Finding the Target

Some of the best advice I’ve read for those of us who are outraged with the first few weeks of Trump’s regime is, “focus your energy on one or two issues.” It has taken me some time to bounce back from the fire hose of unbelievable bullshit insanity, but it occurred to me, as a 44-year old, that I can speak with some authority about some things that I know a lot about, most notably, energy and energy economics. (If only fixin’ old bikes had any implications for national security.)

On Friday, 10 February 2017, I took a morning off of work to travel to Greensboro, GA (not quite 45 minutes away) to participate in what would normally have been open office hours for staff from Senator Johnny Isakson’s, Senator David Perdue’s, and Representative Jody Hice’s offices. I got there about an hour early and took a seat, but it didn’t take long for the Greene County Board of Commissioners Meeting Room to fill up with a crowd. Some folks I recognized from Athens, others came from Atlanta, Macon, and farther afield in Georgia, complaining that senators and representatives won’t meet with them where they live.

I got up to use the restroom and found out that you had to get in a line to sign up to ask questions or make comments, so I stood in the lobby for a while waiting to sign up. By the time I got back to the auditorium the place was packed, and instead of going back to my seat I asked my neighbor to hand me my jacket and give my seat to an older woman who wanted to sit down.

The Flagpole and others covered the dispute between staff members and the crowd at the beginning so I won’t rehash it. The compromise was that most of the staff would carry on with their open office hours and call people in one at a time, while Josh Findlay from Hice’s office would stay behind and take notes as individuals spoke to the crowd. I was close to the back of the room but there was a woman behind me who asked where the line started for people who wanted to speak at the lectern. I told her to grab the back of my vest and hang on as I worked through the crowd to get her to the line. I got in line behind her.

I think I waited about 90 minutes before my turn came up, which was two minutes before the event was to end. I read most of my prepared remarks to the crowd and got a few applause breaks. Here’s what I wrote:

My name is Jason Perry, and I have lived in Athens (30605) for almost 10 years. I grew up in rural New York surrounded by dairy farms and apple orchards. I am an engineer. I am a gun owner and a hunter. In my spare time I fix bikes for people working their way out of homelessness. I own an old truck but ride my bike to work. I am a fiscally conservative, socially liberal independent.

I am a kidney donor. In 2012 I gave my left kidney to my best friend who was suffering renal failure due to IGA nephropathy. Besides wanting to save his life, one of the reassurances that I had was that Medicare would be a safety net if I ever have complications. In addition, because of the Affordable Care Act, having one kidney could not be considered a pre-existing condition if I switch employers and insurance.

I am terrified for my friend, who owns a successful business and relies on expensive anti-rejection medication to survive. I am afraid for myself and all other living donors that you do not care about us, or other vulnerable Americans, as the Republican Congress speeds to gut medical coverage for the sake of ideology.

I am an engineer with expertise in energy conservation and renewable energy. During my career I have been funded by grants from the EPA, USDA, DOE, DOD, and the SBA. These funds were used to provide technical support to help Georgia farmers (some in Greene County), business owners, and government facilities become more economically viable by making smart choices about how they procure and use energy. Personally I have found millions of dollars in annual energy cost savings for facilities all over the state.

My wife is a scientist who pays her lab technicians with grants from the National Science Foundation. We have hundreds of friends and colleagues who are funded or are directly employed by federal agencies like the NSF, NIH, USDA, and EPA, and there are thousands more in our area.

Personally I don’t see how protecting rivers from coal slag kills jobs, but please also consider the many thousands of hard working people throughout the state that would lose theirs if you carry forward the Republican agenda of, for example, abolishing the EPA and gutting the USDA.

Finally, I urge you to listen to the group of Republicans led by James Baker III about the carbon tax. Climate change is real, and poses real and devastating impacts to Georgia farming, forestry, tourism, and the economy in general. The carbon tax is the fairest, free-market path to a fossil fuel draw-down, is favored by conservative economists, and can be done without growing the government.

I left out the last paragraph for brevity, turned, and handed the paper to Mr. Findlay with a smile. On my way out the Flagpole writer asked for an interview, which he recorded with his phone. Then I hopped in the car and headed in to work.

I was glad I had a chance to speak, but I was concerned going in to this even that ordinary Greene County residents who need help with casework would be denied service because of the disruption at this event. This concern was both out of empathy for those residents as well as for the optics that the Republican lawmakers can then turn and use against the people who are trying to express their views, despite providing no other venues to do so. For example, from Senator Perdue after the event:

Our goal is to help as many Georgians as possible who have casework concerns and need assistance dealing with federal agencies like so many of our veterans and seniors. If organized groups want to manufacture protests and continue to be disruptive, it will only deny those who really need help.

To which I reply, maybe you could do work to make it so veterans and seniors don’t have to resort to events like this to get the service they need. Still, naturally, the establishment is girding for more, and preparing to make it even harder to reach them.

News coverage of this event: