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Opinion Columns

Opinion: At the U.S. Capitol, lifting our gaze to what stands before us

We must have civil discourse around the problems that affect all of us, so that we can continue to move our country, our democracy and our world forward.

The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. (Mark Harden, The Colorado Sun)

For me, a few scenes stood out from Jan. 6, when violent protestors stormed the nation’s Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of results of our lawful presidential election: Seeing American citizens smashing windows, grinding the business of the American people to a terrifying halt, vandalizing offices, and stealing property from the heart of their own democracy.

How could such a small group of Americans claim something that belongs to all of us as their own? In their eyes, the desires of the uninformed few far outweighed the rights of all of us. From whom, exactly, were they trying to “take back” the Capitol? The other 328 million of us?  

The man carrying around a Confederate battle flag, a flag that never reached the Capitol during the Civil War and has never been flown in the halls of Congress, was deeply disturbing.  Equally disturbing were images of rioters replacing our own Stars and Stripes with flags bearing the name of a politician. 

Aaron Hoffman at the U.S. Capitol

It was unlawful. It was shocking. But above all, it was sad. I’m grateful that Colorado’s congressional contingent and their respective staff members ended up safe and unharmed. 

As a father of three, I can’t help but be concerned about the state of our democracy and the future our children will inherit. Topmost among those concerns is climate change. 

After a summer of record-breaking wildfires in Colorado, I’m concerned about the low snowpack in the mountains, and how its continual decline will affect water resources in the Grand Valley. I’m nostalgic and sad about the fact that every year, Facebook taunts me with memories of our kids as toddlers, when they used to play in the snow every year. When our family moved to Grand Junction from Alaska, we thought a cold snap of minus-13 degrees wasn’t too bad. Now those temperatures are almost unthinkable. 

I’m concerned about how Western Colorado is warming faster than elsewhere, and how that disproportionate warming will affect our valley’s economic future and overall well-being. 

Not knowing how to personally address these problems, I flailed about in desperation for a while, thinking that personal actions, rather than real policy, might be the answer to our climate woes. Then a friend introduced me to Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

It’s a volunteer-driven organization whose mission is to create the political will for politicians to pass effective climate legislation. Specifically, CCL advocates for carbon fee and dividend legislation, a bipartisan, market-based solution that won’t grow the size of government. 

CCL places a high value on relationships: We listen, we work to find common values, and we work to understand our own biases. We appreciate and respect each other and our members of Congress as a matter of course. No matter who they are and what their beliefs, we build relationships with our representatives, because they were fairly elected. 

In November 2019, I joined more than 800 other volunteers from around the country at my first CCL “Lobby Day” in Washington, D.C. We conducted more than 480 civil, appreciative and pointed conversations with members of Congress and their staff members. 

That morning, I put on my seldom-worn suit and walked right past the Capitol building, where I took my first selfie of the day (above). It had been more than 25 years since I had last been in Washington, as a kid, and seeing these centers of our democracy as an active voter suddenly held more relevance. 

Even as a first-time lobbyist that day, I was able to join in meetings in four congressional offices: those of two senators and two representatives. I sat across the table, as an equal, with members of Congress and their staff. 

There was something undeniably electric about being there, rubbing elbows with our elected officials, and engaging them in productive conversations. The easy access to the inner workings of our democracy felt special. Our respectful voices, though not always in agreement with those to whom we were speaking, were in turn being respectfully heard. 

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

I’m outraged that the people who work at the Capitol and its office buildings, people who serve us and our democracy, were put in harm’s way on Jan. 6. I fear for the future of the Capitol, and for our citizenry’s easy access to it. That angry and violent crowd, hyped on conspiracy theories and bent on insurrection, will certainly set us back, though I’m not sure if we know yet how far. 

I’m angry that some members of Congress were taking a stand against accepting the legally-cast votes of our own citizens. Our nation, and our world, are facing numerous threats, and — in the words of inaugural poet Amanda Gorman, spoken on yet another day at the Capitol  — we must “lift our gazes not to what stands between us, but what stands before us.” 

We must continue to have civil discourse around the problems that affect all of us, so that we can continue to move our country, our democracy, and our world forward.


Aaron Hoffman is a real estate investor, stay-at-home dad, and Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteer in Grand Junction.


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