College of the Atlantic’s Winter Thoreau Environmental Leaders Workshop kicked off with a recent midday video visit from COA alumna and Maine’s 1st Congressional District Rep. Chellie Pingree (D) ’79. Taking questions from her Washington, D.C. office, Pingree shared her thoughts on how COA students could best make their voices heard and prepare themselves for the hard political work that lies ahead.
The conversation started with a student question that would define the talk: “What can COA do?” In answering, Pingree emphasized the importance of staying politically informed, fighting back, and being knowledgeable about current events.
“Go beyond your Facebook news feed,” she said. “Learn about issues you care about, influence Congress, and rally your friends around specific legislation.”
Pingree underscored the significance of engaging in dialogue with those one may disagree with, especially as a way of staying informed.
“You live in a district that voted for Donald Trump,” she said. “It’s good to find those people who voted for him. We have to start developing relationships with them, and start a dialogue as things start to change in our world. Initiate a conversation that is rooted in areas that connect us, not in the oppositional issue.”
Pingree encouraged the crowd to show support for both those negatively effected by the new administration’s decisions, and those who are doing an effective job of fighting back.
“We all have to broaden our attention to what we can do in our communities to help fight back,” she said. “Bad things are going to happen and some have already happened.”
Most importantly, she said, those opposed to the current administration must prepare for the 2018 midterm elections.
“We have to think of how to take the majority of the House or the Senate, but that starts from the bottom up, which forces us all to think about how to step up and how to be engaged,” she said.
As an alumna, Pingree said she knows there is no better preparation for the work that lies ahead than getting an education at COA.
“You’ll be some of the best educated of a future army that will fight with facts and science and knowledge on how the political system works; how change happens,” she said. “We need smart people figuring out the real impact of the policies that will be made. There’s never been a more important time to be vigilant and use the skills that you have to engage in the fights we’re about to have.”
Of the prominent role that women have played in resisting the direction of the new administration, Pingree said, “One gender doesn’t own all goodness but in a circumstance like this, in which you have to use unconventional means to move forward, there should be more women in politics. Women, with their perspectives, have been frequently shot out of the process. The women’s march was one post in Facebook with an overwhelming response because we couldn’t stand this anymore. It was unprecedented and what’s going on continues to be unprecedented.”
The Democratic party, she said, needs to undergo radical changes to remain relevant.
“After this election, there has been a lot of internal soul searching,” she said. “There’s no way we can win another election without undergoing transformation. I’m not happy about anything that’s happened with this election, except the fact that many citizens have gotten engaged. I think that’s what will change us. We politicians have to have engage with people about the things they really care about. This president is helping us to find out what we care about.”
“Each one of us has this obligation to figure out our own solution of what is going on. I could never discount the value of people showing up and protesting. This is under Trump’s skin every single day. He can’t maintain a presidential stance with that happening. In congress, we’re all friends with Republicans, we’re not that much of a divided congress. Some of the Republicans have reached such a high level of frustration that they are making fun of the president in conversations. That’s a trivial detail but the standing up, calls, marches, etc. has a huge impact on my colleagues in congress. People being engaged and more outspoken about what they want out of politicians can make a huge difference.”
Pingree ended the conversation with an open invitation to her office in the District of Columbia and parting words of encouragement.
“You’re all in the right place and the right time to have a huge impact on history. This is gonna take us a while and a lot of damage, but the last thing we can do is slow down or back up.”