Overlooking the melting lake on the Monona Terrace, about 450 environmentalists and Wisconsinites joined together to fight for progressive climate change policies during Conservation Lobby Day Wednesday.
After keynote speakers — including Gov. Tony Evers — and lessons about lobbying techniques, attendees were given the opportunity to march to the Capitol where they met with their legislators to educate them about environmental issues and ask for support.
Attendees brought attention to initiatives for clean and safe drinking water, clean energy resources, reauthorization of the Knowles Nelson Stewardship program and aspects of the Green New Deal.
Evers stressed the importance of having a clean economy, stating his intentions to advance Wisconsin’s economic development by relying on sustainable resources — committing to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.
“The clean economy isn't just about mitigating the clean up,” Evers said. “It is also about making sure we are producing our own energy to reduce reliance on other energy sources elsewhere, having families and businesses save money on electricity and reduce the impact of severe weather events by transitioning to an economy that is based on science.”
With the governor declaring 2019 as the Year of Clean Drinking Water and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, creating a task force on water quality, the executive director of Wisconsin Conservation Voters believes the opportunity for progress is greater now and has “never been more urgent.”
“Both Republican and Democratic decision-makers are calling for action on clean drinking water and water quality,” Executive Director Kerry Schuman said, encouraging the event’s participants. “Your work today and every day can push our legislators from talking about these issues to taking real action that improves the lives of all Wisconsinites.”
Attendants flocked from all over the state, ranging in age and occupation from Milwaukee high school students organized by the Alliance for Climate Education to those who have worked in careers to protect the environment for over 50 years.
Students from charter high school Escuela Verde felt their presence was important because they were able to share their stories and express their concerns as representatives of the youth of Milwaukee.
UW-La Crosse environmental studies student and Racine native Benjamin Laznika said he was proud to participate in the event because it allowed for everybody across the state to “band together under one same ideal.”
“I’m just from a little small town trying to make my way, but I feel overall satisfaction knowing that I can speak on an educational standpoint about something that I believe in,” Laznika said, feeling empowered after getting the opportunity to speak with his legislator.
Although some attendants felt their legislators were not entirely receptive of their efforts and positions, they felt energized and pleased with the conversations.
Jennifer Giegerich, government affairs director of Wisconsin Conservation Voters, said the goal of the day was to build as much support and communication as possible in order to answer questions policymakers may come across.
“The most important part of the day is having constituents build relationships with their legislators,” Giegerich said. “Today we are just letting legislators know what our conservation priorities are and getting as much feedback from them as we can. If they don't agree with everything, that is kind of the nature of democracy.”
Moving forward, the Wisconsin Conservation Voters organization plans to work with Evers to secure environmental policies presented in his budget and testify on behalf of Vos’ water quality task force.
Overarching messages from the event included engagement, education and working together to protect the environment.
“Whether we are speaking to a room with one person, or a room filled, it does not matter because we are still speaking,” breakout session speaker Anahkwet of Menikanaehkem Inc. said. “Everything we do affects the world around us, and everything we do makes a difference.”