Fulfilling our mission as advocates for children

Ellie Goldberg, VP Legislation, Massachusetts PTA
www.masspta.org www.healthy-kids.info

(Photos: Ellie Goldberg with Rep. Peter Koutoujian, House Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health and Ellie with Maureen Ferris, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Legislative Children's Caucus.)

If you belong to PTA, I know you believe as I do that PTA members can and must participate in public policy making. We belong to PTA because it supports us in advocacy and lobbying efforts to mold local, state and national programs, policies, and priorities on behalf of children, schools, and communities.

What does the Massachusetts VP of Legislation do? What can PTA members do?

As VP of Legislation for Massachusetts PTA my role is to raise awareness of PTA issues and positions among PTA members, policy makers and the public. At times, I am a spokesperson on national and Massachusetts PTA priority issues, giving testimony at hearings and joining policy making committees on behalf of the PTA.

I keep informed on legislative activities at the state and national level, I attend national meetings and conferences, and I participate in national legislative and policy conference calls. Then I send out the e-newsletter Massachusetts PTA Takes Action to keep you informed about the news and resources you need to play a leadership role in making children a high priority in your community and at the state and national levels.

I also send out Action Alerts. These are usually urgent appeals for action at critical times in the legislation and budget-making process. I hope you will write letters or make phone calls to state and national legislators, legislative committees, and news editors. Usually I can provide a draft, template or script to make it easy for you. These Action Alerts are an important way to make the PTA voice count.

The real key to public advocacy is developing and maintaining relationships with policy makers throughout the year. I encourage you to build strong relationships with your policy makers at the local, state and federal level. Get to know your legislators and their staff. Write letters to the editor about PTA priority issues. Increase the visibility of the PTA and promote PTA's advocacy agenda among the public and policy makers.

Do you have a passion? I am most passionate about environmental health and safety, pollution prevention, health security, asthma and other chronic health conditions, and school indoor air quality issues.

There are many other health promotion, education, nutrition, community safety and parent involvement activities that need your attention and involvement. Consider serving as the PTA liaison to or as a member of public policy committees and groups organized to promote the issues you care about.

Most important, think of yourself as a resource to your local PTA, to your legislators, their staff people, and other community policy makers. You are their eyes and ears at the local level. Let them know your personal, school and community concerns, interests and needs.

Also seek out local community partners and organizations such as the League of Women Voters, your district's Parent Advisory Committee for Special Education, Stand for Children, and other groups working to promote the interests of children and to enhance pride in the schools and community.

There is always plenty of room for new ideas! We are most powerful and effective when we work together. Please contact me at vplegislation@masspta.org.

I look forward to hearing from you.



The Legacy of Rachel Carson 
b. May 27, 1907 – d. April 14, 1964

Ellie Goldberg, M.Ed., Newton, Massachusetts www.healthy-kids.info

Rachel Carson's Centennial Year (2007) is a golden opportunity to introduce Rachel Carson and her book, Silent Spring, to a new generation of students, citizens, journalists, opinion leaders, and policy makers. A national awareness of Rachel Carson's life and legacy can stimulate broader public engagement in efforts to stop the damage caused by the unbridled chemical industry and to integrate and align public policy with Rachel Carson's values.

In 1962, Silent Spring was a call for sanity, common sense, public integrity, health security and human rights from a scientist who catalyzed a wave of such political urgency that it generated a powerful "environmental movement."

It was Rachel Carson's reverence for life and sense of responsibility that motivated her to write Silent Spring (1962). Al Gore wrote in his introduction to the 40th anniversary printing, "…without this book, the environmental movement might have been long delayed or never have developed at all…"

As a master storyteller, Carson exposed the extensive harm caused by the reckless use of modern chemicals and eloquently explained the intimate connection between our health and the quality of our environment. To a public dazzled by chemical industry marketing and government complicity, Silent Spring detailed the assault on the essential elements that sustain life: clean air, clean water, and safe food.

Within a few years of its publication, in spite of an orchestrated chemical industry campaign to discredit her work, an enlightened public and their elected leaders led to the creation of the US EPA, the ban on DDT, and environment regulations such as the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, laws being systematically undermined today.

Silent Spring is as relevant today as in 1962.

Rachel Carson Was Right: Prevention is the Imperative

While all of Carson's books and other writings stand the test of time, Silent Spring deserves special focus because it is a Call to Action. As the evidence of harm continues to grow, Rachel Carson tells a story that gives citizens a clear rubric of values for evaluating public policies and institutional practices in communities now suffering from environmentally induced epidemics of asthma, autism, cancer, and the long list of acute and chronic illnesses and development disorders.

"What Would Rachel Say?" sets a standard for legislators, institutions, corporations, public agencies and citizens.

The National Resource Defense Council calls Silent Spring one of the landmark books of the 20th century and points out how Rachel Carson faced overwhelming difficulties, illness and adversity, and in spite of an orchestrated chemical industry campaign to discredit her work, "rose like a gladiator…motivated by her unabashed love of nature and sense of responsibility."

Like a "Sentinel Lion," Rachel Carson had the courage, the confidence, the reverence for life, and the sense of responsibility to speak out during a period of widespread pesticide abuse and environmental degradation. Silent Spring still has the transformational power to be the touchstone for a new wave of social consciousness and political urgency. 

Rachel Carson inspires us to think of ourselves, not as whistleblowers, troublemakers, or canaries in the mine, but as guardians, steadfast sentries, and defenders of our community against the decisions that allow pollution to contaminate our air, water and food. We can picture ourselves as the sentinel or guardian lion, the universal symbol of protection, alone or in pairs, at the entrances of cities, buildings, gates, bridges, museums -- guarding the treasures of our community. We are the sentries, gladiators, the "guardian at the gate," the sentinel lions working to inform and engage citizens in the work of aligning local practices with the Precautionary Principle and sustainability standards.

The image of the "Sentinel Lion" will help reframe (and reclaim) the goal of environmental advocacy from simple consumer activities, often limited to changing light bulbs, buying "green," and recycling, to greater citizen engagement at all levels working for government and corporate transparency and accountability.[1] The goal is to foster a culture of Sentinel Lions who, like Rachel Carson, are motivated to take responsibility for the health of their communities and to work for sustained political and cultural change that prioritizes public health.

[1] Confronting Consumption, Edited by Thomas Princen, Michael Maniates, KenConca, MIT Press, 2002.