March 22, 2012
When the New York Times ran a picture of my daughter Maya last week under a snarky headline, it changed something for me. I’ve been a public interest advocate for 12 years for a range of important causes, but this was about my family, and felt, well, personal.
Ok, so it took me a while to get the “personal is political” thing. The comments picked up on the river of condescension flowing through the article (which used words like “paranoid” and was led by a large image of a toddler smiling through a glass bubblehead in a “hazmat onesie,” whatever that is).
Some folks suggested I was mentally ill for trying to protect Maya from the sea of toxic chemicals now commonly found in all of our bodies. Many confused germs (not so bad, really) with toxics (bad, really). And others just wanted to sneer at the overprotective helicopter moms in the article, you know, the ones who stay up late making their own deodorant out of spit and eco-sealing wax.
I replied to some of their startling insights on Fark and other places where the piece was picked up, trying to take back some of my dignity. After all, I gave the reporter a lot of the references and other material for the story, but I was the one with the ridiculous (but gorgeous, btw) Amish bassinet and the only dad in the article had “done the research” and was skeptical about the risks. (Thanks, Mary Brune, for correcting his ignorance on the science, pointing out the other signs of sexism in the piece and being ticked off right along with me.)
Frankly, I’ve been called far worse names. But this was different. It cut right to my sense of fairness.
Like all parents, I’m just trying to use what I know to protect my family from harm. Like some parents, I have time to do the research on what might be safe, and what is not. And like not too many parents, I’ve had a front row seat for the past 12 years on the spectacle of bought-and-paid-for federal agencies, and weak and backwards looking laws (most of which haven’t been updated since the 1970s). I’ve also had some run-ins with the phalanxes of corporate lobbyists that swarm Washington, always with your health and safety in mind. Sometimes we win, but mostly, they do.
Even with all that, I still make mistakes, and find out that something in my home is truly awful for us. Mostly after the fact.
In short, the system’s rigged. And parents who try to do something to change things are not neurotic: they are trying to make the world better. Safer. Healthier. For their children and all the ones who come after them.
I hope to take my sense of outrage, and instead of making deodorant, make this. Lists of items I found that I like. Little bits and bobs of decent ideas about how to make it work. Shout-outs to good companies and developments. A lifeline to the parents and other people who know I’m not crazy to dream about, and when I can try to make, a better world.
Hope you’ll join me.
My Theory of Change
For the past 12 years, I’ve worked in and out of Washington, DC, on a variety of public interest causes as an advocate, lawyer, and even (gasp!) a lobbyist for the people.
I’ve worked on safety and health disasters, such as the Ford-Firestone rollover debacle; on environmental issues, including vehicle fuel economy and chemical regulation; on consumer and child safety issues, like better rules for the Consumer Product Safety Commission; and on consumer checkbook issues, like auto dealer fraud and the misuse of the fine print in credit card contracts.
I’ve also worked on money in politics, including on the correct, but losing, side of the Citizens United case. I’ve seen first-hand how concentrated corporate interests trump the public interest, but I’ve also been there when the political system makes way for positive change that will improve people’s health and lives.
So here’s what I’ve noticed: change basically happens when highly motivated people care so much about something, and make such a powerful public argument to protect something, that they basically embarrass the (usually corporate) interests on the other side into a critical concession or two. (Litigation and new rules help, too, but those are usually decisions made by other people.)
To raise the price-tag for corporate indifference to public health and environmental damage, public notice — and the level and accuracy of information on choices — matters enormously. Buying habits matter too, since that’s the language companies really understand. If you buy this theory of change, you can either become an activist, which is really cool, or you can become a more conscious and deliberate consumer, which is also cool. Even better, you can pick something you care about and do both.
The goal of my blog is to inform, entertain and find others who share my sense of injustice. To showcase the choices we’ve made (or are deciding to make), and think about what goes into them: all the knowns and unknowns, and at least some of the costs. To ask hard questions about how. And to illustrate the craziness of living in a world of ample choices, but too few really great ones.
Laura MacCleery is a non-profit lawyer, mom and squeaky wheel in search of a spoke. She is currently Chief Regulatory Affairs Attorney for Center for Science in the Public Interest, a leading health and food organization (the opinions expressed on this blog on her own). She was the Director of Government Relations at the Center for Reproductive Rights in its DC office from 2009 to 2012. Prior to that, Laura was the Deputy Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, where she oversaw its work on campaign finance reform, worked on the Citizens United litigation, and co-taught a seminar on public policy advocacy.
Previously, she worked for more than eight years at Public Citizen, most recently as Director of Congress Watch. During her years at Public Citizen, she managed legislative and issue campaigns on issues including government accountability, access to courts, campaign finance reform, lobbying and ethics reform, transportation and child safety and vehicle fuel economy.
She has worked on nearly 70 filings of comments with regulatory agencies on health and safety rules; been involved in more than a dozen legal challenges to federal rules, including four that ended in the Supreme Court; filed testimony in Congress dozens of times; and written or overseen more than 20 major reports on health, safety, consumer financial and environmental issues.
She was a 2009 member of Eyebeam’s College of Tactical Culture, studying the use and effectiveness of new media in securing political change. She has published op-eds in periodicals including Roll Call, The Boston Globe, and Politico; as well as in online venues such as The Hill, Huffington Post, and The Nation and has appeared on Fox News, CSPAN-2 and numerous local television and radio programs.
Laura graduated from Stanford Law School in 1999, and was a 1994 graduate of the University of Virginia. She loves Bob Dylan, making jewelry, and, though she freely admits it is odd, disputes over regulatory cost-benefit analysis.