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Dynamic Partnerships at the Washington Chapter: collaboration is crucial to success

Posted by Cherie Eichholz on October 20, 2010

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. -- Margaret Mead

In recent years I have spent a lot of time considering what it is that drives change and in particular, what drives meaningful social and policy change. With the election of Barack Obama many Americans naively thought our country and our world would change overnight, that the policies of the past eight years or longer would be overturned and a new era of progressive thought and action would be initiated. We were inspired, despite troubling times, and many believed that soon all of our lives would be changing for the better, that all boats would rise. The reality of the past two years is a far cry from that image. That same reality is a significant part of the impetus behind my own search for what it is that drives change.

At PSR we represent the highest standard of commitment to primum non nocere (first, do no harm). It is present at the most fundamental level in the operations of our chapters and in the actions of individual members. However, even this radical commitment by PSR chapters and members to addressing the gravest threats to human health, is not in and of itself enough. In Washington State, approximately 1,000 health professionals are members of Washington PSR. The voices of these women and men, who span a diverse spectrum of practices and represent all corners of the state, are not by themselves enough to compel change. So while we believe deeply in the causes we espouse and indeed most if not all members of PSR are willing to do extraordinary work to further those causes, we must thoughtfully consider the means to the end in achieving the results we seek. 

Over the course of decades, Washington PSR has worked hard to build a reputation as Washington State’s voice of public health and in doing so we have built an infrastructure based on strategic partnerships around programmatic goals. In our work to abolish nuclear weapons, we march shoulder to shoulder with Peace Action, Ground Zero Center for Non Violent Action, and Veterans for Peace. In our climate change work, we are allied with Earth Ministry, the Seattle Climate Action Network, and the Sierra Club.

And in our toxics work, we are part of a dynamic partnership, the Toxic Free Legacy Coalition, which year in and year out leads not only our state but the entire nation in seeking and securing policies which aim to protect human health from the threats posed by dangerous chemicals. As a steering committee member of the TFL Coalition, alongside the Washington Toxics Coalition, the Washington State Nurses Association, Planned Parenthood, and WashPirg, we help to shape the agenda in the fight for chemical reform. While programmatically each member of the TFL coalition has its own set of priorities and strategies, on the issue of addressing toxic chemicals we work side by side, each offering our own strengths and contributions to the cause.

Washington PSR’s contribution to the Toxic Free Legacy Coalition lies in leveraging the credibility we have established both within and outside the medical community as champions of public health. Our voice and our actions carry with them a distinct commitment to advancing policies that allow every individual to reach and maintain their full potential. However, despite the influence of our voice, it is only one voice. Yet when our voice is united with the voices of scientists, nurses, moms, and others, the result is a formidable collaborative effort and the potential for securing victories in policy and practice is extraordinary.

In reflecting upon what compels change, I believe these types of collaboration are not only wise, but in fact are crucial to success. In other words, in order to bring about meaningful societal change we must frequently consider and re-consider with whom we work and with whom we should be working. Whether it’s stopping war or addressing the enormous threat posed by nuclear weapons, speaking to the public health effects of climate change or working to improve the outdated and wholly inadequate policies which surround chemicals, no one person or organization will succeed on their own.

PSR has the ability to offer key resources to coalitions across this country and I urge PSR chapters in particular to consider their alliances and how they may contribute to meaningful campaigns. Similarly, I urge PSR members to consider their own circles of influence and how you and we can utilize those circles in order to advance our goal of addressing the gravest threats to human health.


Cherie Eichholz is Executive Director of Washington PSR.


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