First Bipartisan Conversation at the Quaker Welcome Center
On Wednesday November 15th, the Quaker Welcome Center hosted a dialogue between two members of Congress on bipartisanship and addressing climate change.
“That was unusual in Washington, what we just saw.” I'm speaking with one of FCNL’s guests at the newly opened Quaker Welcome Center, just across the street from the U.S. Senate.
“Two members of Congress from opposite parties, and they were actually talking with each other!” I'm talking with a seasoned Washington professional, and he seems genuinely pleased and surprised.
As we speak, FCNL staff, coalition partners, constituents, and congressional staff are all mingling and chatting in small groups. These people came together this evening to watch Representative Ryan Costello, a Republican from Pennsylvania, and Representative Anna Eshoo, a Democrat from California sitting down together to discuss how to address climate change in a bipartisan fashion.
This was the first event that FCNL has hosted at the Quaker Welcome Center for an outside audience. On November 15th, after the U.S. house wrapped up its final votes for the day, Representatives Costello and Eshoo made their way over to the Quaker Welcome Center. FCNL invited these representatives in particular, because they are both a part of the House bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, a group that is focused on finding economically-viable options to reduce climate risk, and to explore bipartisan policy options that address the impacts, causes, and challenges of our changing climate. What makes this group unique is that it is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. Nicknamed the “Noah’s Ark Caucus,” members must join two-by-two, one from each political party.
In an increasingly divisive and polarized political environment, the kind of cooperation and cordiality demonstrated by members of the Climate Solutions Caucus is rare yet refreshing. FCNL has long valued bipartisanship in Washington. The guiding principles of our Quaker faith tell us that the divine can be found even in those with whom we may vehemently or viscerally disagree. Yet often we find that the most challenging tasks yield the most cherished rewards. Seeking out that divine light in others, especially when it is not easy, provides for unity, empathy, and ultimately, provides for progress. It is our hope that we can continue to use the Quaker Welcome Center as a place to bring together lawmakers with differing political ideologies, in open, honest, and earnest conversation, to realize that the people on the other side of the political aisle are indeed people, that compromising to find solutions does not mean compromising one’s beliefs, and that bipartisanship is not only possible, but proves to be beneficial for the work of serving the American people.
Fostering bipartisanship takes patience, presence, and perseverance. It is a difficult task, with no clearly defined beginning or end. What does seem clear is that the conversation between Representative Costello and Representative Eshoo was a step in the right direction. Their discussion ranged over domestic and international implications of climate policy decisions, the importance of protecting God’s creation for future generations, and the economic implications of a changing climate. But throughout the conversation, both Representatives returned to the integrally woven thread of bipartisanship. Representative Costello asserted the belief that "Most members of Congress want to be bipartisan. These (Quaker Welcome Center) forums are a great opportunity for members of Congress to get together with each other." Representative Eshoo commented that she thought it was "somewhat of a miracle that there is a bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus. It was carefully stitched together. It gives me hope." As the event drew to a close, I noted hopeful expressions on the faces of many people in the crowd, and from the members of Congress themselves.
Often big change happens in small pieces. I am hopeful that the first forum at the new Quaker Welcome Center can provide a positive example for the slow, steadfast work of building bipartisanship. I am hopeful that we can continue to provide space for dialogue, and those quiet conversations that allow members of Congress to reach out person-to-person, to rise above the vitriol and divisiveness, and learn the lost art of cordial conversation and compromise. I am thankful for Congressman Costello and Congresswoman Eshoo for demonstrating this possibility, and to our donors who made it possible for us to open this space. Most importantly, however, I am hopeful that in this work with no clear end and no clear beginning, we are making clear progress.
The building at 205 C Street NE Washington is now home to FCNL's Quaker Welcome Center. Located across the street from the U.S. Senate, the Quaker Welcome Center is a place for dialogue and the promotion of peace, justice, and environmental sustainability.