As I walked the halls of the offices of our US Senators, I admired the sturdy woodwork, marble floors, ornate railings and lovely light fixtures of the Russell Senate Building.  The workings of a democracy should be housed in a beautiful setting, I thought.  Suddenly I was struck by the large bronze plaques posted at the entrance of  every office, each bearing the name of the Senator to whom the office “belonged”.   

“Those plaques look awfully permanent for a democracy,” I mused.

Someone else in my party asked, “did I pay for those?”

“Those names should be written in chalk;” noted another, “as in ‘Today’s Senator is…”

I was in DC this week on behalf of two national organizations to try to generate support from my Senators for climate change legislation.  The mission was to demonstrate to the Senators my and my organizations’ concern over the devastating impact global climate change is having on people, particularly poor women and children all over the world, including the US.  I believed so strongly in this mission, I took two days leave without pay to make the trip.  The appointments with the Senators’ offices were made by the organizations I represented, although I would be speaking to the Senators as their constituent.   For some reason, however, neither of my Senators nor most of the Senators of the other women who’d come from across the country on the same mission were able to meet face-to-face with their Senators.  I can understand why it is difficult to meet with a US Senator when they are visiting the state they represent.  But how far in advance does one need to make arrangements to meet her Senator in DC?  What difference does it make to meet with a Senator’s staff in DC versus the Senator’s staff back home? 

The staffers I met were prompt, mostly cordial and one of the three I met with actually took notes. But the staffers gave me the impression neither of our Senators wants to take a leadership role and do the right thing in the face of this global crisis. Neither of them at this time seems willing to explain to the people back home it is time to pay the piper for our disproportionate contribution to greenhouse gases and that Hoosiers can counteract incremental increases in our energy bills by using less electricity and fuel.  Instead, the staffers told me calls to the Senators run heavily against climate change legislation, which makes the current legislation untenable for the Senators.  This seems a convenient screen when one considers the current state of campaign finance in this country; there’s surely a lot of money flowing from the carbon-burning companies to help sway powerful decision makers as well as an ill-informed public.  Furthermore, today’s story on fake letters from respected organizations being produced by anti-climate change lobbyists gives me pause to question the validity and source of the anti-climate change calls the Senators’ staffers are purportedly fielding.

This, then, it seems, is the system that provides for the name of a senator to be cast in a large, permanent-looking bronze plaque just outside their office door.  The question is, does protecting the plaque’s position impede real leadership?