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How to Change the World: “Even if it embarrasses your kids”

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Librarians, public and law, hear a lot of people complaining about their own or their community’s problems, but few who want to take the next step, or the next, or the next. But some do – and some are downright amazing. It’s hard to take on the system, city hall, and even harder to change legislation. A story a couple of weeks ago by Su-Jin Yim in the September 27th, 2007 Oregonian, “Two Tough Moms,” was one of those stories, about two people who went from knowing nothing about lawmaking to becoming informed and outspoken citizens – and went on to change the world.

Excerpts:

‘A few years ago, neighbors Pauline McGuire and Julie Volpel were doing what moms do. Juggling kids’ schedules and work. Caring for elderly parents. Creating a patchwork of family life and community work that underpins all of American society.

Then Volpel, the mother of three and a physical therapist, went to an education rally. She came home and talked to McGuire, a fast-walking, fast-talking former hairdresser. So McGuire went to a meeting.

And was outraged.

The moms couldn’t stand that developers weren’t required to help pay for building schools even as they added house after house after house. Even when it meant the neighborhood children squeezed through stuffed hallways, ate lunch at 10:20 a.m. and learned math in trailers.

During the next phase of their political evolution, they collected a barrel of skills. They called districts around the west coast to research funding solutions. They talked to schools and parents from Brookings to Beaverton. They attended county commissioners meetings, testified at planning commission meetings and pleaded with developers of giant home projects to consider schools.

And they got nowhere.

So McGuire and Volpel decided to take it to the people — in school parking lots, at open houses for new developments, on the front stoops of neighbors and strangers.

“You learned to start walking up to cars with open windows and start talking to people,” Volpel says with a smile. Even if it embarrasses your kids.

The moms’ tenaciousness and willingness to compromise set them apart from other activists, Hunt says.

“The combination of those two (traits) is very rare in local activists,” he says. Some people get burned out, and some wed themselves to one approach.

“I hope they run for elective office, both of them.”‘

Full story, here. (If the link no longer works, use the Oregonian database through your local Oregon public library to find the story or email me.)