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Parents Are Their Children's Best Advocates

The California Kids Campaign is building a grassroots movement of parents, teachers, and community members to make kids the state's No. 1 public policy priority.

Topics: California

I grew up in a mobile home in a little town of 1,500 people called Foresthill, California. It's not a place you would happen across. The main road from Auburn narrows to two lanes just past the commercial drag, and the booms that brought gold and timber wealth to the area are relics of the last two centuries, respectively. Today, the town is a sleepy, ex-ex-urban community of Sacramento, with stunning views of the nearby Sierra Nevada mountains but no real economic base.

Early in my childhood, we lived in a trailer park in town, but when I was 9 my parents bought a piece of land nearby, so we towed the mobile home over to the new lot. My dad built a barn, but the mobile home was still, well, home. Lots of kids dream of having an in-ground pool. I wanted what I called a "real house," with a flight of stairs -- a wooden flight of stairs that I could run up and down, that creaked and groaned and warped. 

My family was squarely working class. When I was a kid, my mom didn't have an outside job. But she later attended community college and Sacramento State University, and -- over the course of years -- became the first person in her family to earn a college degree. My dad worked as a firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service. They were both ascendant and, as part of a narrative so familiar to Americans in California and beyond, determined to pass the baton to their kids.

My parents raised my brother and me to work hard and think big. Internalizing such values, they reasoned, would open the world to us. They channeled my energy into sports and school activities. My mom drove me hours every day to the year-round swim team outside of Sacramento, because the local seasonal teams were too limited, and she defended my prerogatives in school when my passion for various causes raised the eyebrows of some teachers and administrators. Just as important, my parents didn't let my brother and me confine our imaginations to the experiences of small-town California. They encouraged us to follow our passion, keeping us engaged in activities that enriched our minds, saving to send me on a Close Up trip to Washington, D.C., my senior year of high school and encouraging my involvement in politics and grassroots community-based organizing.

I was a handful as a child -- to say the least -- but instead of throwing their hands up in the air, my parents patiently and intentionally positioned me for a meaningful and successful life.

Ultimately, I went to the same community college my mom went to, before transferring to and graduating from a four-year university. I became actively involved in organizing and politics, eventually working for President Obama's election and reelection -- and had the honor of being appointed deputy director of the office of public engagement at the White House.

I made it.

But not by accident.

Of the 71 eighth graders who graduated with me from my middle school, only a handful went on to graduate from college. With little to no formal education beyond middle school or high school, many of my classmates suffered from drug abuse and had run-ins with the law -- the plight of many rural communities. My success was not in the cards.

So how did I make it? I was lucky. My parents -- like all parents -- wanted what was best for me and they had the fortune, over time, to give me the opportunities to realize my potential and intervene at key points to knock down obstacles or point me in the right direction. I had certain advantages, ones that all children should have -- a stable caregiving environment, access to basic health care, essential meals, and a safe public school. These critical components, along with strong parent advocates, created a path for me.  

Parents are their children's best advocates. Harnessing the intuitive advocacy of committed parents with the need for children's advocacy in public policy at the grassroots level is the only way we will create an environment where kids can thrive. It is this idea that has led me to run a new California-based effort launched by Common Sense Kids Action called the California Kids Campaign, aimed at building a grassroots movement of parents, teachers, and community members to make kids our state's No. 1 public policy priority. 

California ranks 49 out of 50 in the nation for standard of living for kids. Roughly half of the children in the state live in families that are in or near poverty. Nearly 75 percent of our youngest kids don't receive important developmental health screenings. One in four kids don't regularly have enough food to eat. An estimated 1 million California kids don't have access to licensed child care. The barriers to opportunity and healthy child development are even greater in many communities of color. Latino and African-American children are far more likely to live in poverty than white children in California.

California -- the Golden State, the seventh-largest economy in the world, and a state known for its innovation and creativity -- can do better. We must do better. We are failing our children, and it is time for us to stand up and demand change from our elected officials.

The goal of the California Kids Campaign is to provide the grassroots avenue of engagement for parents to become the catalysts of change for their kids. This year, we will run a parent-powered mobilization effort around ballot measures that impact kids. We will invest in a Parent Organizer program, designed to engage parents in lasting grassroots change in their communities. Building on the Kids Action Agenda that Common Sense Kids Action has been developing for the last year, we will advocate in Sacramento on issues that impact kids: high-quality early childhood, including child care, pre-K, nutrition, and preventive health care. We will support policies that address poverty and other barriers to children getting the right start and policies that support working families, such as paid sick and family and medical leave, fair pay, Earned Income and Child Tax credits, and child care benefits.

We are not partisan -- we are kid-partisan. Children don't have entrenched special interest groups. There are no dark money slush funds for kids. No lobbyists on retainer. No super PACs raising millions from the ultra rich to protect society's most valuable asset -- our children. But children have one very powerful wildcard -- their parents. The well-being, health, and education of children will be our North Star. That is our entrenched interest.

This is a long-term effort to build an army of parent advocates. I know firsthand what is possible when parents advocate for their children's best interests -- and if we can come together to collectively fight for all children in California, we can open up a world of opportunity. Please go to to sign up for our campaign.

Buffy Wicks

Buffy Wicks serves as the campaign director for the California Kids Campaign. She served in senior roles for President Obama in his 2008 and 2012 campaigns and worked in his administration. Follow Buffy on Twitter @BuffyWicks.