This National Consumer Protection Week, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is sharing the thoughts of longtime consumer and regulatory policy advocate Rachel Weintraub.
Weintraub is a former member of ANSI’s Board of Directors and current member of the Institute’s Consumer Interest Forum (CIF). She recently joined the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards as its first executive director. Previously, Weintraub worked with Consumer Federation of America (CFA), where she established her deep expertise as a consumer advocacy leader with a focus on product safety issues. She has represented CFA on behalf of consumers before the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Congress, state legislatures, and voluntary standard setting organizations. In 2022, she was honored with CFA’s Consumer Champion Award.
As she transitions to her new role at the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards, Weintraub reflected on her extensive experiences in product safety at the CFA Awards Ceremony, where she was honored by Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky. Excerpts from Weintraub’s remarks are reprinted with her permission, and edited for the Q&A below.
You seem to have only worked for advocacy organizations. How did you become an advocate?
My advocacy career started early in my life. The summer after sixth grade, I went to sleepaway camp for the first time. For some reason, I brought the addresses of our county executive, member of Congress, and—a bit less surprising—aunts and uncles. I hated camp and decided that my parents should pick me up early. So, I wrote letters—many, many letters—to each of these people, urging them to ask my parents to pick me up early. Yes, I sent a letter to my county executive, member of Congress, and to many other relatives. Sad letters, dramatically urging—even begging!—them to speak to my parents. This turned out to be my first unsuccessful advocacy campaign. Though I was prepared, hardworking, and (I thought), creative, I did not convince my parents to rescue me. I stayed for the full four weeks. Perhaps this lack of success both prepared me for and propelled me to a career in public interest advocacy. Working to make products safer, financial markets more fair, and CFA stronger and more effective each come with challenges, but I was not afraid of the hard work or creativity required by them, and I knew that I could learn from both my successes and my failures—just as long as I didn’t have to go back to sleepaway camp.
You have worked with other consumer protection partner organizations, political and agency leaders, and parents. How did these collaborations ultimately improve product safety?
My goal in working on product safety issues for the past twenty-three years has been singularly focused: to protect the public interest—specifically, to prevent families from suffering the tragic loss of a child or a serious injury as a result of an unsafe consumer product. Too many families have suffered unspeakable losses. Collaborating closely with the parents of, among others, Danny Keysar, Camden Ellis, Charlie Horn, Reese Hamsmith, and Cheyenne Kaiser has been awe-inspiring and has kept me working late into the night on many occasions. These parents have turned their unspeakable tragedy of losing a child into advocacy. I have been honored to partner with them on so many important issues to prevent other families from suffering their loss. Too often on product safety issues the debate intentionally ignores the key issue—that lives have been lost and that serious injuries have been suffered—and solutions exist to prevent these harms. Recently, hand-in-hand with these parents and other consumer organizations (especially KIDS in Danger’s Nancy Cowles), and with political and agency leaders who are boldly working to pass laws and regulations, we have effected change. We have achieved goals that will save lives. On infant sleep, furniture stability, button cell battery safety, and window covering safety, significant laws and regulations are now on the books, all because of our collective work.
What advice do you have for others who hope to replicate the success you had working to protect consumers in the standards world?
There are so few organizations and advocates focused on consumer protection and injury prevention, but so many working on behalf of the makers and sellers of products who are better resourced. Our work is not easy, our success not ensured, and our ability to effect change can seem ephemeral. I often think of the Greek myth about Sisyphus, whose eternal punishment was to push a huge boulder up a hill, only for it to fall back down—to have to start again, and never reach the top. But even though we are few and they are many, we can be persuasive, we can be successful, and we can effect change. It requires us to be more prepared, more eloquent, and more outspoken for our voices to be heard and for our messages to resonate. We need to know the laws inside and out, the implications, the examples, the connections, the history, the questions, and the answers. We have to be tenacious—think of every argument that supports our case, every messenger who can repeat our call—and we have to continue to make our argument, making it better and more effective every single time. We have to be collaborative, thinking always about our partners and allies, and how to build relationships for the future. And we have to make our voices heard, even if we are the only ones in the room standing up for consumers.
What are your goals for your new job at the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards (CSS)?
Adequate appropriations for critical consumer protection agencies still need urgent attention and effective solutions. [We need to] ensure that consumer protection agencies can do their jobs and fulfill their missions. And [another goal relates to] rulemaking and ensuring that agency rulemaking works, not just for the special interest and corporations, but also for the public interest—something that is vitally important and that I am thrilled to be working on in my next chapter. CSS has consistently been the center of information, expertise, and advocacy around regulatory issues relevant to the public interest community, and I look forward to expanding the coalition’s outreach, making its advocacy more robust, and increasing its relevance to all stakeholders.
Are you an interested consumer and want to learn more about how to get involved? Visit ANSI’s Consumer Affairs Activities webpage or contact Cleo Stamatos, ANSI’s consumer and legislative outreach manager, at [email protected].