In the first interview I did for this blog last fall, the former director of the Upper Merion Recreation Department, told me, with great delight, that he'd been "unHatched." As a public employee, under the Hatch Act, David Broida had not been allowed to engage in politics. Now, he is thrilled to be able to speak out politically and raise money for President Obama.
I, too, felt liberated leaving my journalism job. Each year, I had to sign a code of ethics, promising not to engage in any activity that would create a conflict of interest with my work – or even the appearance of one.
But a recent freelance assignment – dissecting the Romney and Obama Medicare plans – made me realize that I am still not really free to speak out. Not if I want to continue as a fact-seeking reporter, trying to be as objective as possible.
Business writer and author David Gumpert has also wrestled with this issue of voice and conviction. He spent most of his career attempting to be incisive but neutral, first as a reporter for publications such as the Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review and Inc. magazine, and later as the owner of a publishing company specializing in business content. Then he was touched by an act of injustice, as he saw it, and became so impassioned, that he's now a national advocate for his issue, quoted in such places as the New Yorker.
After so many years in journalism, advocacy is a mantle David wears uncomfortably but he feels his cause goes to the heart of what America is all about. Free choice and a free market.
His issue? Raw milk.
How could raw milk be controversial? you might ask. But both sides of the debate feel that they are absolutely in the right. I'm going to oversimplify:
On one side, the government –with all its powers of regulation, enforcement and arrest -- has the duty to protect the public from illness and death from unpasteurized products. Just as passionate are the raw milk folks. Both buyers and sellers believe in the potential benefits of cleanly produced raw (unpasteurized) milk as a more nutritional product, that might even help prevent such conditions as asthma. And they believe in their right to be producers and consumers of it.
Little did David know that a war was raging over the issue when he stumbled on a small online post in 2006. "The Michigan Department of Agriculture had conducted a sting operation against a farmer in Michigan, stopped him on the highway, confiscated his raw milk and other stuff he was bringing to a cooperative in Ann Arbor. Then two weeks later, it happened to a farmer in California. The state Department of Agriculture came and shut his farm down."
"People were outraged," Gumpert said, of the outpouring on his health blog, the Complete Patient.
Since then, he's written about confrontations involving custom slaughtered meat, pastured eggs that don't necessarily meet all the regulations about refrigeration—"foods that the government is trying hard to keep off the market and restrict more and more," he said.
David has also argued against efforts in cities such as Philadelphia and New York to ban sugared soft drinks.
"I don't drink soft drinks and I don't serve them to my family, but I don't think we should ban them," he said. "We should educate people. No matter what the food, we shouldn't be banning foods…"We should decide what food we should put into our bodies."
"I think it's real important that we keep those rights, and that people who are producing the food have the ability to produce this food. Otherwise we're going to be in a situation where our only choice is this overly sterilized food. I really believe that."
David Gumpert, the journalist, continues to write books and report on his blog. David Gumpert, the advocate, quietly helps farmer groups deal with the media. He's uncomfortable but determined.
"I've become like an activist in this food rights movement, which is a totally unexpected and new turn for me," he said.
At 65, he could be spending more time reading, riding his bike and traveling, which he loves. But, he says, in words echoed often on this blog, "I want to do something beneficial, something that could be helpful to others."
In the same spirit, minions of the "unHatched, " such as David Broida, along with others with the newly found freedom of time, are pouring their energy into the upcoming election – on one side or the other.
Because of what they believe is right.
More from Dotty Brown's UnRetiring blog: