By: Halley Norman
Before speaking with Senator Osmek, I knew my reasons for caring about climate justice and believing in the campaign for 100% renewable energy, but I was less clear on why it was so important for me to have that conversation with elected officials directly. More than anything else, that’s what changed for me within the barely two minutes I got to speak with Sen. Osmek.
Once I’d started telling my story, I expected a critique of my argument, alternate proposals, or a defense. What I didn’t expect was that his first response would be to question why he was being recorded, and why we couldn’t have a one-on-one meeting instead. The second I shared with him my belief that, as an elected official, he should be able to say the same things to me and his constituency in public as he would in private, he shut down.
“We’re done here. Thank you.” A door almost slammed in my face.
Sen. Osmek, as an elected official, made a commitment to be a public figure. As a representative of the people, he made a commitment to hear us out. My senator does not sit on the Energy Committee, nor do those of most Minnesotans. Sen. Osmek, though, is the chair of the committee. That means he has just as much of a responsibility to listen to me as to any other Minnesotan. Instead of listening to me, though, he chose to walk away.
One of the most important things I’ve learned in my work with TakeAction is that when we as constituents speak with our legislators, they should be seeking our support—not the other way around. We have been taught that our elected representatives are people to fear, when actually we are the only reason they’re in that position in the first place.
When I chose to try and speak with Sen. Osmek in public, I did so not just to speak for myself, but to speak for all of Minnesota. Most Minnesotans are not so lucky to have the time and resources to get to the Capitol midday during the work week. Many don’t have job flexibility, or the time or resources to get to the Capitol, the support they need to navigate our complex political systems, or even the complex tunnels of the Capitol itself.
I tried to have this conversation for my own future children, because I want them to have the opportunities I’ve had and more. But also because, should we fail, I want them to know how hard we tried to give them everything. I want them to know who among us was willing to fight for and protect their future—and who wasn’t.
The response I got in trying to have this conversation scared me. We don’t have time to debate whether a conversation should be held in public or private. We, but more so our elected officials, don’t have time to run away when we’re not comfortable with a conversation.
Sen. Osmek’s choice was to prioritize his own comfort over my future, the future of the children I hope to have one day, and the future of all Minnesotans. And that’s unsettling, because right now Sen. Osmek holds power in determining whether our state takes steps toward clean energy and a sustainable future. That power isn’t guaranteed, though. This moment demands courage. If legislators continue to prioritize the interests of people behind-closed-doors, then we, the people in public, will reclaim our power.
We have seen where silence gets us. I’m not going to be scared out of speaking my truth in public. And we deserve elected officials who will truly listen to and lead with the people.