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