Last month, two of our Green Collar Corps members, Emanuel and Luis, boarded the Amtrak early in the morning to go to Sacramento for a day of lobbying. Leaving their work gloves and shovels in Richmond and putting on their business casual instead, the guys headed to the Capitol for the third year in a row with the California Urban Streams Partnership. I sat down with the two young men and learned more about their experience talking with senators, assembly members, congress members, and lobbyists about watershed restoration efforts.
Liza: Tell me about the event.
Emanuel: On watershed day we go and talk to different policy makers to get support for our own specific ventures, but more importantly to raise awareness about watersheds and for green infrastructure.
Luis: We go once a year, and it is not just us, there are many others speaking out about all sorts of other issues. We have one lobbyist assigned to us, and he is in charge of setting up our meetings.
Emanuel: We’ve gone 3 times. They call us the watershed guys, we’re kind of famous. People know our story a little bit. They seem to generally like us.
Liza: What is your message that you focus on delivering to the policy makers?
Emanuel: We tell them what it costs for us (non-profit organizations) to complete our projects compared to what it would take for a big company to do what we do. We tell them about how we bring the community together and support for restoration of local areas. We show them what it means to do hands-on labor and that helping the city is a big part of what we do.
Liza: Do you feel like you are making an impact?
Emanuel: It is impactful. People really listen to what we say and take interest. If youmake a good impression on them it’s likely that support for your issue will go further. It’s important to do that and stay in contact with the policy makers after to let them know how things are going.
Luis: Our work will pay off eventually, but there are only 5 of us representing groups all over the state. During the event we are the faces for all of the watershed groups in California. It would be nice to get more people out there. It would be nice to integrate more people from our community.
Emanuel: I’ve learned that it is nowhere near as easy as you would think getting funding, one word in one bill can throw off your whole plan, and everyone is fighting for something else at different levels. On the ground, we’re
trying to get paid, others work on getting funding for their projects and staff, senators are fighting to figure out what is the right thing to do, lawyers are trying to make sure their language is written in the right way to make sure everything works cohesively. It really takes time. You have to wait for it all to happen and come together.
When I asked Emanuel and Luis if this experience has changed their future careers plans, they laughed and Emanuel said lobbying is fun and he would consider one day being a politician. He added “I’d be a great politician!” Luis, while he enjoys getting out of the familiar Richmond environment and talking to new people about what he cares about, said he is still going to pursue his dream of becoming a marine biologist.