Madison is an ANNpower Fellow from Plymouth, Michigan who attended the 2012 Leadership Forum in Washington, D.C. She joined the ANNpower Global Delegation to Burma in December 2013 and has previously blogged for Vital Voices about her advocacy work. She is a first year at Pomona College, studying environmental analysis and international relations.
My ANNpower story began when I was 11 years old. I discovered that palm oil, used in the Girl Scout cookies I had been selling since first grade, was responsible for deforestation, orangutan extinction and human rights abuses. Since then, I have worked to bring these issues to the attention of Girl Scouts USA and American consumers. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you can’t check activism off a to-do list like your econ homework. There are “wins” along the way: hearing a new policy announced, meeting a fundraising goal or getting lots of petition signatures. But a long-term goal like shifting the entire palm oil industry-global in size and worth millions of dollars-towards more transparent and deforestation-free practices, requires a long-term perspective. Last September, Girl Scouts USA decided to terminate our “working relationship” and after pouring so much time, energy and emotion into my campaign, I was extremely disappointed
My trip to Burma as part of the ANNpower Global Delegation restored my hope that big change can happen and I returned home with renewed vigor for my campaign. At the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society, I had the privilege of reuniting with Ms. Mu Sochua, one of our ANNpower Mentors at the Leadership Forum in Washington, DC, and a member of parliament in Cambodia. Ms. Sochua is a key leader in the Sam Rainsy Party, a democratic opposition party. Ever since Prime Minister Hun Sen refused to step down from his position after losing the election in July, Ms. Sochua has been rallying citizens across the country, leading marches of 10,000+ people and demanding a fair political process and democratic representation.
Ms. Sochua shared with me one of her most powerful rhetorical strategies, her use of music. She said, “When I am too scared to talk, when the military are lined up with guns prepared to shoot, I take the microphone and hum. Singing and the arts bring people together and break down barriers because it is a joyful act that celebrates a shared heritage.” She sings through her fear, carrying on despite threats of violence, peacefully inviting everyone to join her, including the soldiers blocking her way. Being an effective advocate means finding common ground with the opposition, and step by step, pushing forward to find resolve. Step by step, Mu Sochua is uniting her country and working to establish a real democracy.
Big changes happen one step at a time
My journey began with a single poster board presentation to my seventh grade peers and it has led me across the country and beyond to speak in corporate board rooms, at conferences and in classrooms. My friend and I first met with Kellogg’s executives in 2012, and last summer, we delivered more than 115,000 petitions to the company’s headquarters with an organization called SumofUS. The petitions urged Kellogg’s to use their influence to persuade Wilmar, a company with whom they have major joint ventures, to adopt a deforestation-free palm oil commitment. Wilmar trades 45 percent of the world’s palm oil, and last December they adopted a truly sustainable policy.
Then on February 14, Kellogg’s updated its policy to match Wilmar’s, announcing a similar commitment to source palm oil that is “produced in a manner that’s environmentally responsible, socially beneficial and economically viable.” Kellogg’s new palm oil policy is the strongest commitment by an American company to date in preventing deforestation and species extinction because of its traceability guidelines and implementation timeline. The Girl Scout cookies that are baked by Little Brownie Bakers, a subsidiary of Kellogg’s, will now be forest-friendly.
These steps forward mean that I’m halfway to accomplishing my goal of rainforest-safe Girl Scout cookies, and I won’t give up until the ABC Bakers, the other company that bakes Girl Scout cookies, adopts a deforestation-free palm oil policy as well. Along the way, my overall mission has grown to include empowering other girls by showing them how they can identify their passions to create change within their local, national and international communities. That’s why I started my youth advocacy website: changestartswithapassion.org.
My experience in Burma reminded me of the power a single individual like Mu Sochua can have in creating collective change-just like the ANNpower Fellows in the United States. I am very grateful and proud to be part of the ANNpower Network, a global community of women and girls who are working to create a more just and peaceful world.
Learn more about the ANNpower Vital Voices Initiative at ANNpower.org