I had planned on writing about Black Thursday in this month’s column – the annual lobby day at the Washington State Capitol for the motorcycle riding community that is primarily coordinated by ABATE, held this year on January 19th. I had planned on taking pictures of the hundreds of riders who come and sit in on some of the Legislative visits and report on how it went. I had planned on talking to them about why they felt it was important to take a day and come down to Olympia. That was the plan anyway. Unfortunately, mother nature had other plans that conflicted with mine, and as my snowboarding buddies will say, she “puked up a massive dump of snow man!”
We all know what it was like during “Snowmageddon” 2012, and it just happened to fall smack dab on Black Thursday this year. The day before, which I suppose we should call “White Wednesday” because some 15 inches of snow fell on the Capitol grounds and roads, and then it rained on top causing a lovely glaze of ice not unlike that of the frosting on a Krispe Kreme donut. It meant for miserable travel weather, miserable work weather, intermittent power outages and by Thursday morning when it warmed up a tad above freezing, lakes and rivers of slush. I was sure ABATE would cancel, but I went over to the Capitol to check out who may have driven to the capitol in spite of the weather. Unfortunately I spent about 20 minutes in a power-less elevator trapped between floors when one of the gazillions of tree branches fell across power lines and cut power to my condo in Olympia. Then I drove over in the soupy mess that was on the roads and walked to the Capitol trying like hell to avoid the shin-deep lakes of slush everywhere.
When I finally made it over to the building and went up to the second floor main entrance, the first person I ran into was my friend and colleague “Texas” Larry Walker, the lobbyist for Washington Road Riders Association. We laughed and shared a pat on the back, and wandered amongst the 30 or so brave riders who were gathered under the rotunda. Showing up to meet with Legislators on a day like that is indeed most admirable. Many of my own professional lobbyist colleagues didn’t make it in, as well as a significant number of Legislators, but here were a hard core group of riders who came down to the Capitol on what was no doubt the worst weather day in my 23 years here to exercise a right guaranteed to all of us under the Constitution. Exercising the right for citizens to petition their government for a redress of grievances -- a cornerstone of the First Amendment.
“Congress shall make now law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Our leather clad biker brothers and sisters were doing just that. And whether or not we agree on every issue or not, I would hope we can all agree that this is one of the most sacred rights we have – the ability to participate in and to speak to our Government about the issues that concern us and seek to have them addressed.
The folks at Black Thursday this year though few in number were joining the process along with members of countless other groups and individuals throughout the legislative session. Taking the time to let their Government know what they wanted from their Government.
It’s easy I know, to be cynical about the effectiveness of talking to your elected officials, believe me I know – I’ve been doing it for 25 plus years. You do this enough and there is a danger of becoming jaded, bitter, disillusioned with Government and the process – especially if you are in a minority or lose enough battles. But on days like Black Thursday, and other days where groups of citizens of all stripes come to meet with their elected officials, you can see how much of an impact it does have over time.
I see it when Legislators learn of a concern that maybe they hadn’t thought of – and a mind is changed or opened. I see it when citizens meet with a policy maker and come away with a different point of view. In many cases misconceptions and assumptions vanish on both sides, and myths are busted. Constituents find out that Legislators are in fact hard working and sincere folks doing the best they can in a trying environment because they love their state and their country. Legislators find out that there are issues they never even thought about that concern a segment of their community and they feel compelled to work to make it better.
In our case Legislators find out that underneath that tough, rough, leathered exterior is a caring individual who truly loves what they do, loves their community and their state, contribute to society and make this a better world for all of us. Folks who are passionate about their issue, and care enough to make their voices hears. They learn we aren’t as scary on the outside as we appear to be. You doubt the effectiveness of this? Don’t – just look at last year’s Biker Profiling bill.
So next year, do yourself a favor. Take the day and come to the Legislature on Black Thursday. Change a mind or two – including your own. You might not get the results you want when you want them, but you will have participated in a sacred right and perhaps moved things along just a little bit further. Yeah, the weather may suck, it always does in January but lets hope not as bad as this year. Yes you’ll get cold, your feet will hurt from walking on marble floors, but you’ll be making a difference. And it will do your heart good to see – you might change a misconception you have, and you might change a misconception of an elected official too.
Gary can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com