Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Prophets and The Devil's Advocate

Hello, bloggers! Yesterday your fearless prophets met with a really nice gentleman from Representative Niki Tsongas's office. Neither he nor Ms. Tsongas are the "Devil's Advocate" referenced in the title of the post!

We trekked out of the city to Lowell, where Ms. Tsongas's district office is located. Anthony (not our fellow prophet but the staffperson with whom we met) showed us into the newly furbished conference room. We heaped on the charm and the facts--facts about current legislation at the state and national levels, the information we have linked on the panel here at the blog. We also gave him this link as we spoke about how the U.S. stacks up against other developed nations (as well as some developing nations). He listened patiently, making notes and seeming duly interested in what we had to say as we discussed the fluidity of "family" these days and the needs our families encounter in this country so devoted to "family values." I spoke passionately about the concerns of my friends who recently had children and who are currently expecting. I felt confidant in my conviction. Clearly, the federal government should lead the way in offering paid leave for parents of newborns! There. We had won our case. Who could ignore the facts?!

Then he spoke: "I have to ask the Devil's Advocate question now. How do you think the American public will respond to a bill that offers paid leave for federal employees, when that money will come from taxpayers?" At first, I felt a little deflated. Then it came to me. I explained to him: Sure, some people are going to give a little flack. It's hard to pinch that penny to see someone else get benefits you feel you should have or you feel don't pertain to you. But if the government presents a united front and shows this market-driven country the productivity benefits of offering paid parental leave, they will be likely to follow suit. Starbucks has already learned the benefits of happy employees who have insurance, 401k and stock options. People who feel their families are well cared for are happier, more productive, and more loyal employees. But for me, there is more to it than productivity flow charts. So, I continued. You could put it to the public this way. Who doesn't know a child? Who doesn't have a niece, nephew, grandchild, or friend's child about whom they care? And who doesn't want those children they know to have every fighting chance? Part of giving these children every chance is allowing them to be home with their parents longer in those early developmental stages, when so much learning and growth happens. Children who stay home longer can build strong immune systems, be taught one-on-one by their parents, and can develop more fully before being shuffled into a daycare system to be cared for by others. Daycares are great and essential, but if given the opportunity, parents are more likely to want to be more hands-on, especially during the early stages. Underdeveloped immune systems can lead to more doctor bills and unpaid leave on the part of the parents and possible development setbacks on the part of the children. Who wants that for the children they know and love?

At some point in the discussion, I expressed to staffperson Anthony my own reservations at the beginning of this project. At first, I was just doing it for school. Now, though, I have lots of friends and family who have brought or are bringing children into this world. I want better rights for those I love--parents and children alike. This is no longer an abstract class project for me. This is a definitive stand for social justice. I hope you all will join us in this fight.

Shalom, bloggers!

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