In addition to his role as Bettendorf Mayor, Robert Gallagher now serves as co-chair of the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative.
It was in that role that he attended the United Nations Climate Week last week in New York City, meeting with world leaders and speaking on the importance of putting aside politics and working together.
"We represent 124 cities up and down the Mississippi River and the 10 states that border our country's largest river, the largest working river in the world," Gallagher said in an interview Thursday after returning. "So we work together not only across the river, but both sides of the political aisle to solve problems."
Gallagher said he thinks the Initiative was brought to the UN to provide a good example of how people from both sides of the aisle can work together when putting aside divisive rhetoric. "We talked about identifying problems, identifying solutions. We aren't in it for political gain or personal gain, so we don't have to convince the world we're going to burn to death tomorrow."
In his time in New York, Gallagher sat on multiple panels and heard from charitable organizations including the Rockefeller Foundation and CDP North America, which connects projects with investors.
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The message of the Initiative, Gallagher said, is to continue to build a sustainable Mississippi River. "In the last 15 years, from 2005 to 2019, the Mississippi River Valley has sustained over $200 billion in disaster impacts," he said.
This year, the Quad-Cities set a record crest including the Davenport flooding. "Mayors up and down the Mississippi River work together to do something about it... We need to continue build up a more resilient Mississippi River. We need to bring back our marshes and wetlands, our backwaters."
The Initiative has been doing some world traveling over the past couple of years. Members went to Germany last year and Paris in 2015, and Gallagher says that is to show what can be done when people work together.
Among the panels Gallagher sat on were the Climate Action Sustainable Forum, through which he emphasized looking at the Mississippi as one organism and doing projects in the most vulnerable areas to help the most vulnerable. "If we can look at it and say 'Those projects upstream can help us, those are the ones that need to get fronted first,' we can all win," he said.
That work to get change and working together, Gallagher said, is what he learned most from the conference. "They don't think that screaming at the top of your lungs and putting crying children on TV is a good idea," he said. "They want to sit in rooms, shake hands and work together, and that is very, very encouraging."