Recently I trekked the streets of Two Harbors.
Under my feet, thick chunks and sheets of ice were super-glued to the pavement, with some sand and gravel mixed in. This ice was not going anywhere soon, and the result was a road surface that would shake up even the most shock-absorbing car. Even an ice chisel, applied at full strength, would only make a dent one tedious chip at a time.
“Looks like this is here for the duration,” was my husband Mark’s comment as we navigated the street together.
Sometimes this is how big problems feel — intractable. Nothing is going to move. How can we possibly pass climate legislation when everything appears so frozen? Even as the wildfires destroy Australia and Venice goes underwater in historic floods, opposing positions on climate in our Congress appear as permanent as ice on the road.
Yet, we know this ice will melt without a murmur in a few months. One critical thing will change: the environment. Light and heat will dissolve resistance. Cell structure will shift. One sunny day, perhaps in March, icy roads will become history, almost instantly forgotten amid the rivulets of water flowing everywhere.
So too with us. We need a change in environment. Warm human hearts can melt social and political barriers as surely as the sun melts the ice.
Not that this is easy. Democracy is a muscle that has dangerously atrophied. Even now, as thousands of people turn to political activity, actual democracy (which I would define as respectful social actions leading to laws and rules that everyone can live with) threatens to fall by the wayside amid a barrage of inflaming soundbites and snap judgements.
No, real democracy is rarely as electrifying as a pulpit pound or a rant session. It often doesn’t even make the news. Early this February, dozens of Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteers who lean to the right politically will quietly visit dozens of Republican offices at the Capitol to discuss a centrist climate solution (H.R. 763). This coming together to advance solutions which have been intractably stuck within their own ranks is without a doubt an important democratic act. Whether or not it makes the news, it will advance us towards workable climate solutions and for that I am grateful.
I am also excited to report that U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber’s office joined with the Democratic office of Rep. Dean Phillips to participate in a series of exercises facilitated by Better Angels. What are Better Angels? The phrase comes from President Lincoln, who in his first inaugural address stated his hope that our shared history as Americans would lead us to be “touched by the better angels within our nature.”
Today the organization says, “Surely in our increasingly and dangerously fractured nation, we all need to be touched by something 'better' within us and within the institutions that we build together.”
Better Angels brings together politically divided citizens to listen and come to understand and appreciate each other. I am heartened by our Congressman’s participation in Better Angels, signaling his intention to appreciate and understand the value of ‘the other.’
Are you ready to get in touch with your Better Angels? Begin by watching your tone and language when speaking of someone you disagree with. Be curious about the complex and unique ways that lead others to their opinions. Avoid making judgments of motive or character. Do it aloud to hold yourself and your friends accountable. You’ll be amazed what a difference it will make.
If we do the internal work this winter, seemingly impossible seismic shifts are possible. Spring can, indeed, come to our public discourse. Climate solutions will follow, not lead, this internal work.
And come to the Two Harbors Community Center on Tuesday, Jan. 28 at 6 p.m. Learn all about solar energy — what you can do individually, and what your utility is doing. Be prepared to ask questions and respectfully listen to others. Let's work our democratic muscle!
Katya Gordon is a volunteer for the Citizens' Climate Lobby and a Two Harbors resident.