Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


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Speaking up for safety

What would you do if someone called you on a Thursday and asked you to testify before a Senate subcommittee the next Tuesday? What if it was about something important, something close to your heart? What if the things that needed to be said wouldn’t be heard unless you went?

These people, and thousands more like them, are important.

Then of course you’d gather up your courage and go! So I did,

Time to go to work.

Yesterday, coincidentally on my dad’s 91st birthday, I testified before the Subcommittee on Transportation and Safety about the State of Trucking. I wasn’t alone, there was also representation from the American Trucking Association, The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers, the Livestock Marketing Association, and the State Police Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.

The other guys. And me.

If you’ve ever watched a Senate hearing on TV you’ll know what it was like.

The Senators all sit elevated with big chairs. The witnesses sit together at a long table down below in front of microphones that have little clocks in them to time how long you’re speaking. And you have to remember to turn your microphone on before you begin. And especially to turn it off after you’re finished with what you want them to hear.

They ask questions from an elevated advantage.

It was an honor to be asked, but of course I was nervous. Still, the Executive Director of the Truck Safety Coalition wrote the first draft of my comments, and I edited it using words that I could get my mouth around. Then another board member helped me shave the speech down to five minutes and punch it up to gain attention.

The Hart Senate Office Building, where the hearing took place.

I practiced saying it out loud for hours on Monday, in front of my husband, the Executive Director and the board member. That helped a lot. And of course early Tuesday morning, while my husband was in the shower I spoke it aloud a couple times too.

A true statement.

Tuesday we arrived at the Senate Office Building early, to meet with one of my Senators who was going to introduce me at the hearing. Senator Peters is very supportive of safety technology and spoke eloquently about my work. I was the only witness to get an introduction like that and I appreciate him so much.

Meeting with Senator Peters before the hearing.

I got to speak first at the hearing, which was helpful, not to have to wait and listen to the other four speak. Though maybe I would have adjusted my talk to object to some of what they said if I had heard them first. But I doubt it. My oral testimony already countered most items they were asking for.

I think I was disagreeing with something.

Turns out teen drivers and allowing cattle haulers exemptions from the hours of service rules were the big topics, and of course I oppose both of those. But the Senators that agree with these ideas didn’t really want to hear opposition, so only one question was directed at me, and I was hard pressed to get any other thoughts in without them throwing me a question.

Sometimes it’s hard to get people to focus on what’s important.

A hearing is not a debate, you’re not allowed to interrupt other speakers, though one Senator, thankfully, did ask, at the end of her questioning if any of us had anything else to add, and of course I did. And toward the end I did just butt in on the last Senator and make a point disagreeing with the ATA representative about teen drivers, and thankfully was then backed up by the Independent Operators representative because they don’t want teen drivers either.

And that’s how the hearing ended, so I guess we got the last word, at least on one topic.

I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to speak up for safety. I wasn’t heard on as many topics as I was prepared for because many Senators on our side of safety didn’t bother to attend. And that’s a shame. There can’t be a complete discussion unless both sides come to the table. I may not be speaking at the next hearing, but I’ll be on the phone urging the subcommittee members to show up that’s for sure.

In order to make meaningful change everybody has to work together.

And that’s the lesson I leave you with. If you care deeply about a topic, any topic, and you have an opportunity to share that passion, don’t be afraid. Do the thing that scares you, make sure you’re heard.

Change is hard, sometimes it’s scary, but it’s always worth the effort.

I got lots of support from my husband too.


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Truck safety earworms

The term earworm generally refers to a bit of music that’s trapped in your head, playing over and over inside your brain long after you heard the actual song. And that’s just what happened inside my brain today as I worked to weed my impossibly overgrown gardens.

With Congresswoman Norton

I keep hearing a mother’s voice as she described her young daughter’s journal, filled with life lessons, found two days after her twelve year old was killed in a school bus that was struck by a semi driven by a distracted driver. I hear another mother’s anguish as she described the crash that killed her seven year old sitting in the back seat of her stopped car when a semi slammed into the back of them. And the voices of the young adult children whose parents were killed when the semi hit them head on, going the wrong way down a mountain road. I hear the tremor in a survivor’s voice as she describes being pushed off a bridge by a semi. I hear the anguish in a husband’s voice as he talks about his wife and stepchildren gone in an instant.

Day 1 on the Hill, visiting my Representative.

I spent five days in Washington D.C. with these and many other families at the Truck Safety Coalition’s biannual conference we call Sorrow to Strength. It’s something of an emergence into grief, but it’s also a place to witness the rebuilding strength that comes from being together with others who have had similar experiences.

Before the press conference.

We spent Saturday getting to know each other, to offer comfort and hugs and empathetic tears. We laughed together too, over the silly things we miss about our loved ones lost to truck crashes, about the things we used to do but can’t any longer if we are injured survivors.

Representative Garcia, from Illinois, introduced the new bill to increase minimum insurance.

Sunday we buckled down and learned about the issues, many of which were contributing factors in our own crashes. This year we have four bills in Congress that we support, all focused on making the roads safer for everyone, truck drivers included.

Then, on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday we went to work, walking Capitol Hill and visiting offices of Senators and Representatives to educate, as well as transportation agencies to discuss the lack of rule making progress.

Things in Washington move with great deliberation.

It was hot, with temperatures in the 90s and a heat index well above that.

It was especially hot during a press conference we held on the Capitol grounds at noon on Tuesday. We were lucky to have three Congressmen introducing two new truck safety bills, and we were glad to support them by standing behind the podium holding pictures of our lost loved ones.

Kate talks about the multiple surgeries, costing millions, that her son needed after his crash.

But man, it was hot.

Regardless, our families were troopers and made it to all their assigned meetings, sometimes wringing wet, sometimes red faced, but there. People who never spoke in public before spoke to strangers in Congressional offices and spoke up at DOT meetings even while facing a row of men in suits.

And they did it all because of love.

Day 2, with one of my Senators who has cosponsored one of our bills.

Their love for those lost is bigger than any fear of the unknown. Bigger then the fear of being uncomfortable or sweaty or lost in the long marble halls of a Senate office building. Their love carried them through the telling of their stories over and over, reliving it each time, each time adding one more scar on top of the thousands of scars already lacerating their hearts.

A crash survivor being interviewed after the press conference.

And at the end of our time together there were more tears and hugs as we said goodbye to our Truck Safety Family, knowing that we’re never truly alone, even on our worst days, because these people have our hearts and our backs. Most of us will stay in touch through email and social media. And though we wish we didn’t have to, we’re ready to do it all again when D.C. calls.

Some of my Truck Safety family, ready to generate some change.

Love conquers all and our loved ones deserve to be remembered, not just for the way they died, or were injured, but for the way they lived. And that’s why I don’t mind the earworms dancing in my brain today.

We made time for ice cream.

It’s just another way of remembering them all.

Change is hard.