What can one squeaky wheel accomplish? A lot



by Paige Wolf

Welcome to Action Mom, a space where I will share my experiences advocating for change locally and globally. Certainly, wanting to make the world a better and safer place is by no means parent-exclusive. But the responsibility of protecting tiny little lives—in my case a 4-year-old and an 8-year-old—often spurs some dramatic action.

As parents, we often see concerning things and think, “Someone should really do something about that.” I have a habit of volunteering to be that someone. As a result, sometimes I get stuff done.

The consequences of resolving to take action are a mixed bag. Sometimes your efforts are fruitless. And, even if you succeed, you are bound to ruffle a few feathers. But even if you can move the needle half an inch in the direction of progress, it’s worth it.

Over the past year, I have sought change in matters large and small. I learned that, sometimes, speaking about something in your own backyard can bring about a broader policy change.

For instance, when I noticed a lack of safety precautions for oil-based polyurethane floor finishing applied at my family’s local recreation center, my primary concern was making sure kids would no longer inhale those fumes. When I noticed what can best be described as the smell of a giant red exclamation mark, I immediately reached out to the city’s Parks and Recreation department—with emails revealed by a Google search—to see what was going on.

After the city investigated, it realized this was not just a problem at the location at hand; maintenance practices across the city’s rec centers needed reassessment. Later, a councilwoman told me that this sparked an official policy change.

Then there have been times when I can’t be sure my actions had a direct effect, but after seeing the desired result, I can feel satisfied that maybe my actions mattered. For example, after a trip to Harrisburg, I was appalled by the abundance of antiquated landfill-fodder plastic foam in the capitol building’s cafeteria. In fact, at that time, it was the only serving vessel available.

I decided to call this out with a blog post, a few phone calls and a series of angry tweets. A few months later, I learned they had switched over to much more eco-friendly containers and serveware. Was this just a fortuitous coincidence, or was something I did a catalyst for a container revolution? It really doesn’t matter. Action Moms aren’t striving for personal glory—we just want to see stuff get done.

And sometimes the journey is long, arduous and complicated. My petition to the school district for more transparency and accountability finally received a response after months of effort. But the information I was able to glean was just the tip of the iceberg. Fortunately, in this case, my action led to a connection to a coalition doing meaningful work to significantly improve this space. It helps when you don’t have to fight these battles alone!

We see you, Action Moms. We see you advocating for protected bike lanes, fighting to preserve historic buildings and crusading for stricter gun regulations, better food labeling, safer cosmetics, cleaner water and more commercial recycling. We see you signing petitions on your lunch breaks, marching in the streets with your babies strapped to your chest, calling your members of Congress.  

If you smell something, say something. Don’t just swallow the fumes. Tell a friend to say something, too, because you cannot underestimate the power of numbers. We are all in this together.

Paige Wolf is the author of “Spit That Out: The Overly Informed Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy Kids in the Age of Environmental Guilt.” Follow @paigewolf on Twitter.

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