Friday, July 31, 2009

USEC Takes It to the Streets

Suffrage_parade-New_York_City-May_6_1912 We generally think protests and protesting are good things. They are ways of getting a message out and trying to bring attention to issues. We don’t even mind when a nuclear power plant is protested – after all, it’s a great opportunity to educate the protesters and even try a counter-protest. Seems so American, so small-d democratic.

Even when it threatens to go small-a anarchic, we would still tilt in favor of an unruly public gathering. This came to mind while we were reading and thinking about a story in Politico this morning that talked about the increased rowdiness at political town hall meetings.

It was Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) whose encounter with a disgruntled constituent brought the issue to the fore. But now, some pols are cancelling the meetings, others are ensuring there is a police presence if they do have one and getting escorted to their cars. It’s as if they’d never heard of a old fashioned free-for-all. But at least two politicians get it.

“Town halls are a favorite part of my job,” said Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.), a third-term congressman from St. Louis who noted that a “handful” of disruptions had taken place at his meetings. “It’s what I do. It’s what I will continue to do.”

“People have gotten fired up and all that, but I think that’s what makes town halls fun,” said [Rep. Tom] Perriello [D-Va.], a freshman who is among the most vulnerable Democrats in 2010. “I think that most of the time when we get out there, it’s a good chance for people to vent and offer their thoughts. It’s been good.”

“I enjoy it, and people have a chance to speak their mind,” he said.

But – but - hey! Where’s the nuclear energy in all this? Wait for it:

[Scott] Barker was one of dozens of USEC employees from Ohio who rode a bus overnight to attend a part news conference, part rally thrown by Rep. Jean Schmidt [R-Ohio], asking the White House to reverse a decision by the Department of Energy to reject USEC's application for a $2 billion loan guarantee the company says it needs to complete financing of the $3.5 billion [American Centrifuge] project.

News conference? Rally? What else?

The about 150 USEC workers at the event held signs reminding Obama that when he was a presidential candidate campaigning in Ohio last fall he promised support for the loan guarantee in a letter to Gov. Ted Strickland, a fellow Democrat.

"Obama, keep your promise to Ohio," read one. "Not a bailout ... just a loan," read another. "Ohio needs jobs. Save USEC," pleaded a third.

Holding signs with pointed political content? That’s a protest. (Let’s quickly note that the sign is wrong – a loan is different from a loan guarantee, but USEC says it needs the latter – from the administration - to get the former – from a bank. That’s admittedly a lot to fit on a sign.)

You can read about The American Centrifuge and what’s going on between USEC and DOE a few posts down. We have no dog in this race – even with Schmidt’s involvement, we hope partisan passions stay tamped down in favor of bipartisan job worries - but we can say: if USEC workers wants to paint up a few signs and listen to a few earnest speeches and stir up a little fuss to make their case, viva USEC workers!

Not USEC workers, but suffragettes, who favored unlicensed parades to make their stand. Note: they won.

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