A Bad Law
Not long ago a tragedy occured in my town of Chattanooga, a tragedy that was felt across the nation, even around the world. Back in November of last year (2016) a school bus transporting children from Woodmore Elementery School crashed, ultimately being nearly cut in half by a tree, resulting in many injuries and 6 deaths.
Almost immediately people familiar with the story, and especially the affected families and friends within the Woodmore community, began calling out for seat belts on school buses. Actually, it was at Erlanger Hospital, where many of the wounded children were taken, that I heard grieving parents scream in anger, “That bus driver was wearing a seat belt, and he’s still alive! Why did he get to wear a seat belt and my baby didn’t?!!” When I heard those words I knew what was coming.
It wasn’t long before Tennessee State House Representative JoAnne Favors (D) of the 29th District put forth a bill that would require all school buses in the state to have seatbelts. The argument was that if the children from Woodmore had been wearing seatbelts, many would not have been hurt, and some may not have died. “How many more children have to die,” they would ask, “until we make seatbelts manditory?”
The problem, however, was that the only ones arguing for requiring seatbelts on all school buses were those who never drove a school bus or had to deal with all that takes place on one. When bus drivers were given the opportunity over social media to express their opinion, the overwhelming consensus was that seatbelts on a school bus was a bad, bad idea.
I Had to Act
The bill calling for requiring seatbelts on buses began to work its way through committee after committee, and it began to appear there was no stopping it. As a school bus drive I desperately wanted to state my case in front of one of these committees in Nashville, but how could I? Every time they had a meeting where the public could voice their opinions, we bus drivers were actually on the job. About the only thing I could do was resort to social media.
Early on, way back in December of 2016, I posted to Facebook a short video giving reasons why the seatbelt bill would be a bad law. That video got a little response, but nothing came of it.
Then, on April 28, on WRCB (Channel 3) I saw David Karnes interview Rep. JoAnne Favors and the attorney for the Woodmore families, C. Mark Warren. What they said ticked me off so much I had to do something right then, so I went directly to Facebook Live and recorded the following rant 😉
Click on the screen shot from my phone to watch the video.
The above Facebook Live video was quickly shared among the bus-driving community, and several suggested that I do more, even take off work and go to Nashville. The overwhelming proof that bus drivers do not want belts, and why, became evident in the thousands of views and hundreds of comments which continue to accumulate.
Taking It to the News Media
It is now the evening of May 5th, and David Karnes has yet to return my requests to counter Rep. Favors’ claims on his April 28th television program. Needless to say, especially with the urging of others, I made calls to other news stations in our area, expressing my belief that bus drivers were not getting a fair deal – we were not being able to share our side of this issue… and WE were the ones who were going to have to deal with the results of its implimentation!
At first I called the news room of WDEF (Channel 12). The gentleman I spoke with there assured me that nothing would come of Favor’s bill, so there was no need for me to share my thoughts. Well, then… la ti da.
Then, undeterred, I called WTVC (Channel 9). The lady I spoke with, unlike the gentleman at Channel 12, thought what I was saying sounded worth investigating. She told me that what I was saying was definitely interesting, and with the programming director listening in she informed me that a reporter would get back with me on Monday. She asked, “Would you have any problem talking on camera?”
“Heck, no!” I replied. “I’d be happy to talk on camera!” I mean, what kind of question was that? I then referred her to my Facebook page.
Monday came around, but no one called; I figured nothing would come of my call. Then on Tuesday morning, the very day on which another vote was to take place in another committee in Nashville, a reporter called me and set up an interview.
From around 10:30 to 11:30a.m. I sat in front of a TV camera and camera man, a reporter, and a program director. For a whole hour I was given the chance to respond to some very pointed questions and give my thoughts on the whole seatbelt issue.
The rest of the morning and afternoon, even until the evening, I felt sick. What worried me was the fact that I was a employee of the company that had been sued over the deaths and injuries resulting from the Woodmore crash. Going back to November of last year we had been instructed to avoid interviews with the media. But this was different, for I was acting as nothing more than a bus driver in Tennessee who was concerned about a possible bad law. I didn’t know how the news media would edit my interview, and all I could think of was how much trouble I could be in on Wednesday.
However, I wasn’t fired! The following video will show that the resulting editing was not only fair, but quite favorable to my position.
The Point of This Post
Wednesday morning I went in to work, not knowing what to expect. What I got were “high fives” and multiple joking requests for my autograph. After a few humorous requests I held up the sign-in sheet where all drivers are to sign their names each morning and said, “Now that I’m famous, all of these sign-in sheets will be worth money, so don’t throw them away.” Ha!
Then, as I was standing there, an older woman, a driver of a special needs school bus (a small bus), walked up to me and began to talk.
“Mr. Baker, I need to tell you something.”
“OK,” I said. Now, keep in mind I had never, not once, spoken with this woman ever before.
“This is me…” she pointed to herself, “…so this is me talking…”
“OK,” was my response, again.
“You know,” she began, “I have never really cared very much for you…”
What was I supposed to say? How was I supposed to respond? Like I said, I had never even spoken with this lady, so what had I done to offend her? Anyway, she continued…
“But I want you to know that I respect what you did…what you said on TV. What you did was courageous, and what you said on our behalf as drivers is very much appreciated.”
Well, now! I got smacked in the face and complimented all at the same time!
Then, in regard to my concern that the management of the company could fire me for being interviewed on television, she matter-of-factly assured me, “And if those people in the office have a problem with what you’ve done, then I will go down there with you and tell them to their face they can kiss your a**, and my a**, too!”
With raised eyebrows and a nod of my head all I could say in response was, “”Well, uh, thanks…I appreciate it.”
When a man’s ways please the LORD, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him. – Proverbs 16:7
All I could think about was how that when we stand up for what is right, even those who hate us may find some reason to respect us. That was the only way I could explain why this older woman who “never really cared much” for me would put her own “a**” on the line.
Believe it or not, JoAnne Favors pulled the bill! CLICK HERE for the story.
Did my actions have anything to do with it? Honestly, I’d like to think so.
This afternoon, the lady who I mentioned earlier stopped by my car window as I was leaving work. She asked, “So, are you proud of yourself?”
“Well, to be honest,” I began, “I’d like to think I had a part in what happened.”
“I’m sure you did,” she said.
So, yeah, it feels good to have accomplished something…maybe. But it feels better to be respected,