Mitch McConnell, powerful Senate majority leader and fearless Washington brawler, ran out of his D.C. senate office in a total panic when a group of rosy cheeked school children from his home state of Kentucky showed up to ask him about climate change and the Green New Deal.
The thirty or so elementary school children were visibly animated, very excited to be in Washington D.C. after the long bus trip. It was part of their school’s American Government class. Their parents and teacher helped them organize the bus trip after they announced they “wanted to see for themselves how democracy works.” The kids crowded in front of the reception desk at the entrance to Senator McConnell’s office. Emma, a shy sixth grader, neatly dressed with a bright yellow blouse, stepped forward to address the receptionist who was startled at the animated group of kids that suddenly appeared.
Gathering her nerve she announced, “Hi, I’m Emma Swanson.”
“We’re all from Greenbriar Elementary School in Deep Creek, Kentucky. We rode the bus with our teacher, Miss Rollins, all the way from Deep Creek to see Senator Mitch so we could ask him how he’s going to reduce green house gas like from coal and stop climate change.”
The little sixth grader spoke clearly and with purpose.
“See, we’ve been studying about climate change this year in school and we’re very worried about how our country and the people in the rest of the world and all the animals and plants will be destroyed if Senator Mitch and President Trump, don’t do anything to prevent all the carbon that’s going into the air and heating the planet.”
The receptionist looked nervously over the excited gaggle of school kids, who stared at her anxiously and held up colorful hand painted posters. “WE NEED THE GREEN NEW DEAL NOW” “SAVE THE EARTH AND OUR LIVES” “CLOSE THE COAL MINES” “KEEP THE EARTH HEALTHY FOR US KIDS.”
“Well, thank you for coming,” she said nervously to Emma and the other kids who crowed around her desk enthusiastically.
“Its nice to see you all. Let me see if Senator McConnell has time to meet with all of you. You do understand that he’s very busy and working hard to represent the families of Kentucky like you?”
Rusty, a tall sixth grader, standing next to Emma spoke up.
“Yes, we know that Senator Mitch is busy but we have to tell him how important this is, that the whole world and our future is going to be destroyed if we don’t start right away and stop the carbon that’s going into the air and heating up the planet. Kentucky has lots of coal electric generators that cause lots of carbon in the air. Coal is the dirtiest of all the things that are burned to make electricity. We want to see if Senator Mitch is going to support the Green New Deal that Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez wrote.”
Just then a well dressed man in a suit and tie, in his sixties, exited the office. He said a familiar good bye to the receptionist and then saw the big group of fresh faced kids He stopped and looked down from his glasses and smiling broadly. “Hi kids, where y’all from?”
“Is this your first trip to Washington?”
Rusty looked up at the man and asked excitedly, “Are you Senator Mitch? We came from Kentucky today to see you. Can we please meet with you? Our teacher made an appointment. It’s really important.”
The man chuckled in a friendly way and said, “Well, Rusty what’s so important that you have to see Senator McConnell about?”
Rusty and several others held up their signs and Rusty announced, “We’re really scared about climate change and how carbon from coal and oil are destroying the planet. It’s heating up so fast from the green house gasses like from coal and oil and if we don’t stop it soon it will be too late to stop the dangerous heat that will destroy all the plants and animals on earth, including us kids.”
The man assumed a slightly more serious vein. “No, I’m not Senator McConnell. My name is Johnson and I own Johnson Oil. I share your concerns but remember that coal and oil have helped us build the strongest economy in Kentucky and in the whole country and we have the best standard of living anywhere. You kids have the finest schools and have all the benefits and freedoms in our country where if you study and work hard you can grow up to be anything you want to be. Senator McConnell understands that and is working hard for you kids and your parents to make sure we continue to have the freedom to make sure Kentucky is always a great place to live.”
“But Mister Johnson,” a girl Marie said, “how can we be anything we want if grown ups are destroying the world from coal that makes electricity and gasoline that makes our cars work?”
Marie asked,“Mr. Johnson, is Johnson Oil your company?”
“Do you own it? Is your company selling oil and gasoline that comes from oil and the other stuff that is heating up the air in the world?”
“Kids, you’re learning a lot in school and here in Washington too, about how our country and our government works. In the United states unlike a lot of other counties, I had the freedom to build a big successful company like Johnson Oil, so we can help create the richest country in the world.”
He turned and waved half heartedly as he walked down the hallway.
“Remember children, we don’t ever want to have a government like in other countries where they tell people how to live and what they can and can’t do. That’s socialism and it will take away all the important things we worked for and the freedoms that we have.”
“But Mr. Johnson,” Marie yelled, “how can we have freedom and be rich if climate change destroys the planet and everything in it?”
“Mr. Johnson, if you don’t stop selling oil and coal, who else can stop you except the government?”
Mr. Johnson was already out of range.
The receptionist put down her phone and looked up from her desk worriedly. “Children, I just spoke to Senator McConnell’s legislative aide and he says that unfortunately the Senator is very busy today. He’s introducing a bill on the Senate floor on some very important legislation and won’t be able to meet with you. He says he would love to see you all when he returns to Kentucky during the recess.”
Rusty blurted out, “Ms. Rollins, our teacher, called here to find out when Senator Mitch could see us and they told us today at two o’clock. We’ve been planning this trip a long time. We made money from car washes. That’s why we came all the way from Kentucky. But we can still wait until four-thirty. That’s when we have to leave to go back to our bus.”
