As the Speaker of the Maine House, I learned how to manage difficult political situations. But today, as the mom of a busy 14 month-old, I now understand that parents must deal every day with challenging political situations and choices -- some nearly as tricky as those elected officials face. Who knew the issue of protecting my family from toxic chemicals would be equally political?
Moms deal with the day-to-day negotiating with a child about what to eat. They divide up household and parenting tasks with spouses and families. They carefully steer through the conversations with friends and relatives about parenting styles. They make decisions about how to discipline their kids, and they manage the nearly impossible task of balancing work and home life.
I understood in political life that moms were among the best spokespeople when it came to convincing a state house committee to pass a bill. And they were almost always effective and to the point when it came to telling their representative what was on their mind.
No politician wants to be on the wrong side of moms when it comes to lobbying for greater protections for their kids. The more I spend time with fellow moms, and as the maternal instinct has kicked in for me, I realize there is nothing more powerful on a mom on a mission -- especially a mission to protect her family.
That is exactly what has motivated the movement to put common sense limits on toxic chemicals and join next week's National Stroller Brigade. The presence of unregulated toxic chemicals in our food, consumer products, air, and water -- and the dangers those chemicals pose, particularly to children -- have galvanized mothers across the country, even those who normally avoid political causes.
Toxic chemicals are virtually unregulated in this country. The only significant law to protect consumers from toxics hasn't been updated since the Ford Administration. In the meantime, use of chemicals in consumer products -- and families' exposure to those chemicals -- has increased tremendously. In order to monitor the safety of the products in the average American home, consumers would have to navigate an impossible maze of chemical names, limited ingredient disclosure, and mixed information.
As a new mom trying to search for safe products for my baby, I quickly learned that there are no labels that tell you what is safe and what could be dangerous for your baby. From nursing pillows and car seats laden with toxic flame retardants, food cans lined with the endocrine disruptor BPA, and baby shampoo that contains formaldehyde -- parents quickly learn that what should be safe often is not. They also learn that -- despite the endless rhetoric from huge corporations about 'regulation' -- there is no current law that requires companies to perform even the most basic safety testing of the chemicals used in common household products.
Meanwhile, alarming health trends are on the rise. Learning and developmental disabilities, infertility, and childhood and young adult cancers are on the rise. Some are even calling puberty at ten the new "normal." And numerous studies link these trends to environmental factors such as chemical exposure.
Tired of navigating this chemical laden maze, moms have taken to the streets to tell Congress they are sick of the status quo. Contrary to recent reporting by the New York Times, which portrayed this issue as a small group of "wealthy", "neurotic" women, toxic chemicals are making moms across the political and democratic spectrum vocal and politically active.
In the last six months, Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families has coordinated over 30 mom-led "stroller brigades" in cities across the country. Moms met in local parks with their kids in tow, made signs, spoke out, and wrote letters to their Senators asking Congress to pass Senator Frank Lautenberg's Safe Chemicals Act.
In addition, celebrity moms like Jessica Alba are getting political about health and environmental issues. Alba became Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families' spokesperson last year, and has since launched The Honest Co., a new business dedicated to non-toxic products for kids.
The political potency of moms and the success of the "stroller brigades" has inspired us to pull together an event in Washington D.C. On May 22nd, the National Stroller Brigade will feature moms, cancer survivors and other health-affected leaders in a march on Washington demanding passage of the Safe Chemicals Act.
We know that this country is on the wrong track when it comes to our health. Toxic chemicals are only one piece of the equation, but they are the piece we can do something about today. Please join us for this big event to show Congress that whether you're a mom, young adult, nurse or cancer survivor -- or you've got one in your family -- you are fired up and demanding action.
These days, political leaders too often seem paralyzed by our broken political system. Many Americans have lost faith in the ability of people to make change. But I still have faith that leaders on both sides of the aisle will recognize that following the lead of America's moms only makes sense. The health of our kids and families depends on it.