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Lynne Plambeck: Volunteerism and the Fourth

Posted: July 5, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: July 5, 2012 1:55 a.m.

The theme of this year’s Santa Clarita Fourth of July Parade was “volunteerism.” What an appropriate subject for our community, where it seems that everyone volunteers some time or money to something. Various organizations work on everything from the environment to child and family wellness.

As John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club, once famously said: “Everything is linked to everything else.” Clean air and water, healthy foods, safe routes to school and all the other issues that our local environmental groups promote contribute to healthy neighborhoods, while others give support to those needing help with drug abuse, food and shelter, literacy and health issues.

All these groups working together make Santa Clarita a great place to live.

It’s also appropriate that we celebrate volunteerism on the Fourth because, after all, our founding fathers were all volunteers.

No one was paid to write the Declaration of Independence. In fact, many of the signers ended their lives penniless in large part due to their focus on civic activities.

Those who came to America yearned for freedom to practice their own religious beliefs, which included the admonition to charity and sharing. The Statue of Liberty, often used as a symbol of our freedom and independence, honors our country for taking in poor, homeless and often starving immigrants.

The very foundations of our country and our beliefs are wrapped up in volunteerism. These values are reflected today in our own community’s volunteer organizations.

Democracy, too, is a volunteerary, participatory activity. It works best when people in the community get together in an effort to change or improve the way their city, county, state or nation works.

It fails when wealthy special interests pay politicians through campaign donations or other, less legal, means to change laws to favor their businesses.

Such laws helped create the current mortgage crisis, and are often aimed at reducing environmental safeguards to benefit giant corporations from oil to big agribusiness.

But community groups can and do push back. Right now, efforts supporting the “right to know,” such as the California Disclose Act, and to label genetically modified foods (the theme of Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment’s Fourth of July float) are examples of grassroots, volunteer democracy at work.

Both these movements focus on problems in our government and bring together local volunteers to address the problem.

The Disclose Act would require those large campaign donors (over $10,000) to disclose themselves on all campaign materials, from radio and TV advertising to mailers.

When voters know who is promoting a campaign through substantial funding, they can make a more informed decision at the polls.

Will a change in legal safeguards benefit Big Oil or a big bank? Probably so, if these are the groups that are lobbying for the change. Knowledge of campaign funding sources, whether union or corporate, allow the public to make informed decisions.

Labeling genetically modified foods is the same concept. If your children have allergies or other health issues, you need to know what is in the food they eat. That knowledge gives you the information you need to make the most healthful choice for your circumstance.

Food safety is a huge issue. Many countries throughout the world ban genetically modified foods, and labeling is required in others.

This grassroots, volunteer initiative supported by SCOPE doesn’t aim at banning GMOs or debating health issues; it just asks that genetically modified foods be labeled. It’s simple — it’s your right to know.

Large agribusiness and chemical companies will undoubtedly disagree. Rumors of huge campaign donations for advertising against this grassroots initiative already abound.

Let’s hope they will be required to disclose these donations so that the voters can make an informed decision at the polls about the food they eat.

Founded the same year that our city was formed, Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment is celebrating 25 years of all volunteer work in the Santa Clarita Valley this year.

As stated in our motto — “To promote, protect and preserve the ecology and quality of life of the Santa Clarita Valley” — we seek to make our community a better place to live.

Our float theme honored and promoted the “Label GMO” grassroots campaign for your right to know what you eat. We think the right to know is a pretty patriotic theme for the Fourth of July, especially when it originates with volunteer community support.

I want to say a big “thank you” to all who participated in the parade and to the volunteer SCV parade committee that made it all happen.

Lynne Plambeck is president of Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment.


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