09/11/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

When Courage And Conscience Collide

I was raised on capitalism and the Wall Street Journal. In my family, the Reagans had an almost royal status -- to watch them dance, with Nancy in her red dress, gave me the feeling, as a child, that I was watching some magnificent combination of Frank Sinatra and a foreign prince with his graceful companion on his arm.

And I trusted that the political values that my family had instilled in me would serve me well.

And then one of my children got sick. With a blood condition that no one could pronounce and a pediatric mandate requiring immediate enrollment at a Children's Hospital. And I awoke.

Suddenly, everywhere I turned, there were sick children. Children with diabetes, cancer, obesity, asthma and allergies. What had happened?

As headlines in the paper warned me of environmental dangers, I began to pay attention. What was in the food? Wasn't organics a left-leaning thing? And what about the plastics and the baby bottles and the vaccines? Should I worry? Doesn't our system protect us from these dangers?

And without realizing it, an internal battle began.

I lay awake at night after conversations with my father who dismissed my concerns and growing awareness of our system's shortcomings.

I had been raised to support the system, to believe in it, and certainly to never speak out. Activism was something that "radicals" did, certainly not conservative, soccer moms.

But I couldn't shake the internal dialogue. So armed with an MBA in finance and my four children, I began to investigate the expanding role that corporations had taken in our system. And I was stunned.

There were new insecticidal toxins in crops to increase profitability for the world's largest agrichemical corporation, chemicals engineered into our children's milk to enhance the profitability of the dairy industry, colors allowed in their snack packs that had been banned by government agencies around the world. How had we ignored the health risks associated with capitalism's profits?

As I struggled with the responsibility in learning this information, I couldn't unlearn it, and I realized that it was now my responsibility to act.

And I reluctantly stepped forward.

With the words of another crusader in hand, I found my voice: "Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls." (Robert F. Kennedy).

I launched AllergyKids to give parents the tools to protect the 1 in 3 American children that now has allergies, autism, ADHD or asthma, I volunteered to serve on the advisory panel for the Show of Hands Campaign and other organizations, and I learned that one mom can make a difference.

We must not be daunted by the enormity of the task at hand, but dare to dream that it is possible to affect this change. In doing so, we will be inspired by hope and find the courage and capacity to act. Together.

Robyn O'Brien is the founder of, an organization designed to protect the 1 in 3 American children with allergies, asthma, ADHD or autism. Robyn has appeared on CNN, Good Morning American and in the New York Times as "food's Erin Brockovich". She lives in Boulder, CO with her husband and four children.