“I’m terribly sorry kids. If you have any specific questions for the Senator, I can tell him and I’m sure he wills see all of you when he returns to Kentucky.”
Emma said to the receptionist, “the kids in our class wrote down a lot of questions and we have them here in this notebook,” as she held cup the green binder.
“If you want to give me the questions, I’ll give them to Senator McConnell and he can answer them when he meets you back home.”
Before the receptionist could answer, Emma started reading the questions they planned on asking Senator Mitch.
“Senator Mitch, do you support the Green New Deal?”
“Its an important list of ideas to protect the environment and end carbon emissions.”
“Senator Mitch, the Green New Deal also says we have to help the poor people and old people from Kentucky so they don’t have dirty air and can have safe water to drink that is not dangerous and full of chemicals. People should get paid enough money at work so they can live in a nice house and take care of their children. And be able to go to the doctor when they get sick.”
“Will you help the poor people from Kentucky with the Green New Deal?”
“My aunt Joanie is very sick and can’t afford to go to the doctor. If she doesn’t, my mom says she might die.”
“Senator Mitch, do you agree that people are causing climate change? Most of climate change has happened just since the 1970’s since our parents were born. A lot of it is from fossil fuels like the coal that is dug up in the mines in Kentucky.”
“Senator Mitch, do you know that coal which comes from Kentucky’s coal mines, is the dirtiest of all of the fossil fuels, much worse than oil and gasoline? Its heating the climate faster than anything.”
The receptionist was trying to think of a way to shut down these kids and usher them out of the Senate Office Building without causing a scene. A woman who was walking by and saw the commotion was recording it on her phone.
“This would be really embarrassing for Senator McConnell, if it got out to the media,” the receptionist thought.
“He’s going to hold me personally responsible for this.”
Emma continued, determined to read the whole list of questions that the class had carefully prepared.
“Senator Mitch, “do you know that half of the five hundred coal electric generating plants in our country have been shut down because they are so inefficient? There are only 50,000 jobs left in the coal industry in our country but renewable energy like photo electric and wind power have created more than 300,000 jobs just in the past few years?”
“Senator Mitch, why do you take money from the oil and coal companies? Don’t you care more about the air in Kentucky and the health of all the people in Kentucky, instead of oil and coal companies?”
There was no stopping these kids. The receptionist made another call from her desk phone. She spoke under her breath desperately. “No, they are not leaving. There are about fifty of them waiving signs. There are no adults with them. I told them the Senator can’t see them today, and will see them in Kentucky. No they haven’t been disruptive, not yet, anyway. But they are starting to yell, to talk loudly. There is a woman in the hallway recording the whole thing. I’m really worried about this.”
“Yes, I think we need security to come. I can’t get rid of them myself. We have to protect the Senator. This is getting out of hand.”
“My grandpa Joe was a coal miner his whole life,” Emma insisted. “All of the grown up men in my family are coal miners. My dad and my uncle Bart too. My grandpa Joe got black lung from working in the mines his whole life and died when I was ten. My dad says they should bring clean energy companies to Kentucky, like wind machines and photo electric cells that make electricity and shut down the mines and give coal miners new jobs in clean energy that are safe and good for the Earth too.”
“Senator Mitch will you bring clean energy jobs to Kentucky and close the coal mines?”
Three men in blue suits and badges came down the hall toward the kids. Their teacher, Ms. Collins, stood back a distance from the children. She had promised to let them speak without grown ups directly to Senator McConnell.
One of he security detail said sternly, “Where are your parents? Are you here un-escorted? The Senate rules do not permit un-escorted minors in the Senate Office Building.”
“Are we going to be arrested?” asked Rusty looking at the man’s hand cuffs on his belt.
“Well not yet. But you will all have to leave immediately. You can go this way to the main entrance and leave the building. Officer Johnson and Gonzalez will accompany you out of the building.”
“Let’s go. And carry all of your signs with you. Follow officer Johnson and Gonzalez without making any loud noise. Remember, this is the Senate of the United States.”
Emma spoke up desperately to the men. “We learned in school that a democracy is when the people, even kids like us get to speak directly to the government. Senator Mitch told our teacher that he would meet with us so we could ask him if he was going to help the Green New Deal. It’s really important.”
Rusty said angrily, “my pop told me that we would never get to see Senator Mitch and that our trip would be a waste of time, except to see that we don’t matter, the kids and people from Kentucky don’t matter.”
Rusty was disgusted. “I’m ready to go home. My pop said we don’t really have a democracy no more. He said the coal companies are paying Senator Mitch and he doesn’t care about us kids.”
“That’s what my pop said and he’s right.”
“Alright kids, that’s enough,” the security officer announced.
“Follow officer Johnson and Gonzalez to the entrance. Is your bus waiting to take you back?”
“Ms. Collins their teacher said, “ok, kids let’s leave in an orderly fashion. We had our lesson in democracy. We can talk about it on the bus on the way home.”
Emma was about to cry but controlled herself. “Is this how democracy is supposed to work? I thought they were supposed to listen to us?”
Rusty replied sarcastically, “see, my pop said there ain’t no more democracy.”
“From the mouths of babes.”
Brent Probinsky is a lawyer in Sarasota, Florida.