EVER SINCE I WAS 4 YEARS OLD, I'VE seen the world in terms of power. Who has a say? Who decides? When I was 3 or 4, my parents said, "We're not eating grapes." "But, I like grapes!" I said. Then they explained that we were boycotting. We, and many other people, weren't eating grapes because it would make growers treat migrant workers more fairly, and I remember thinking, "Fine. No grapes." I was excited that by joining with a whole lot of other people we could make a difference. Even as a young child, I understood that when people get together, they have a say.
Maybe that's why, growing up, Swimmy, by Leo Lionni, was my favorite book. You may know the story. It begins with Swimmy, a very perceptive and ingenious little fish, barely escaping a tuna that devours the other fish in his school. After wandering aimlessly for a while, Swimmy comes across another school of fish hiding among rocks and weeds and coaxes them to come out. "You can't just stay here!" he says. Coming up with a plan, Swimmy organizes the fish into a cohesive unit that swims together and chases the big fish away.
Swimmy was an organizer. He didn't try to negotiate with the big fish on his own because he knew he would have been eaten. Instead, understanding that strength is in organized numbers, he got the other fish together.
American history is full of examples of organizations that used an approach like Swimmy's to make important changes. Groups Like the abolitionists, whose persistent efforts helped convince Abraham Lincoln to sign the Emancipation Proclamation; the National American Women's Suffrage Association, which helped win the vote for women state by state before helping pass the 19th Amendment; the American Legion, whose efforts led to the GI Bill after World War II; the American Association of Retired Persons, which has given senior citizens a voice.
Big social improvements happen because organized groups push for them. The end of child labor, the creation of kindergartens, the accessibility requirements for people with disabilities, civil rights laws, all of these have come about because there was a large group of passionate people pushing.
So the challenge for all of us who care about children becomes clear If we want young children to get the quality care that they deserve, if we want early childhood professionals to be well-educated and earn a living wage, if we want parents to be able to find and afford care that will help children develop and grow, we need to follow the example of Swimmy and his fellow fish. We need to get hundreds of thousands of parents, teachers, care givers, and others who are concerned about young children to stand together.
In 1996, 300,000 people took part in the first Stand for Children Day, the largest rally for children in American history. That rally was the founding of Stand for Children. Since then, we've coordinated more than 4,000 local Stand for Children Day activities, involving more than one million people. We've made specific improvements for children: scores of playgrounds have been built or cleaned up, more than 30,000 Scholastic books have been distributed, and thousands of children have received health screenings. We have become a membership organization to give parents and others who care for children a voice. Finally, we've organized Local chapters.
As an organizer with Stand for Children in Oregon, I've seen this process up close, and from my perspective, we're onto something. We've created a process that enables people from diverse backgrounds to come together, create a voice, and win for children.