On August 2, I was honored to participate, along with some co-workers, in an effort to rescue our company from hyper-regulation. We testified at a public hearing of the Illinois Pollution Control Board.
I don’t want to talk about the regulation, the merits of the science behind it, or even if it is worthwhile. Instead, I want to talk about the people who went through this with me, because there is a storm building.
There were about 20 of us. We packed ourselves into a small bus. We were mechanics and equipment operators, accountants and storekeepers, managers and mayors, engineers and educators, union stewards and a company president.
Our drive was long. Many of us left our homes at 4:15 a.m. It struck me, as we departed in the early morning darkness, how diverse we were. We had a diversity day once at our company. Our slogan for that day was, “There Is Power in Diversity.”
But (though I helped come up with the slogan), that’s not true. There is only power when diverse forces unify.
E Pluribus Unim, our coinage says, “Out of many, one.” On this day, at least for this day, we traveled and testified as one.
On the long drive, one discussion topic was the big news item of the day: Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day. On the surface it had little to do with our trip or the purpose of our hearing.
But at root, it had everything to do with it—because on a day when hundreds of thousands came together all over this nation to support Mr. Cathy’s right to free speech, our little bus load of diverse Americans came together as well. Just as some of the people who went to Chick-Fil-A may not have agreed with Mr. Cathy, everyone who ate there August 2 agreed with his right as an American to hold and speak his views.
Likewise, the people on that bus don’t all agree with every move our company makes. But we feel great about the electricity we make. And each of us, as we expressed in our testimonies, appreciates and applauds the benefits our work provides to the energy sector, to our communities, and yes, to our country. Affordable, reliable, safe electricity has been a big part of improving the lives of every American man, woman and child, and we were all proud to play a small part in that.
The people who agreed to go on that 16-hour, stressful trip, quite frankly have had enough. We have seen hundreds of millions of dollars of pollution control equipment be built and maintained. Over the course of our careers we have seen the waters become clearer and the smoke stack emissions become nearly invisible.
I personally have been to Africa and saw much worse air quality in that so called “pastoral” land that has almost no industry. That’s because most of the people have no electricity, so they continually burn cook fires. Smoke from a few million fires does more harm to air quality than all the power plants in the United States combined.
Our bus trip and the outpouring of support around the country for Chick-Fil-A give me a sense that almost every American is tired. We are tired of being pushed. We are tired of being forced into a corner, supposedly for our “protection,” when we don’t believe we are in danger. We are tired of being forced into a “safe place” when that place is clearly more dangerous by far—such as a place with no First Amendment rights, or a place where energy prices skyrocket and jobs disappear.
I saw that, both in the hearing room and at the restaurant, as a clear line of demarcation between two Americas. There are those who would have a free republic. And there are those who would choose tyranny, whether it be the tyranny of a nanny state that produces an infinite list of regulations, or the tyranny of those who would punish free speech and freedom of religion in the effort to silence Chick-Fil-A’s CEO.
And in that way, these seemingly unrelated events are about much more than chicken or jobs. They are about freedom. They are about America. If that sounds maudlin or melodramatic—tough.
I believe—I hope—we are going to look around in a year or two, or five, or ten, and see that freedom still reigns in this country. And at that time I think we will know that it reigns precisely because once we were pushed far enough, we finally stood together. E pluribus Unum!
Chris Skates has 23 years’ experience in power plant chemistry and environmental issues. He is the author of the novel Going Green: For Some It Has Nothing To Do With the Environment and an Adjunct Scholar of The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation.