When I told friends and family that I was heading to Washington DC with my 4 year old daughter they asked me if I lost my mind. I knew what they were generally concerned about, how is a four year old going to stay interested in a trip like this. I worried about it but only briefly; my daughter loves to go places with me. I work full-time and she goes to daycare all day but other than that she goes with me everywhere I go, even the gym (she loves the playroom there).
Why would a trip to Washington DC to speak to Senators about real chemical reform be any different?
Why I went to Washington
I went to D.C. as a part of Seventh Generation’s “Toxin Freedom Fighters” campaign, where they and public health groups like Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families are calling on Congress to pass real reform of our toxic chemical laws.
I worry about chemical exposure for my children and their friends. I keep my kids’ chemical exposure as low as I can at home but I also know there is a world out there that I do not control. I want to see chemical reform that makes a real impact so children are protected everywhere they go so I felt bringing my daughter was important.
The fact that we were delivering a petition excited us that it was not just our voices we were bringing to Washington D.C. but many other parents, aunt, uncles, grandparents, and other concerned people. I really felt like we were representing not just our family’s concerns but those of over 100,000 other families.
Involving my daughter in advocacy
In preparation for our trip I showed my daughter pictures of the Senators I knew we were going to meet including our own Senator Cory Booker. I explained to my daughter that I met him a long time ago before he was mayor of the city down the road. I told her what we were going there to do, to deliver a petition that thousands of people had signed (I could have said billions, she just knew it was a big number).
I tried to explain to my daughter about chemicals and chemical reform in the way an almost 5-year-old could understand. What she basically boiled it down to is there are some chemicals that can make us sick and she does not want to get sick.
She drew a picture to give to Senator Booker that was a picture of her family and she told me to write that she did not want her family to get sick. Here is what it looked like.
Our day “on the mountain”
Our day “on the mountain” as she called it (she must have heard me say “on the hill”) started out with breakfast with our family for the day and then headed to a press conference. From there we headed out with our red wagon of petitions, with the four kids taking turns pulling it and basically going door to door to offices to meet with Senators, talking about the reform we wanted to see (not what was currently proposed) and taking pictures with them.
My daughter and I had some meaningful conversations with Senators and staffers about reform and its importance to us. Each family present approached chemical reform with the same enthusiastic interest as the two of us but some have been more affected than us.
The entire day she was dressed as a superhero because she was there to help save other kids from harmful chemicals, and my princess-loving girl loved it. She enjoyed meeting everyone and even went back to school the next day and made a presentation to her Pre-K class about what she did and why she was there.
Several times since our day in DC she has asked me when we were going back. She asked if we can go again soon, and I promised her I would take her soon. I took her with me to rally in our state capitol last week and she stood on the stage with me while I made my speech and she sat on my shoulders and clapped for other speakers.
Easy ways to involve your children in advocacy efforts
So if you have young kids and you think that telling your Senator, Representative, or state legislators you want to see real chemical reform is too hard to do, I can assure you that it does not have to be.
Here are three ways you can involve your kids in things that matter:
- Take them to meet your state or federal representatives. You do not have to go to their office in DC; check their website and see when they have office hours in your home state and visit them there. Bring your kids; it will make an impression on everyone (your kids included). Here is the key message to deliver to your elected leaders about the need for real chemical reform.
- Let your kids draw a picture about something that matters to your family. Place that picture with a letter you write about the issues you care about. You do not need to be an expert on the matter to tell them you care.
- Make a short video with your kids and send it to your representative about the issue. If they can see the issue from your local perspective it will make a huge impact.
Involving your kids in this process will remind them that they need to speak up about things that matter to them.