Friday, January 9, 2009

Open Letter to Artisans and Authors Regarding CPSIA

We cannot sit by and hope that someone else will be our voice. Think "Horton Hears a Who." We have to join together and add our individual voices to the call to action.

You know that the artisans were among the first to realize the impact of this ill-begotten law known as the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008. This was hot news on sites like Etsy, well before most of us woke up and realized there was a new law that would have a swift, direct, and negative effect on our livelihoods. Of course they thought of their art, first, which is understandable. Had they looked at the broader implications, they might have raised the red flag earlier and gotten the attention of kids' clothiers, authors, publishers, and resellers, which might have made their combined voices loud enough to be heard in Congress before this law was passed.

Kids' clothiers were next. They wisely brought in the resale shops, the thrift stores, the charitable organizations and pointed out that under the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, you can't sell or give away any children's products that have not been independently tested by a third-party lab and certified compliant with this law. The law is retroactive, so it applies to that box of children's clothes you just gave to the local thrift store. In recognizing this secondary market (which, normally, does them little good), and getting those groups to stand up and cry out, they widened the circle of influence.

Somewhere along the line, someone noticed that this overreaching law would apply to books, too. Authors and book publishers immediately saw the connection between books, schools, second-hand book stores, and public libraries. We connected the dots and saw the ludicrous implications: textbooks banned in grades K-7, children banned from public libraries, classic books destroyed because they could not be sold or given away. We even saw the connection between self-publishers, small press, and large imprints.

We need to get artisans who produce toys, clothes, and accessories for kids; children's book authors; and publishers on the same page - hammering on all these issues as if they were of equal importance to us all. Because really, if we writers "win" an exemption for books, but handmade toys and clothes are still facing the same predicament, the U.S. economy suffers as a whole - and it affects all of us in the long run, because no one's going to be buying our books if they can't afford clothes for their kids. If the artisans "win" an exemption, but books are not included, kids will have their toys and clothes, but what about books to nourish their minds?

As writers, we should be writing eloquent arguments. The article "Industry Scrambling to Comply with Child Safety Act," by Karen Raugust at Publisher's Weekly was excellent - the first of its kind that I would truly call "excellent") at presenting the facts and issues clearly. We need to be writing more like it. We could write interviews with others who are affected, and articles predicting the unintended "collateral damage" along the way. I'll bet no one in Congress thought about textbooks and libraries when drafting this law.

And we need to stop attacking our own. I'm tired of fellow artisans, writers, publishers, and others dismissing these very real concerns and issues as "alarmist," just as I'm tired of Republicans and Democrats standing behind their Party platform without ever having read it. By the way, you can't blame "the other side" for this mess - though the Act was sponsored by a Democrat, it passed unanimously among those who voted. It is truly a bipartisan disaster.

To anyone who has not READ the entire text of the law, and to those who say they've merely "skimmed" it: READ the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 before pooh-poohing the very real concerns and issues raised.

To parents who are concerned with unsafe products designed for and marketed to children: We agree with you! Many of us are parents and grandparents, too. We love our kids, and we are just as outraged by the callousness of mass-market toy manufacturers (and dog food manufacturers, and baby formula manufacturers, and...the list is virtually endless, isn't it?) who allow even small amounts of toxic chemicals to come in contact with our kids. But show me one incident of harm to a child that stems from handmade toys, children's clothes, or accessories made in the U.S. Show me one incident of harm to a child that stems from books - any books produced in any country in any decade.

To anyone who is unfamiliar with law in general, don't try to offer a "legal opinion." Your "legal opinion" is likely wrong and it's wholly irrelevant. Don't speculate on what will or will not be enforced, or what penalties will be handed down - the only facts we have are the law itself, as written, and the CPSC's pathetic attempts to "clarify" it. You don't get to make stuff up or interpret what you think it "really" means when it comes to law - only the CPSC has that power now.

We need to agree on a purpose and work together to achieve it. Mine would be to get the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 repealed and sent back to committee with orders to hire a professional writer who can help to craft it so it makes sense, achieves its meritorious objectives ("to protect children from toxic materials") and doesn't trash the U.S. economy further. I'm not interested in compromise and clarification - short of immediate repeal, a very clear statement exempting all books and all items of clothing, toys, or fashion accessories hand-made by U.S. artisans and craftspeople from onerous testing requirements would satisfy me. Hold them responsible if there is an incident of lead poisoning that can be traced to their products - I have no issue with that. Certainly, hold suppliers - both domestic and international - responsible for any toxins in their materials. But this is ridiculous.


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  1. Thank you, Anonymous!

  2. Thank you for this.

  3. Terrific post. I am going to pass this along to a few friends of mine who still think this law doesn't apply to them. And moreover, thanks for sounding the bell for unity.

  4. Thank you! Please, please, please spread the word and take action on your own. We cannot sit back and assume that large industry with deeper pockets will do all the work - OR that our interests and theirs are entirely separate. Let's hope they don't discount US when they lobby Congress for support, either.

  5. Thanks, Jen!

    "We must hang together, gentlemen...else, we shall most assuredly hang separately."
    -- Benjamin Franklin

  6. Very well spoken. Unity is key and you've done a great job writing about it. Thank you for posting.

    PS. I forwarded this link on to others to help inspire them to get more involved too.

  7. Thank you, Dyn. I really appreciate that.

  8. Hi Holly-
    Great post. I thinkg that the answer lies in all of us banding together, signing the petitions, writting and/or emailing their congress people, posting the info on blogs, and spreading the word, however possible.

    Again great post and hope you can check out my blog too!


  9. Thank you for such a concise and well said post on this heinousness.

  10. Actually, it was clothiers who were at the forefront of this :). We on are the ones who steadfastly posted on this in the Etsy forums until everyone took notice of it. It was hard going for awhile, none would pay attention or dismissed it. It was a deliberate organized strategy to get the word out. We'd been working on it since August.

    Anyway, thanks for continuing to publicize this. I would also suggest visiting the War Room for up to the minute updates and focused activism. There's also the automated mailer to email legislators in one fell swoop. Lastly, we are asking people to fill out the Economic Impact Survey The latter link also includes every CPSIA entry published on

  11. Thank you, Kathleen. I stand corrected! (But it seems that the news still broke on Etsy, when in fact is should have been publicized earlier and loudly by the news media. And the way you were all dismissed - well, the rest of us are feeling it now. ;) I've seen the first and third links, I believe, but had not seen the automated mailer - I will check that out next! Wonderful! (I was not looking forward to gathering more emails...)


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