The Hearing.

“Did I remember to spell my name?” I leaned over to Stueve and whispered.

“No,” he said, and my eyes widened. “I’m kidding! Yes. You did.”

I still can’t remember spelling my name.

It’s odd what adrenaline does to the memory–I clearly remember rushing the phrase “to posit” and worrying that it sounded like “deposit,” but I can’t remember spelling my name.

For the first time in my life, I attended a committee hearing on bills presented to the judiciary committee of my state’s legislature to testify in support of a bill. I had little idea what to expect, since I cut short my political science studies to drop out of school for a year.

A story for another time.

I arrived at the capitol building well ahead of the hearing’s 1:30 p.m. start time, and I knew I was in for a long day since they moved our bill from third to last in the order. And had I paid closer attention to the other bills in that hearing, I might not have arrived so early: also on the docket was a resolution to put medical cannibis on the November ballot and let voters decide if it should be legal.

The cannibis resolution was fourth in line, and it ground the pacing of the day to a halt. Proponent after proponent shared their experience and reasoning as to why the people of Nebraska deserved to decide this issue, as opposed to relying on legislators to work out a bill. Then opponent after opponent (though they numbered far fewer) attempted to persuade the committee to not advance the resolution. And committee member after committee member asked question after question of most of the opponents.

Two hours later, the hearing on the resolution ended, and we took a 10 minute break. At this point, I’d been sitting in the room for three hours.

It took another hour to get through the next bill, which would place restrictions on citizens with juvenile records from purchasing firearms, and finally, at around 6 p.m., Senator Adam Morfeld read in LB 886.

Prior to Morfeld’s speech, the chair of the committee asked the crowd, “How many of you in the room plan to testify either for or against this bill?”

I saw over a dozen hands go up.

And I wondered if I should speak. I had written my comments–could they possibly be any different from what the other people would say? Maybe I could just save them and send as a letter if the bill made it to a floor vote. It was so late, and I was hungry, and Stueve had brought six kids to report on the hearing. Everyone in the room could go home three minutes earlier if I didn’t speak.

I turned to Stueve and said, “Maybe I shouldn’t speak.”

And I don’t remember his response, but it was akin to this:

giphy (1)

And then I remembered that I sat through two hours of testimony about cannibis and dammit, I was going to take my three minutes.

(Yes, the situation warranted a swear.)

So I moved to the front row and after several others testified in support of the bill, I added my voice to the many. I nearly ran out of time, because in all of my practice runs, I forgot to factor in that I would have to say and spell my name. Precious seconds, when limited to 180 total.

And I’m glad I testified. Not because I think anything I said was going to persuade the committee either way, but because if I’ve learned anything the past year, it’s that I can no longer be a passive recipient of the benefits of democracy. Instead, I need to be an active participant.

And whether it’s voting, making phone calls, writing letters, or showing up and testifying before a committee in support of or opposition to legislation, active participants are the people who will keep the democracy strong. And I don’t want to be left out of that hard work.

In another life, setting policy was the career goal. Spending six hours in a hearing room at times made me wistful for that road not taken. But in the past 24 hours, as I’ve seen multiple reasons why teaching has been the right road for me these past 17 years, I also realized there’s no reason why I can’t travel the policy road in the future.

Leave a Reply