The Language of Legislation

Before last Tuesday, I had thought of California’s state capitol in Sacramento as a distant place of legal lingo – not a place where my California casual accent, littered with “like” and “totally”, would be well-received.  I thought it would be a place where multisyllabic theological speak would infiltrate perfectly simple ideas. But last week, I realized that educating legislators is not only reserved for the law school educated, for the stilettos and the suits: it’s for everyone who has a voice.  On Tuesday, August 23rd, CHANGE (Californians for a Healthy and Green Economy) and CVAQ (Central Valley Air Quality coalition) members, environmental health activists, families, and concerned citizens from all over California traveled to Sacramento to exercise our right to speak about environmental health and be heard at a state level.

We were activists in suits, educators in CVAQ t-shirts.  We were Californians who had been affected by methyl iodide, BPA, and other unregulated chemicals in our communities and consumer products.  We were rallying on the capital’s steps to the frequent amen’s of “sí, se puede”.  We were letting legislators know that Californians deserve cleaner air and water, healthier agriculture and working conditions, and BPA-free children.

They – the legislators and their staff – were business card bearing note-takers.  They were friendly listeners, more concerned with what we had to say than how we spoke.  They even threw in a couple “likes” and “you knows” in their pleasant (if not conclusive) responses: “But what if farmers are using methyl iodide because it’s cheaper, because buying more expensive if environmentally-friendly pesticide would harm their business’s income, you know?”

Even so, I couldn’t help but think, Who are we to be here, informing our own representatives on environmental health issues?  But the truth became clear with each meeting: we knew more about methyl iodide and BPA health risks than did our legislators.  We are the educators, the knowledge providers, and we are as important and necessary as they are.

Sometimes I think it’s easy to forget that we are a part of a representative democracy, and that our voices matter and can and deserve to be heard.  In the Bay Area and Central and Southern California, Sacramento can seem like a distant place of white columns and legal papers written in some convoluted foreign legislative language.  But that wasn’t the case at all last Tuesday.  Engaging and educating legislators is for everyone.  In t-shirts.  In casual conversation voices.  In interpretation.  In tennis shoes.  We all have a right to our own voice, and we definitely made ours heard: this past Tuesday, the Toxic-Free Infants and Toddlers Act (AB 1319), a bill that we were strongly pushing for a week ago, finally passed.  The language of legislation isn’t necessarily law jargon; it’s that of the people who speak up.  We came, we spoke, and we won.