it's going to take major policy change to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

So, what can you do to help shift policy?

Dozens of Minnesota teens found out at the Youth Climate Justice Summit at the State Capitol this week. Organized by Youth Environmental Activists Minnesota and Climate Generation, the event gave students pointers on how to advocate for change and a chance to put them to work in meetings with lawmakers.

If that sounds intimidating, 15-year-old Adri Arquin of St. Paul said it shouldn’t.

“Lawmakers are people. They're all former teachers. They all held other jobs within their lifetime and they've just decided to run for office,” he said. “They're not scary.”

Arquin sits on the Minnesota Youth Council, which advises legislators and the governor on issues that young people care about. In 2017, he went to Germany for a UN Climate Summit. And last year, he helped organize the climate strike that brought thousands of students to the State Capitol.

“This is an existential threat to us as a society. And it's our job to fight for the people that can't fight for themselves,” Arquin said. “We have shown that we are able, as youth, to bring out so many people to support our cause of climate justice and climate activism. We have really been the ones that are sparking change inside this legislature and inside this government right now.”

So, what's Arquin's formula for making his case to lawmakers? See his tips below:

Tell your story

Arquin said you should email or request an in-person meeting with your lawmaker. Then, tell them your story.

“The most compelling part is always — why you care about this issue,” he said. “Why are you committed to fighting for it? Whether you have family members that are being affected, you're being affected by it yourself, you have children that you want to grow up in a world where it's not fundamentally different than the world you were able to grow up. That always connects to legislators in a really important way.”

Have a clear ask

Arquin said you then need a call to action that’s tangible.

“You want to say, will you support this bill? Will you commit to doing something like supporting a cause?” he said. “That's a big one.”

Arquin recommended going to the state legislature’s website and searching for climate issues in current bill summaries to find your ask.

“Looking for those summaries can give you a really great idea about what this bill does in a short amount of time and sort of allow you to gain a position on it,” he said. “Legislators aren't expecting you to be experts on these things. They want to know that you're committed and they want to know how it's affecting you and how you want them to act on it. They don't need you to be a policy expert on what exactly needs to change because that's their job.”

Don’t be shy

Arquin said it’s important to follow up with your representative to show that you’ll hold him or her accountable.

And don’t be shy about it — DFL Rep. Jamie Long said hearing from constituents actually helps him and his colleagues do their jobs.

“We may care about 30 or 40 different issues, but you're not going to be able to get everything done in a particular year or session,” he said. “So, we need to prioritize, and hearing from folks, even folks we agree with, that really helps us focus in.”

Organize

If you’re feeling extra ambitious, you can take a cue from 16-year-old Anna Grace Hottinger of Shoreview. She’s working to bring others into the conversation, particularly young farmers.

“I find their voices are so important and they usually come from areas where their representatives are a little bit more hesitant about climate,” she said. “But I believe that their stories are so vital. They're one of the most important stakeholders.”

Hottinger said the key when bringing new people into the conversation is to consider the language you use.

“When I talk with more conservative lawmakers, but also just my conservative friends or people who just don't want to use the words climate change, some terms I use are, ‘Oh, how is the weather changing? How has your farm been because of the rain?’” she said.

Believe youth

Hottinger and others at the summit said they know it can sound like adults are putting words in their mouths, but insist that’s not the case.

“People just assume that we can’t speak for ourselves, for some reason, which doesn’t make sense because I know that when they were our age, they had a voice for themselves,” said Guille Bastian McClain, 17. “It’s just some response for them to say because they don’t know how to respond to us.”

To hear more from the summit, including an exchange between students and Rep. Long, click play on the audio player above.

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