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Protecting Kids: Where Does Your Candidate Stand?

Posted October 10, 2016

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Trisha Sheehan knows what toxic chemicals can do to little lungs.

She and her family experienced it firsthand four years ago, when a train derailed near their southern New Jersey home, sending thousands of pounds of the toxic chemical vinyl chloride into the air.

Sheehan and her sons immediately got sick, and she said her kids suffered lasting effects. The family now lives in South Philly, and the experience has turned Sheehan into a fierce advocate for children’s health issues.

She now works for Moms Clean Air Force and volunteers through its political action arm, Clean Air Moms Action, pushing parents to get involved and press politicians to protect children’s health. The organization is especially focused on reducing pollution and exposure to toxic chemicals.

“My kids are the number one reason I do this,” said Sheehan, now expecting her third child, as she prepared to spend a Saturday afternoon knocking on doors, gathering promises to vote and asking moms and dads to do more during these last days before the election.

“Our strength is talking mom to mom, and storytelling,” she said. “We get it, and we make it easy to take action.”

Voting is, of course, the essential part of participating in our democracy. But what if you want to do more to fight for the health of your kids, and children all over Pennsylvania and the nation?

“You have a role on Election Day in the voting booth, but sometimes being a good mom means being a good citizen,” said Gretchen Dahlkemper, director of Clean Air Moms Action. “And you have an active role to play in democracy before and after Election Day.”

Dahlkemper said parents need to be demanding answers from candidates — from all political parties — about what they’ll do about climate change and other issues that directly affect kids’ health.

“We have the opportunity to put people in office, on both sides of the aisle, who are going to look at solutions-oriented rules to combat climate change,” she said. “Let’s stop fighting about the causes and start fighting about the solutions.”

Those solutions include pushing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state governments to cut carbon and methane emissions, promote cleaner energy sources, and crack down on companies that pollute our air, water, and soil. Dahlkemper, a mom of three who lives in Philadelphia, said she’s mindful of her daughter, who has asthma, and how these policy questions directly affect her health.

“Think about who’s going to be protecting our kids when you’re going to the voting booth,” she said.

Another hot topic for parents is the regulation of chemicals. From flame retardants to BPA, having kids often means a dizzying array of anxieties and questions about chemical safety. Earlier this year, Congress passed groundbreaking legislation that has the power to banish many toxic chemicals from the market. But that won’t happen, Dahlkemper said, if voters don’t push political candidates to follow through the law’s promise.

“It will only protect our kids if it’s implemented,” she said.

So what can a time-starved parent do? Check out Clean Air Moms Action’s Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook feeds to get a daily “naptime action” that can happen in those small amounts of downtime you’ve got every day. It might be as quick and simple as pledging to vote, or just talking, mom to mom, with your friends.

“Start having intentional conversations,” Dahlkemper said. “Email, call, or talk face-to-face to five of your friends. Not complaining about the election, but talking about it, why it’s important for you, and why this election is so important to the health of our kids.”

Clean Air Moms Action is also running phone banks, and canvassing in the Philadelphia suburbs. During these “Mom to Mom Days of Action,” families to go door-to-door, talking to their neighbors about the importance of voting and a healthier environment for kids. Want to volunteer? Click here for more information. 

Even a small gesture goes a long way. Dahlkemper said she keeps hearing friends say they can’t believe what’s happening in politics, and they’re unsure how to change it. She said she always replies with a call to action.

“If you don’t know what do to make sure that you wake up on November 9 and recognize your country, contact us,” she said. “We will make it work for you.”

Want to hear from more moms about why they’ve decided to speak out? Click here.


Photographs courtesy of Clean Air Moms Action. 

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