Hawai’i Legislature Passes Anti-Mercury in Vaccines Bill, 7th State.
The Little Guy wins a few at the Capitol
Excerpted from an article by Treena Shapiro for the Honolulu Advertiser.
They printed T-shirts and painted signs. They blew conch shells and sang songs.
They showed up and they were heard.
The recently concluded 23rd session of the Hawai’i State Legislature was sprinkled throughout with a number of unexpected victories by community activists whose passion and perseverance pushed them ahead of more savvy, and often better financed, opponents.
Suzanne Marinelli, coordinator of the Capitol’s Public Access Room, credits their success to their willingness to work with others who saw issues differently and an ability to craft compromises with their opponents.
“I think an absolute determination to do what they had to do was probably the biggest factor,” she said.
Parents concerned about a possible link between mercury and autism won limitations on vaccines with Thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative.
Parents pushed to have pregnant women and children protected from the potential dangers of mercury-containing vaccines were surprised to have their bill passed on the closing day of the session.
“We didn’t think it would,” said Kalma Wong, a parent of two autistic children who lobbied for the bill along with filmmakers Don and Julianne King, who were advocating on behalf of an autistic child of their own. “We thought we were done for the year.”
Early in the session, it seemed like the measure had little hope of passing, since medical organizations had advised key legislators against restrictions.
Wong said it took a lot of education to persuade lawmakers first to hear the bill, then to understand that it wouldn’t ban the vaccinations or interfere with treatment in the case of a pandemic flu.
The effort took more than showing up at hearings, and even more than phone calls, e-mails, faxes and scheduled meetings.
At one point getting a lawmaker to schedule a hearing or appointment proved so hard that Wong felt herself losing faith in the democratic system.
She and the Kings stood their ground, however, even when it meant staking out hallways in the Capitol to get a word in with a senator.
“You have to sit on people’s doorsteps and wait for them. That’s the only way. If they won’t make an appointment, you just have to be there when they walk by,” she said.
Evelyn Souza, a spokeswoman for Save Oahu’s Race Track, can attest to the value of showing up.
“We’ve never done this before, never, but we learned a lot,” Souza said. “If you’re not there at the Legislature on an almost daily basis, they’re not going to hear you.”