Omg don't I look cute? This is the only photo I have from my lobbying experience because it was back before I had a smart phone. If only I had I'm sure I would have Instagram'd and tweeted the shenanigans out of it making this post more fun and interesting, but alas,
In May of 2013, I participated in lobbying the government. If that sentence seems awkward, it's because lobbying is awkward. Unless you're in the stratified atmosphere of the professionals, I'm sure. Who was I lobbying? What was I lobbying? What even is lobbying?
A fresh eight months into working in the nuclear industry, I finagled my way into a Washington trip with my company chapter of the North American Young Generation Nuclear a group for those 35 and under working in the nuclear industry offering professional development and service opportunities. NAYGN falls under the grander Nuclear Energy Institute or NEI and all of the people in this game have a pretty simple aim: Promote the use of nuclear energy in America. To some degree promote all nuclear technology in America, but who are we kidding? We know we're the big bucks. An often quoted statistic intended to motivate us when we're fighting to bring up a unit is that we "Make a million dollars a day online." Yeah but you're not even going to approve me 4 hours of overtime to stay and fix this doohickey? Whatever bro.
Joking aside, we make a lot of money, we employ a lot of people, and we provide a lot, a lot of clean energy. In Tennessee where I work, 30% of the energy in the state is generated through zero-carbon nuclear power. That was when we had three operating units; we now have four so I'm sure that number will increase. And oh look, where does it appear you have the cleanest air in America? That blue area sure seems to hover over Tennessee and North Carolina, also a strong nuclear energy state,
Jobs, clean energy, cheap power -we're a win-win-win. And so we headed to Washington to ask our representatives shoving subsidies into fossil fuels doing the opposite of what we were if maybe they could throw us a bone and help us out. Could we get some subsidies? Maybe some favorable legislation? You don't know until you ask!
The first thing you realize is the difference between a congressman and a senator. Congressmen (and women) have a quaint set-up of an entryway room and private office, sparsely decorated with college football flags from their state and maybe some other memorabilia. That's it. Senators have offices, and offices, and offices upon offices filled with staff researching things for them. I visited Lamar Alexander's office and it appears that dude uprooted an Appalachian cabin to come live with him while he was away.
Again, it becomes very clear very quickly that these guys are not playing the same game. Here's a list of senators who have spent over 35 years in office. Are you kidding me? That's as old as the president has to be. Talk about "the establishment".
The second thing that becomes clear is that they don't care about you. The conference with hundreds of attendees aimed to spend the entire day on the hill. Groups from each state set up appointments with their representatives to meet and discuss support for nuclear, but we were encouraged to wander into all the other rooms we could find and talk to everyone we could. Both our representatives did not show up. Since it was a Tuesday or something he was scheduled to actually be in district so if we had stayed at home we could have seen him! Gosh darn. The other just didn't come. We wandered and talked to some people but nothing happened. Our bosses attending the NEI conference the next week hopefully had more luck as actual people of influence and power. Then I went to go have lunch with my cousin and tour Lamar Alexander's office where he worked along with another girl who used to hike with my dad.
And in that shrinking moment, I realized just what a mess we're in. It's not that I didn't know there was a mess. Of course I always knew there was a mess. But something is different when you're standing on that pretty green grass in front of those giant stone structures knowing that you have made it to the temple, probably farther than most people you know, and are completely and utterly ineffective. You are with the senators on the freakin' hill and you get nothing. What do you do?
There are many things I'm worried about for our future. There are also many things I'm worried about from our past. In the past 150 years, we have decided a group of humans previously viewed as property were in fact people, we got the industrial revolution, we got women's right to vote, we got two world wars, we got the atomic bomb, we got vaccines, we decided that the group of people we'd finally decided were people should actually have voting rights like people, maybe women should get a little more with their voting rights, and then we got the internet.
Those are a lot of big psychologically and culturally redefining things to happen in the span of two lifetimes. I hope many of our problems are related to establishing a baseline after so many shakeups and eventually things will level out. But I'm also wary of making sure they settle out in the right way. How in the world do you effectively manage this monstrosity we built?
Even so, I like to believe we're getting better over the span of our human experience. Maybe this will just be a rough period.
And now after I have being completely derailed for today writing my senators and congressman and this to get the fury out, maybe I can do my homework.
Just a Woman in STEM finding her way