The Skywriter

Guest Blog: The First House Party


Guest Blog: The First House Party

Rep Diane Russell

By State Rep. Diane Russell, 1Sky Maine coordinator -- Alex

The weight of the world sat on the shoulders of ten people last night. Hidden from the cameras, far from the controversy and devoid of the politics as usual, ten people wrestled with their role and their responsibility to change the paradigm of how we consume energy.

Colin had set up this house party; it was really our team’s first. The week had taken a lot out of me and I debated between joining him across town or curling up to watch a movie that night. My batteries had been drained from the three events we had orchestrated, and it is Labor Day Weekend. Perhaps a bit of a reprieve from work would be welcome.

I dressed up, found some cute shoes and before I knew it, I was on my way across town to a neighborhood I lived years before. Would two people show up, ten? There was no way to gauge who would be there. And who wouldn’t.

Pat and Allastair couldn’t be more generous and earnest people. They took their job as hosts quite seriously as the weight of the world’s crisis sits heavily on their shoulders. They have traveled around the world learning so they could teach. Allastair now has his PhD in environmental science. He is a warm man who speaks little, but draws you in nonetheless. When he does speak, you hang on every word – waiting for that moment of wisdom he will undoubtedly impart.

I felt slightly out of place at first. This wasn’t “my” event and I genuinely had no role other than to give moral support to Colin, but I knew I would figure out my role in the dynamic that would form out of this group.

Aside from our hosts, Colin and I, seven other people joined us. A young, awkward 16-year old shyly outlined his passion for climate change work, outlining the science far more knowledgeably than I ever could. Two women in their seventies provided such a remarkable historical narrative of what it was like growing up in the Depression and "making do" with less. Another couple shared their vision for building an eco-village in Turner, Maine; one had written and published a book on sustainable farming, using a Maine model. Another woman was fiercely passionate and joked about her sharp tongue, but sat quietly and listened to the dialogue. She would later remark that she listened because people finally had something worth saying! And finally, a gentleman in his late twenties biked across town to join us; he, like many young people, want a place for future generations to enjoy life.

The conversation drifted as each person shared their experience, provided us a hint of the world they lived in and why they were compelled to join the house party.

As we got into the meat of the debate, Colin and I were brought outside of our comfort zone – outside of the safe area of talking points and preparation. Our guests wanted to know why the bill wasn’t stronger. "Should we support this bill, given its give-aways?" It was a thoughtful discussion and one I led us into purposely. This is an educated group who takes seriously their role in changing the course we are currently on. Each person wanted to make the right choice about how best to use his or her talents. I knew this was a group that could not be placated with talking points; they wanted real answers. And for that, we had to have a real conversation about the challenges we are facing. For them to help us, they needed to be bought in completely that we shared their concerns and were working on behalf of the climate issue with integrity and a commitment to seeing things through.

In the end, we earned their trust and their commitment to work with us. It was a remarkable transformation, and a real testament to what can happen when people don’t shy away from the difficult conversations that must be had. They asked, "What can we do to affect this kind of change?"

I said simply, “We need to have thousands of house parties around the country like this one – where we can discuss the merits, educate ourselves and prepare for the work ahead.”

It wasn’t the silver bullet everyone wanted to hear; it wasn’t sexy or simple. But one-by-one, people nodded recognizing the important dynamic we had created as a group – that safe place where real conversations can be had. Multiplying that by a thousand could inspire and mobilize people effectively. It’s hard work organizing small groups of 7-10 people; we’re not filling stadiums.

There is no one else to do the work for us. All we have is ourselves. And that is a humbling place to be in.

As the night drew to a close, I felt a bit sad. It is rare to connect with people on such a profound level and I wanted that connection to remain. There is lots of follow-up work to do; follow-through on commitments to write letters to the editor and to our senators. Set the date for a house party in Sabattus that someone volunteered for. These are now people ready to be called upon for action. But we’ll not be in a quiet space together again, enjoying that sacred time when we can discuss the future of our world while learning from the past.

How many more small groups will we meet over the next two months? I know not, but I do know that I want to be at as many as possible. I am so inspired and refreshed by that small group of people; this is the work, these are the moments that keep me grounded and make me fight that much harder.

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