Souvenirs from the April 1, 2009 Amend the CPSIA rally
The cherry blossoms fluttered and the gray skies threatened rain while hundreds of folks gathered to speak with reason, common sense, and determination against the well-intentioned but gone-all-wrong CPSIA in Washington on April 1st, and thousands more watched by webcast. My daughter and I felt lucky to be at the rally (especially after our GPS quit working, we missed our freeway exit, and then got lost again looking for the entrance to the parking garage at Union Station).
I hope I managed to do right by children and their books.
As will surprise no one who has known me since my grade school days, I talked too long. (When Rick Woldenberg stood up and started inching toward me I knew I'd better wrap up quickly - sorry Rick!) But I had to speak for so many - for used booksellers, for libraries, for schools and homeschoolers, for childcare centers, for literacy groups, for historians and social scientists, for art and knowledge, and of course for children - that it was pretty much impossible to cram everyone's messages into a mere four minutes. Heck, just listing all those interested parties takes almost four minutes. But I do apologize if I trod on anyone else's time, because all our messages are important.
Overall, the rally left me very encouraged. I lent my copy of the speaker schedule to a congressional staffer and realized too late that I'd never gotten it back, but there were speakers from many of the businesses, large and (mostly) small, hurt by the over-reaching provisions of this law, experts in risk management and material science, homeschoolers with their kids, an eloquent six-year-old promising not to eat his dirt bike, and a host of senators and representatives (all Republican, which annoyed me as a Democrat). Speaker after speaker was calm and reasonable, well-spoken, and utterly compelling. I was disappointed and confused that no one from ALA or the American Association of Publishers showed up, and I'm still wondering why not. We do all have to pull together for one another and not just fight this law piece by piece because one way or another we all pay for it - and if we're going to be putting out that much money in the mission of protecting kids from lead, I can think of much, much better ways to spend it.
Over and over, the congressmen acknowledged the unintended consequences of the bill they voted for, told us they heard us and understood, spoke of common sense and making things right. I had to leave before things wrapped up to make my scheduled appointment with Senator Arlen Specter's legislative staffer, but I felt optimistic, and even a teeny bit like my march on Washington had probably been unnecessary, that everything would be fixed before long.
That feeling lasted long enough for me to find my way from HVC201 to a small conference room in Specter's office, where my daughter and I had a long discussion with a well-informed staffer who listened carefully to our concerns - but then told us frankly that the law was unlikely to be changed. Any law is hard to reverse once it's been implemented, she said, and their office was hearing from folks on both sides.
"Really?" I said. "Who on the other side are you hearing from? Because I've gone door-to-door in a middle-class neighborhood full of NPR-listening moms with advanced degrees, I've waylaid dozens of "safety moms" at a nearby upscale mall, and I've chatted up teachers, librarians, children's nonprofit staffers, doctors and nurses, and other mental health professionals (in other words, the people most likely to know about and/or care about CPSIA) - and not one of them had even heard of this law. And after I explained to them what the law covers and how it affects things like consignment and thrift stores, garage sales, charitable donations, children's books at the library, bicycles, and the availability and price of their favorite consumer goods for their kids, their reactions ran the gamut from 'That's insane!' to 'They'll never enforce it.' Not one thought the law was a good idea. So I'm very curious about who these folks are on the other side."
She hemmed and hawed and finally half-admitted it was the consumer groups. But Senator Specter does not represent the consumer groups. He represents me and the ordinary people like me who care about our kids but who have to live in the real world. And there's not much about this law that works in the real world.
I was very, very pleased to see that Specter voted for the DeMint amendment when it came up for a vote the next day, and also pleased that his staffer sent me an email about his vote (I'd already called his office to thank him and her). I doubt that my arguments alone were responsible for that vote, but I think I may have at least nudged him in that direction.
Senator Casey's staffer had accidentally double-booked my time slot, so I presented my case as we scurried from one office to another. She too listened well, though seemed less well-informed (trotting out my least favorite reassurance - "I don't think they'll enforce the law against books"). She was also skeptical that the law would be changed, and more or less said that businesses that make kids' products will just have to adapt to the realities of the law as they get sorted out in the next year or so.
Casey voted against the DeMint amendment the next day. I called to express my disappointment.
While I'm on my soapbox again (it takes so little to get me going), I'm going to remind Congress and the CPSC that selective enforcement is a very, very bad idea. To paraphrase Dr. Seuss's Horton the Elephant, you have to "Say what you mean and mean what you say." Every effective parent quickly figures out that empty threats get you in deep doo-doo faster than you can say PB&J. If the CPSC enforces the CPSIA only when they feel like it, no one will have respect for the rule of law - any law - and no one will feel safer as a result of the CPSIA because the promises behind it are hollow or unpredictable.
My representative in the House, Tim Murphy, was unavailable to meet with me, but I have spoken with his legislative aide on the phone. Murphy, himself a clinical psychologist and author of parenting books, supported the CPSIA wholeheartedly (even wanted to extend the provisions to pet products). I'll keep working on him.
Later I joined the two Oregon delegates (a whole group of crafters and small businesses pooled resources to send two spokeswomen) and the compliance director for Alex Toys (which I remember as excellent products from my own kids' younger days) in meeting with a representative from Oregon, Kurt Schrader, who generously let all of us present our cases and asked good questions. He seemed receptive and open to at least voting for one of the amendment bills.
The final NJ congressman we tried to visit was unavailable, but we all left materials for him.
I've put the slightly revised 2-page handout that I left for my congressmen on scribd.com, a file-sharing site. Anyone who cares to can print it out or email attached copies of my file to their congressmen or the media freely. You can access the document here. If you like it, please mark it as a favorite; I think that helps it get a higher ranking so that it has a better chance of being a featured document and getting a wider audience.
Soon I hope to post a longer version of the handout with the citations for my facts that you can use to back up your points if asked, as well as a shorter one page summary.
Since I got home, I've been asking myself, "What next?" I don't really know the answer. Plugging away with the same approaches may ultimately get results, but so much is teetering on the edge now that I'm not sure we can afford just to be patient and doggedly persistent. The rally was amazing and seemed so successful to me, but the press coverage has hardly been overwhelming. The public remains largely ignorant or misinformed. I'd like to believe that non-enforcement, the "solution" that both the CPSC and Congress keep pushing for small businesses, libraries, and all those hit by "unintended consequences" will work, but I just can't.
Any great ideas out there? Or half baked ones? Or silly Seussian ones?
Courage is not my middle name, and Politics is not my last. I have never before gone to Washington to fight for anything I believed in, but I'm so glad I did this time. I'd like to thank Rick Woldenberg and all the folks who put together this rally and the amendthecpsia website. I'd also like to thank Walter Olson of overlawyered.com who has tracked this law and its impact so thoroughly. (It was very exciting to meet all these people; bright, organized, hardworking, and passionate all of them.) And I'm deeply appreciative of all those who made the effort to come (I met another book-loving family - homeschoolers from California who gave up a day of their vacation to attend) and all those who couldn't make the trek but watched from home or followed online accounts. Thank you for your good wishes and nice comments; they mean a great deal to me.
I'll close with this quote from the anthropologist Margaret Mead:
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."