Last week, we received an interesting piece of mail. Resembling a two-sided campaign mailing, on the “postage paid” side with our address was an image of the globe on fire, and the words “Floods – Drought – Pollution” followed by the question, “Who is fighting the effects of climate change?” On the flip side, in big, all-caps wording is the name “BEN ALLEN” (our State Senator) followed by the tagline, “Is Answering the Call” with a couple of paragraphs of support language and four specific bullet points outlining specific votes and accomplishments the Senator has contributed in the last year. A nice picture of Ben in a suit accompanies the wording, which ends with the solicitation, “Call 310-318-6994 to thank Ben Allen for his leadership in 2022 and now 2023” next to the logo for the California Environmental Voters Education Fund, the 501c3 nonprofit side of the well-known environmental group once known as the California League of Conservation Voters.
As someone with a bit of political experience prior to my newer career in journalism, my initial reaction was, “Why is California Environmental Voters spending money on an expensive mailer for a guy in a very safe Democratic senate district who just won a resounding re-election to his third and final term?”
So I reached out to Mike Young, the organization’s Political and Organizing Director, to ask him about the mailing. He confirmed for me that it was one of several thousand pieces sent to households in Senator Allen’s Westside and South Bay district, and the piece was part of a larger campaign that thanked several other legislators for their efforts as well, including Long Beach area State Senator Lena Gonzalez and the Westside’s own Assemblymember Isaac Bryan, who led in their respective chambers on a bill that bans new permits for oil and gas wells within 3,200 feet of homes, schools, health clinics, and other sensitive areas, as well as tightens certain restrictions on existing oil wells.
When I asked him about the expense, and whether it was worth spending the money on so many politically safe Democratic members, Young set me straight and gave me a strong appreciation for what California Environmental Voters Education Fund is doing with this mail campaign.
“So many big climate bills finally passed at the end of the last legislative session. And what we’re trying to do is acknowledge the leaders who, in the last few years especially, have really been fighting the fight. And we really like thanking them, because I think a lot of times, there’s this mentality that legislators do really good things, and they didn’t do it for the right reasons. And they’re not noticed, and they’re not thanked,” he said. He added, “When they do bad things, or if they do something, you know – that’s wrong – they always hear about it. Our point is –they deserve to be thanked for doing good things. And people should know that they’re doing good things. We shouldn’t just move on, because it takes a village to make some of these big things happen. Climate is an enormous issue that really needs everyone to be involved. And California regained its climate leadership after years of stagnation this past year, and the legislators who are recipients are part of the big reason why that happened.”
Young explained to me that even the elected leaders we are used to being environmental champions face a lot of heat for doing the right things and standing up to powerful companies and industries – and even, sometimes, their own party leadership – to confront climate challenges. He tells me it’s important to have their backs and put some wind in their sails to keep going. A “Thank You” campaign like this one does just that.
Young also reminded me of something I had too easily forgotten – distinctions between the education arm of a nonprofit organization – a 501c3 – and its political arm – a 501c4. The California Environmental Voters Education Fund is the nonprofit, 501c3 arm of the organization that can’t spend money on advocacy efforts that tell voters who to support in an election or legislators themselves how to vote on bills. The Education Fund must be used to communicate and educate members, supporters, and legislators on policy facts and to thank policymakers for doing the right thing. So the money I assumed was being wasted on a political effort was money raised to do exactly what it was supposed to do.
I suppose if I were in Senator Allen’s shoes, it would bolster my confidence to stay bold in the climate fight, or for whatever other issue an organization was thanking me for, if I knew several thousand of my constituents were now educated on some good I was doing.
Young also told me this approach is also helpful to newer legislators, so they know they are on the right track if they pursue what’s right and just. He says, of the newer legislators, “You’re going out there. This is the right side. This is the side that you should be on. And it’s something that people will thank you for because you were doing the right thing.”
One other aspect to appreciate is this mail campaign is politics at its most positive. Instead of reacting like a tightly wound accountant, counting beans in the political coffers, I should have been appreciative to see a positive mailer like this in a world of negativity in politics.
So, in a matter of just 20 minutes with Mike Young, I had been completely turned around from my rather cynical first blush take on the mailer. It is important to thank our leaders when they do what’s right, and not take it for granted that they magically had the courage and strength to do so without some allies who vocally have their backs.
California Environmental Voters should be praised for practicing this politics of gratitude with this effort and others like it. In a way, it is a masterclass in the way politics should be.