Earlier this year, Newark Mayor Cory Booker excitedly announced the launch of a new partnership between Let’s Move! Newark and Nestlé to address the obesity problem facing the children of Newark.
Nestle's "health food" - flickr photo by Howard Lake
“This is an amazing day in the city of Newark!” Booker exclaimed. Amazing, indeed. It’s amazing that Newark is partnering with a giant candy bar and infant formula corporation to conquer health problems that the company itself plays a role in perpetuating. A press release announced that Nestlé had helped to devise a nutritional education curriculum for Newark families highlighting “the importance of breastfeeding, increasing fruit and vegetable consumption, healthy snacking, dealing with a fussy eater, portion control and physical activity.” The program draws on “the nutritional expertise of Gerber,” Nestlé’s infant formula brand.
But why would a company that depends for its profits on women not breastfeeding and families purchasing candy (not fruits and vegetables) be an ideal source of nutritional expertise?
Congress has just returned from recess and life here for your favorite watchdog continues to be busy!
Last week, we reported on a victory for democracy: The Vermont State Senate approved a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that has ushered in a corporate political spending free-for-all, the negative effects of which we began seeing in the congressional midterms and we see now in the presidential race. The ball is now in the court of the Vermont House, but the clock is ticking. The House Government Operations Committee has yet to schedule a vote on the resolution — the first step in moving it through that chamber. The state’s legislative session ends next week. If you live in Vermont, please call your state representative and urge him or her to move this bill forward.
If the Vermont House passes the bill — and there is a lot of support for it among Vermont House members — Vermont would be the third state to call for an amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling. Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People Campaign is playing an instrumental role in getting Vermont, California, Maryland and Massachusetts on board with calling for a constitutional amendment to help curb corporate power in elections.
We also are working with activists throughout the country to persuade local councils to support an amendment – and to do so the second week of June as part of, “Resolutions Week.” Resolutions Week and other efforts by other organizations — as well as congressional lawmakers — will be the focus of a congressional Summit on Capitol Hill this Wednesday (Facebook event invite link, here). Public Citizen is pleased to have had the opportunity to help facilitate and witness the growth of an ever-more powerful team of lawmakers, organizational allies and activists that are determined to make sure the voices of everyday people are not drowned out by mega-rich individuals and corporations. This summit is a signal: This movement is the real thing. We are determined. We are growing and together we will ensure that our democracy is for the people and by the people.
Breakfast cereals equivalent in nutritional value to Twinkies are heavily marketed to children using cartoon mascots and online “advergames.” Schools display advertisements for everything from fast food to the U.S. Army on every available surface, from lockers to flat-screen televisions in cafeterias to report cards. Corporations hire student “brand ambassadors” on college campuses to subtly push their product on classmates and friends. Public art galleries, subway stops, and roadways are named for the highest corporate bidder. Historic bridges and parks are draped with advertisements. Infant formula makers market their products in doctors’ offices and hospitals.
These examples are all evidence of the rapidly growing space that commercial culture has come to occupy within our society. As large a space as they may already inhabit in our lives, corporations are seeking still more facets of our society that can be put up “for sale,” never mind the higher values that get trampled in the process – values like family, community, environmental integrity, and democracy. That’s why Commercial Alert, a project of Public Citizen, has no shortage of work to do.
Ralph Nader and Gary Ruskin founded Commercial Alert in 1998, seeking to keep commercial culture within its proper sphere. Since then, Commercial Alert has fought to lay down boundaries that preserve crucial spaces in our culture as commercial-free. Commercial Alert has stood up for children’s rights to be free of commercialism in schools, parks, libraries, and other public spaces. We’ve demanded that government be a vehicle for democracy, not commercial advertising, fighting back against plans to advertise on government vehicles, history-laden bridges and buildings, and in cultural institutions. We’ve decried the number one public health disaster of our times – marketing-related diseases, including obesity, smoking-related illnesses, diabetes, and many more.
Despite successes along the way, the fight is far from over. As those intent on putting everything and everyone up for sale wage their war on our culture, Commercial Alert continues to resist the spread of commercial culture – now as an important part of Public Citizen. We’re confident that supporters of Public Citizen will find that Commercial Alert’s upcoming campaigns address crucial issues that are important to them – issues that fit well with Public Citizen’s historic concerns about unchecked corporate power and consumer protection. And supporters of Commercial Alert who have been eagerly awaiting our return to action after a brief hiatus will be excited to see the powerful connections between Public Citizen’s work and Commercial Alert’s goals, connections that will enable us to combat excessive commercial culture even more effectively.