You doubtless have your own heroes that you like to think of on the 4th: your parents, servicemen and women and veterans in your community, historical figures. But you might not know about the hero I am offering you today.
Florence Kelley influenced people to such good effect that she — working together with many others — was able to end child labor in the United States. In particular, she worked for the passage of child labor laws, the enforcement of safe working conditions for industrial laborers, the use of factory inspectors (she was one of the first herself), and the use of tags identifying clothing made under safe and decent working conditions — so that consumers could make an informed choice.
She did this in spite of personal trials including the deaths of all her siblings, frequent illness, divorce, single motherhood, and the early death of one of her children. She did it in spite of threats against her life, intense opposition from corporate America, and widespread public acceptance of child labor. She did it without benefit of TV, celebrity spokesmodels, the internet, or even the vote. She did it, as my friend Cleverboots pointed out, without taking her clothes off. She began her crusade at the age of 12 and kept it up till her death at 74.
In honor of Florence Kelley, and especially if you have been thinking that you are too young, too old, too powerless, too poor, or too busy to make any difference, I challenge you to take 10 minutes this weekend and do one of two things.
First, Florence Kelley was one of the first people to use scientific data to persuade people to make social changes. In honor of that, you could go to Stolen Childhoods or the ILO Child Labor site and learn about the continuing problem of child labor. UNICEF, the UN, and many other organizations also offer information online. Click on a few of the links on this page. You may be horrified to learn that this is still an issue in the 21st century. Or you may be pleasantly surprised to learn that the end of the worst abuses — slavery, trafficking in children, and the use of children in the most dangerous and exploitative kinds of work — is in sight, as long as we continue to fight against those abuses.
Second, Florence Kelley was one of the first to organize consumer boycotts. In the days when American women couldn’t vote, she showed them how to vote with their pocketbooks. “Don’t buy clothes made by companies that employ children,” was her message. This weekend, please don’t buy from Nestle, one of the worst offenders in the area of child labor today. Email or call them and tell them that you care about the problem of child labor, and will shop with them again when they clean up their act. Here you will find a letter pre-written for you, in case you are really really busy. It wasn’t what I would have said, but it will get the message to them.
Now, maybe you do not care about child labor. It is — as you know, if you read my blog a lot and have total recall — something I feel strongly about. But if you are more concerned about something else, then you could post a challenge or two on your blog, and I will try to do it. Perhaps we could get a wave of Independence Day activism traveling like a pair of Jaywalker socks.