Walking up the stairs that tower over my head, I feel as unimportant as a speck of sand. I am overshadowed by the fear that I will not be heard, but as I enter the building, I do not look back. Holding a large white sign at my side, I place my bag on the table to be checked by the security guard. I can feel everyone’s eyes target me and I imagine their judgments: Oh, just another stupid protester walking into the Capitol to fight for another stupid cause.
Although my doubts begin to catch up to me as I remember I am only a 15-year-old lobbying against a billion-dollar industry, I continue walking with dignity. I pinch myself to get feeling back in my legs, which seem to be moving so quickly down the cold halls of the California Capitol. Is this really happening? The tall ceilings are painted meticulously with Greek figures and sunlight pours in the windows, brightening the dark hallway full of offices and conference rooms. Men and women walk rapidly, as if they are in such a rush that they cannot sacrifice even a moment to breathe. Each is dressed in a black suit and a silver nametag; they resemble robots as they race to their next meeting. And there I am, in jeans, tennis shoes, and a white t-shirt with a backpack weighing me down. I walk until I arrive at my destination: the office of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“May I help you, miss?” asks a woman of about 30 wearing a white blouse, black-rimmed glasses, and an earpiece that guaranteed two free hands for typing, her red fingernails hitting the keyboard 100 times per minute.
“Yes,” I say. “We would like to speak to Mr. Schwarzenegger.” I feel everything around me freeze, as if I have stopped time. I, an ordinary teenager, along with five other campaign members, am in the office of the governor of California, on a school day, trying to get him to listen to our efforts. My mind scrambles as I watch her mouth open to answer.
“I’m so sorry, Arnold is in Los Angeles holding a press conference. Is there anything I can do for you girls?” Disappointment fills the room as we realize we have made this two-hour journey for nothing.
“No, thank you, we’ll come back some other time.” I walk out to tell the others the news but just as I am pushing open the doors, a bit of inspiration comes to me. There has to be someone involved in the bill we can talk to! I walk back and ask if one of the governor’s aides is available. I make it clear that this is an urgent issue and we need to speak to someone. She says she will check. I don’t think we have a chance, but I’m glad I asked.
Audra, Victoria, Heather, Sasha, Julia, and I wait with our backs against the walls filled with pictures of the governor and his family. Our signs are scattered across the floor and read “Teens should not have to choose between beauty and health,” and “SB 484 must pass.” There we are, teenage girls from Marin County fighting for a cause: to pass a bill that would regulate the toxic ingredients in beauty products.
Two hours pass and my skepticism grows to the point that I do not think anyone will exit the doors at all, not even to tell us that no aide is available. Why would anyone care what we have to say? None of us is old enough to vote. I think about the billion-dollar beauty industry fighting us. How can we think we even have a chance in the first place? Just as I am ready to give up, I see a crack in the door. Seconds later, the door is pushed open by a tall blonde wearing a black suit and pointy shoes.
“Hi, girls. My name is Kacy Hutchinson and I am the Governor’s legislative aide. Come in.”
We enter the conference room, which has flags hanging from the ceiling. Big black chairs surround a wooden table. We introduce ourselves and explain that we are part of a teen-led campaign called “Teens for Safe Cosmetics.” I see Kacy’s eyes widen as we tell her about not wanting carcinogens in the products we use every day. We have five minutes to explain why this bill matters to us and we make it clear that we are not motivated by money but by health. We tell stories of people we know who have been diagnosed with cancer and state that we no longer want to see pink ribbons floating around Marin County, where the cancer rates are the highest in the country. We want to live long, healthy lives without worrying about cancer-causing ingredients in our make-up. I can see that Kacy is moved by our words and as we walk out of the office, I feel we have made an impression. The idea that teens can make a difference becomes real at that moment.
Not long after, I received a phone call - SB 484, the California Safe Cosmetics Act of 2005, had passed. It requires the cosmetic manufacturers to disclose ingredients in products that “chemicals that have been identified to cause cancer or reproductive harm; authorizes DHS to investigate the health impacts of chemicals in cosmetics that are linked to cancer or birth defects; requires DHS, if it finds exposure to the chemical may be toxic, to submit its findings to the Division of Occupational Safety and Health within the Department of Industrial Relations (DIR); requires DHS to investigate, when resources are available, the presence of chemicals in cosmetics that have been declared unsafe by the Cosmetics Ingredient Review panel.”
I could not believe what I had just heard. Along with many others, teenagers had stood up to injustice and come out on top because of our belief. Teens have just as much power as adults, if not more. Age really is just a number, and all it takes to accomplish anything is determination.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.