I started interning at Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood the day before BusRadio shut down. The company, which promised to bring targeted advertising to a whole new level by marketing to children on school buses, was no match for CCFC. The little advocacy group and its tens of thousands of supporters axed the outrageous commercial encroachment on kids’ schooldays. I learned from the very beginning of my time with CCFC what a powerful force for children the organization is.
And I soon experienced that speaking up to corporate power has consequences. A short time after the BusRadio success, a front-page story in The New York Times broke the story of CCFC’s triumph persuading the Walt Disney Company to give refunds on bogus Baby Einstein videos. But as the CCFC team celebrated this monumental win for babies and parents—who had been deceived into believing the product was educational for their youngest children by a relentless advertising machine—we found ourselves under a storm cloud. A few calls from Disney lawyers to the children’s center where CCFC was housed added up to an eviction notice. We were told we needed to leave…fast.
It was unclear if CCFC would survive such a dramatic hit. Those days when the fate of the organization was unclear were agonizing, because, even though I had only been interning for a few months, it was clear to me how crucial it was for CCFC’s work to continue. Then a couple magical events occurred. CCFC found a new home at Third Sector New England, a Boston-based nonprofit that “powers change” through fiscal sponsorship. And our supporters jumped to action to make sure Disney wouldn’t silence us, donating enough money to keep CCFC’s engine running—and to hire me. Graduating from intern to program coordinator, I was elated to officially join the staff of an organization that so fearlessly defends children against the profit-driven abuses of the world’s biggest corporations.
It’s been nearly four years since I started at CCFC and time and time again I’ve been reminded of the lessons of those early months—that “reclaiming childhood from corporate marketers” is dangerous, but possible. It’s dangerous because the advertisers that undermine parents and exploit kids know CCFC is a serious threat and would take advantage of any opportunity to make the organization go away. But creating change in the actions of these same companies and in government policy is possible because CCFC’s tireless staff, dedicated steering committee, and incredible group of supporters will it so. The victories I’ve witnessed during my time at CCFC are numerous—from ending the distribution of Scholastic’s coal-industry-funded teaching materials, to defeating school bus advertising legislation in states across the country, to leading the national effort to reduce young children’s screen time. As I depart CCFC, I reflect with great pride on the years I spent as part of the team that made these things happen. And I look forward, with great anticipation, to all the victories still to come.