I wanted to make my world bigger.
And sometimes that means saying yes.
Saying yes to the intensely unfamiliar.
Saying yes to things you know you believe in, but you aren’t sure if the rest of the world is totally on board.
When I was asked on very short notice if I’d be interested in a trip to DC to help lobby congress on the Clean Power Plan my gut reaction was no. No, of course not! I care about clean air and renewable energy, who doesn’t? But unlike the person who asked me, I am no expert on smog. I’m just a mom with four kids. I do have core values about caring for the earth, even though I’m not always great about expressing those in my daily life.
I am a writer, though. And a writer needs a larger world and breadth of experience. Writers need to say no to things that take them away from what they need to be doing and yes to whatever broadens their scope. I had never done anything like this before. I said yes.
I kept it under wraps, because I was frankly terrified. Terrified of my own ignorance. Terrified of hurting or angering people who might not agree with what I was doing. Retreating into a turtle shell is probably not the best strategy for handling those fears but that’s how I coped. Eventually I felt ready to open up about it and I had several people thank me for what I was doing. Folks who were affected by severe asthma (a rampant issue in my area) were grateful that someone was giving them a voice in Washington. I began to feel empowered. I DID have something to say, after all.
So I took a plane to a city I hadn’t visited since I was a teen, and took a cab to the Sierra Club for training. I met folks like Verena Owen, a wonderful lady who immigrated from Germany in the 1980s and attended her first town hall meeting because it invited the “public.”
She thought, as a member of the public, that she was required to go! That opened the door to her becoming an active member of her Illinois community. You can hear more about her activism here. Verena listened to why I was in town and helped give me confidence in the story I was to tell.
I also met a gentleman named Winston Apple (tell me that is not a folk hero’s name!) who summed it up this way...if climate change is caused by human action then we have a duty to stop it. If it’s not, all our efforts will still lead to a cleaner and more beautiful earth, so we have nothing to lose.
The next two days were filled with training and then meetings with our congressional leaders. Our first meeting was with Congressman André Carson. It was a great first meeting to have because he was so on board with our message. “There is no such thing as clean coal” he said emphatically. It gave us confidence to start off with such a strong supporter, even though not everyone was totally on board with our message. It helped a lot that what we were asking for was extremely modest. The EPA is providing guidelines for smog and how to handle coal ash ponds, many which were built with no standards and have never been monitored. We were there to request that the EPA not be blocked in trying to uphold smog standards and coal ash pond monitoring so that people will have accurate information about the safety of their air and water.
When it was my turn to speak I discussed the abysmal failing grade the American Lung Association gave Vanderburgh County. You can’t do worse than an F, and when medical experts tell you the air you are breathing is unsafe it would be wise to listen. I know many people whose children are affected by asthma, and multiple people told me they developed asthma upon moving to the area, and folks who were always affected by asthma found it disappeared when they moved away.
Indiana has a Normal Rockwell reputation that is crystallized in our tourism slogan “Honest to Goodness” Indiana. But the truth is we have multiple air quality alerts during our summers where children are told it unsafe for them to breathe the air outdoors. There’s no fishing in the Ohio river, or much playing in the creek because of pollution. If we truly want the old fashioned family values then a good place to start is giving our children a safe and clean world in which to live, and exemplifying the simple concept of cleaning up our messes, as so succinctly put by my Hoosier teammate Jessica Ulhery.
There is truly no downside towards a move towards clean and renewable energy. If we could put our creative energies towards developing technologies and creating jobs within these spheres instead of preserving the status quo, economic concerns would slowly vanish. With Indiana at 3% for clean, renewable energy we can look to Iowa, currently at 30%, for our role model. And by focusing a great deal of our efforts towards energy efficiency, we can meet the EPA’s goal of a 20% reduction in pollution by 2030.
This trip wasn’t “fun.” We had very little time to visit monuments, I didn’t set foot in a museum. Most of our time was spent walking, riding the metro, and preparing for meetings. It was a lot of work and by the end of the week I was completely emotionally and physically exhausted. My legs were sore and my plantar fasciitis was screaming (no matter how comfy your flats are, PACK TENNIS SHOES.) I spent the closing reception sitting in a chair, barely speaking. If you know me personally you know this is not my normal mode of operation. I was mush!
It was wonderful to get to know my Hoosier teammates. Megan Anderson, who is employed by the Sierra Club, is kind, friendly, supportive, encouraging and above all, knows her stuff. Novella Shuck, a caseworker with her local trustees office who's generous spirit made sure we were all going where we needed to go and was willing to run errands for those of us with tired legs. Annette Johnson, a lady who does EVERYTHING from running a community garden to writing for multiple publications to doing stand up comedy, and looks good doing it! Jessica Ulhery is an eloquent powerhouse who never stops and took advantage of being away from her 9 children with unceasing energy! It was a privilege to work side by side with these more experienced ladies and hear their stories of why they were fighting for clean air and water.
I was able to meet up with my brother, his wife and my two dear nieces so that was a lovely personal reason to go to DC. But I wasn’t there for fun. I was there to find my Leslie Knope spirit. I was there for Indiana. I was there to make my world bigger.
And I did.