This is the first piece of a new series featured on The Pump Handle. New Solutions, A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy, is taking their work from the world of print to an online medium, posting once-monthly blogs about environmental and occupational research, activism, advocacy, and campaigns. To read more about New Solutions: The Drawing Board, click here.

Dear readers,
We are Alice and Philip Shabecoff, authors of Poisoned Profits—The Toxic Assault on Our Children (Random House, 2008), a book about the effects of everyday toxins on the health of American kids. We are reaching out to you, who engage with the fields of environmental and occupational health as professionals, students, concerned parents, and/or active community or union members, to ask for strategies to motivate and kick-start a public health movement to create a healthier and more sustainable society. What can be done to get through to ‘the people’?  How can we capture attention away from “America’s Top Model” and break through the stranglehold of industry PR? We look to you—policy makers, researchers, community activists, professors, doctors, union leaders and members, concerned parents, interested students—to brainstorm and help lead this movement. What can be done to not only inform, but also effectively enrage so that tangible action occurs, and occurs soon?

On the assumption that you are knowledgeable and creative, and that you do not easily give up just because the fight is difficult, we write to ask your ideas, opinions, and advice.

The American people as a collective entity are undeniably faced with many heavy burdens: the rising cost of health care; the funding of several foreign wars; a dismal unemployment rate. Yet while these issues all make for burdened minds and lives, this reality has not spurred the American public to action. Troubled as we are, we’re doing our best to hold down a good job and raise a happy family and pay our bills with the goal of being good and normal, but without the inclination to push boundaries, without the desire to rock the boat, without striving to make a difference.

As lifelong researchers, writers, and activists, we observe that it is becoming increasingly difficult to move the public on progressive issues. The plethora of problems marring health care reform is indicative of our country’s move to the right. A dwindling active anti-war movement in the face of U.S. troop increase abroad and the steady move towards radical conservatism not only in the Republican party, but among Democrats as well, gives already beaten-down liberal politics and actions a death blow. Even efforts to combat global climate change are failing, despite the enormous media and political attention it has gained and disregarding its importance to every human being on earth.
Our purpose for writing Poisoned Profits was to light a flame under parents, to incite action. Since one out of three children in this country suffers from an environmentally-triggered chronic illness, we thought there would surely be a large response at the grassroots family level.
Yet despite dire statistics and the irrefutable knowledge that our homes, communities and schools are daily poisoned with harmful, even life-threatening chemicals, we heard from just a few dozen parents directly. We did discover quite a few who had organized their communities to protest against local pollution and more who had made their families’ ways of living more healthful, but a larger outpouring, the kind of response engendered in the 1970s, just didn’t happen.
Yet we do see some hope for and interest in change. While our political leaders all but discarded a single-payer option from day one of health care reform, polls indicate that a majority of the country’s citizens are in support of some sort of Medicare for all. In spite of Obama’s troop surge in Afghanistan, an increasing number of Americans are against the continuation of this war, as well as the occupation of Iraq. People from all parts of the political spectrum are enraged over billion-dollar bank bailouts at taxpayers’ expense. Labor-neighbor coalitions and blue-green alliances are bringing seemingly disparate people together to fight for environmental and social justice; campaigns are taking place across the country to ban the use of Bisphenol A (BPA) from childrens’ products; community gardens and bike co-ops are sprouting up in small towns and big cities, encouraging healthier lifestyles. Lastly, we cannot deny meaning of the election of the first African American president upon a grassroots, progressive platform.
With this hope, New Solutions, A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy, is teaming up with the esteemed public health blog The Pump Handle in creating an on-line forum. New Solutions: The Drawing Board will support a dialogue to:

  • Discuss environmental and occupational health research, writing, and organizing;
  • Brainstorm how we can disseminate and use the knowledge and tools acquired in classrooms, through studies, on the job, and on union shop floors to harness and energize a larger movement;
  • Ensure that the issue of environmentally-damaged children and other environmental and occupational health issues gets the attention that we know is necessary to achieve change;
  • And work together to organize effective actions, such as consumer boycotts, rallies and protests, and community media.

Through The Drawing Board, we encourage you to share your ideas, inspirations, successes, and roadblocks, so that we may all learn from and work with one another in creating effective change.
With hope, and in solidarity,
Philip and Alice Shabecoff
Authors, Poisoned Profits—The Toxic Assault on Our Children