Sunday, January 11, 2015

Champion for Change – How To Be An Activist + Educated Consumer

Written for Healthy Indoors Magazine - February 2014

January was an intense month for me. My Rogue Green group co-hosted a screening of the documentary Unacceptable Levels which is featured in this issue of Healthy Indoor Environments Magazine. I saw Gary Hirshberg, Chairman of Stonyfield Organic and Just Label It speak at an ASU Global Institute of Sustainability event about organic farming, GMO’s and the innovative things their company is doing to make a difference. My best friend Mara discovered that the water in her city has some high levels of various carcinogens. I also had a strange run in with a random neighbor who I caught in my front yard, spraying weed killer on our clover. I don’t think that neighbor will ever step foot in my yard again…

Technology brings knowledge. Sometimes that knowledge can completely freak us out and make us feel helpless. The problems are so big, yet we’re just one person. What can I possibly do to create positive change? Well I’m here to tell you- you can do a LOT.

I remember the feeling of helplessness the deeper and deeper I delved into environmental issues, both inside and outside my home. I was a young, new mom at the time, and though I’d always felt like I was a conscious consumer, my head was reeling with information.

And then my mama bear came out. I got angry. Angry in a positive, protective way. Angry in a lemons to lemonade kind of way. Little did I know at the time that this feeling, attitude and tenacity would change my path and being forever.

I was hell bent on creating positive change, not only for me and my family, but for all families and future generations too.

Being a conscious consumer isn’t always easy. Nor is being an activist. When you’re stirring a big pot of corruption and greed, the chances are pretty good that you’re bound to get scratched off some holiday card lists and piss some people off. That’s okay though. In the great words of Mahatma Gandhi, “You may never know what results come of your actions, but if you do nothing, there will be no results.” I’m a results driven kind of person. You can be too.

At this point in my life and career, I have some good positive wins under my belt. I’ve helped save a beautiful, large ficus tree that our city was going to remove because it was in the middle of where a new sidewalk was supposed to go. I organize our annual PARK(ing) Day event to promote the importance of green, public space in our urban core.  I’ve fought to stop bad development (and supported the good). I’ve promoted bike share, sustainability initiatives and have pushed my city to step up their recycling program to include multi-family housing and commercial business. Sometimes though, activism takes place more behind the scenes, under the radar in the grand scheme of things, but can have a very big and positive impact.

I’ll share with you one of my favorites. There is a large toxic plume underneath a portion of Phoenix, Arizona. It is a Superfund Site. Many people who live here are unaware that it even exists.
From the Region 9 EPA website:

The Motorola, Inc. (52nd Street Plant) Superfund Site (Motorola 52nd Street Site) was added to the National Priorities List (NPL) in 1989. The former Motorola 52nd Street Plant (now operated by ON Semiconductor) is a 90-acre semiconductor manufacturing plant located on McDowell Road, in a residential and commercial area. In 1982, Motorola discovered that a 1,1,1-trichloroethane (1,1,1-TCA) underground storage tank was leaking at their facility. Further investigations determined that the soil and groundwater is contaminated with a variety of chlorinated solvents which are volatile organic compounds (VOC) that were used in Motorola's semiconductor manufacturing operations. Motorola is conducting investigations and cleanup activities of this contamination.

In June of 2012, I found out from a reporter friend who covers environmental stories that the Balsz Elementary School District Board was going to vote on allowing water from the Motorola treatment facility to be piped under an elementary school, which would then discharge into a canal behind the playground that isn’t a source of drinking water. She informed me that the majority of school board members were in favor of the proposal, which would pay the district $20,000 per year. A very small price to pay for the health and well-being of hundreds of students in my opinion, and something that needed to be quickly stopped.

Many of the families whose children could be impacted probably never even found out what was going on, as meeting times and locations were not announced until the last minute and it was the beginning of the summer break. I was irate.

As soon as the small story broke in our local newspaper, I created a Facebook event and gave everyone the names, emails and phone numbers of the school board members, urging the public to call and write to let them know our children’s health is not for sale. I contacted the media to tell them what was happening. I organized to have as many people as possible attend the school board meeting to voice opposition.

We packed the room that evening and several news cameras were in attendance too. The Balsz Elementary School Board members ultimately rejected the proposition, mainly I believe due to the public outcry and media attention. Collectively, we made a difference. You can read about the story and watch the video HERE.

These atrocities and acts of environmental injustice happen all over our world on a daily basis. I wanted to share the above story to illustrate how you can get involved to do something about it.
Every day, we’re given numerous choices to be conscious consumers and community activists – on both a small and large scale. Our political votes are always important, but never forget that we vote with our dollars too. From the food we buy, to the products we use in our homes and on our bodies; every decision we make can have an impact. We all have the ability to help shape our schools, our workplaces and our communities.

Here are some tools for you to educate yourself, get involved and help create positive change.

Get Educated, Get Involved, Get Inspired

·         Watch a documentary.
·         Visit Moms Clean Air Force.
·         Read some inspiring quotes.

While I was working on this story, my 7 year old daughter Zoe asked me what I was writing about. We ended up having a lengthy conversation about why I buy organic food whenever possible and try to keep as many chemicals out of our house as I can. Kids are great at connecting the dots and simplifying the issue. I was explaining how pesticides are neurotoxins, and yet they’re used on many foods and products. Zoe said “If they know it’s poisonous, why would they still give it to kids?” This is a tough question to answer as a mom…

Zoe asked if she could be involved somehow with this article. We ended up collaborating on an essay, then I videotaped her reading it. You can watch it HERE.

Together we CAN create positive change.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It's not.”
― Dr. SeussThe Lorax

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