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Keating-Owen Act

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In 1916 Congress made its first effort to control child labour by passing the Keating-Owen Act. The legislation forbade the transportation among states of products of factories, shops or canneries employing children under 14 years of age, of mines employing children under 16 years of age, and the products of any of these employing children under 16 who worked at night or more than eight hours a day. In 1918 the Supreme Court ruled that the Keating-Owen Act was unconstitutional.


Unratified Amendments: Regulating Child Labor

During the Progressive Era, muckraking journalists and photographers drew public attention to a myriad of America’s social problems, one of them being the exploitation of children. Perhaps most famous was Lewis Hine, who was a photographer for the National Child Labor Committee. Hine’s photographs documented the working conditions of children in factories, fields, and mines.

In 1916, in an attempt to regulate child labor, Congress passed the Keating-Owen Child Labor Act. The act banned the sale of products from any factory, shop, or cannery that employed children under the age of 14, from any mine that employed children under the age of 16, and from any facility that had children under the age of 16 working at night or for more than 8 hours during the day. Congress cited its authority to pass the law stemmed from the Federal Government’s ability to regulate interstate commerce.

In 1918, however, the United States Supreme Court ruled the act was unconstitutional because it overstepped the purpose of the government’s powers to regulate interstate commerce. Congress passed another child labor bill in 1918, this time citing the Federal Government’s power to levy taxes. In 1922 the Supreme Court found it unconstitutional as well.

Congress next tried to regulate child labor through a constitutional amendment. It read:

Section 1. The Congress shall have power to limit, regulate, and prohibit the labor of persons under eighteen years of age.

Section 2. The power of the several States is unimpaired by this article except that the operation of State laws shall be suspended to the extent necessary to give effect to legislation enacted by the Congress.

The House of Representatives passed the joint resolution on April 26, 1924, by a vote of 297–69 and Senate the passed it on June 2, 1924, by a vote of 61–23. The proposed constitutional amendment was then submitted to the state legislatures for ratification.

After a few state ratifications in 1924 and 1925, the amendment stalled, mostly because of a successful ad campaign to discredit it. By 1937, when the most recent state passed the amendment, only 28 states had ratified it. This fell short of the required three-fourths threshold. The amendment is still outstanding, however, and ratification by 10 more states (38 states in total) is required to add the amendment to the Constitution.


Keating-Owen Act - History

The Court decided for Dagenhart and overturned the Keating-Owen Act. Writing for a narrow 5-4 majority, Justice William Day held that the act was both an unconstitutional application of the Commerce Clause and a violation of states' rights as protected by the Tenth Amendment. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes and three other justices dissented vigorously.

In the short-term, the Court's decision in Hammer v. Dagenhart invalidated the Keating-Owen Child Labor Act -- and also gave the Court a reputation for indulging in judicial activism. In the long term, however, the legal reasoning of Hammer v. Dagenhart did not hold up. Twenty-three years later, the Court would overturn Dagenhart in the 1941 landmark case United States v. Darby Lumber Co. In a decision that relied heavily on Holmes's reasoning, a unanimous Court upheld in Darby the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which prohibited full-time employment of most children under 16 and enacted a national minimum wage. Adopting Holmes' position, the decision in Darby held that the Tenth Amendment "states but a truism that all is retained which has not been surrendered."

Although most scholars suggest that improvements in economic and social conditions were ultimately responsible for the decline in child labor, congressional legislation in this area, legitimated by the Court, represented a symbolic commitment to the rights of the nation's workers and youth.

Published in December 2006.
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Children’s Bureau

Reform issues of many stripes gained the attention of the public and politicians in the early twentieth century. Advocates for child welfare formed one of the most vocal segments this trend. The establishment of the U.S. Children’s Bureau in 1912 marked a high point in the effort by many Americans to improve the lives of children.

Activist Florence Kelley recalls that she and Lillian Wald discussed the idea for a federal agency dedicated to childrens issues over breakfast one morning in 1903. Wald lamented that the government spent money and time on raising agricultural crops and animals, but ignored the needs of children. The two women collaborated with other leaders also interested in child welfare. The most visible anti-child labor group, the National Child Labor Committee, endorsed the children’s bureau idea in 1905, gaining the private support of President Theodore Roosevelt. Nonetheless, the president did not take the idea to congress. As one of his last acts as president, Roosevelt finally gave the idea a boost by calling the January, 1909 White House Conference on the Care of Dependent Children. Participants at this meeting passed a resolution of support for the proposal and over the next three years lobbied congress. The Senate passed the bill establishing the U.S. Children’s Bureau bill by a vote of 54 to 20 and the House approved 177 to 17. President William Howard Taft signed the legislation on April 8, 1912 (Stat. L, 79) placing the new agency within the Department of Commerce and Labor. Taft’s signature made the United States the first nation in the world to have a federal agency focused solely on children.

The president’s named Julia C. Lathrop the bureau’s first chief, symbolizing the important role women had played in the agency’s creation. Lathrop was the first women named to head a federal agency in the United States notably eight years before the passage of national female suffrage. The Children’s Bureau was very popular with the public, but still faced some powerful critics. Manufacturing interests feared that the bureau would push for the elimination of child labor. Fiscal conservatives contended that the bureau duplicated work already under the jurisdiction of other federal agencies (primarily the U.S. Public Health Service and the Bureau of Education). The Catholic Church warned that the Children’s Bureau might interfere with parochial education, promote birth control, or interfere with parental authority. Lathrop sought to quiet criticism by steering clear of partisan politics and the most controversial political issues. As chief, Lathrop chose to use the Children’s Bureau to promote the middle-class family ideal: a nuclear family where the father worked as the sole breadwinner, mother served full-time as a housewife, and children attended school, were well-fed and cared for, had a secure future, and labored only at household chores. Initially she avoided the issue of child labor and instead chose to center bureau efforts on lowing the nation’s high infant mortality rate and denied any connection to the controversial birth control movement.

Faced with a small staff of only fifteen and a miniscule budget of $25,640, the U.S. Children’s Bureau’s relied on data collected by other federal agencies and an army of female volunteers. In 1913 the bureau found that the world’s largest economic power had an infant mortality rate of 132 deaths per 1,000 live births that placed it behind New Zealand (83), Norway (94), Ireland (99), Sweden (104), Australia (108), Bulgaria (120), and Scotland (123). Bureau investigators concluded that poor sanitation, lack of good medical care, and poverty were the major factors contributing to infant deaths. Educating mothers, improving public sanitation, and requiring birth certificates would help save babies’ lives. Advice pamphlets published by the bureau became very popular and Congress declared 1918 Children’s Year.

In 1921 Congress passed the Sheppard-Towner Maternity and Infancy Act, giving the Children’s Bureau administrative authority over the program. Although limited to education, diagnosis, and investigation, by 1926 the Sheppard-Towner Act faced strong opposition from the American Medical Association which condemned the program as socialized medicine. The fight was also a turf war between the Public Health Service and the bureau. Administering the program through two staff physicians, Grace L. Meigs (hired in 1915) and Dorothy Reed Mendenhall (hired in 1917) was not enough to pacify the AMA. Funding for Sheppard-Towner ended in 1929, but infant mortality rates had decreased to 67.9 deaths per 1,000 live births.

The onset of the Great Depression was especially hard on children, but the new political atmosphere opened new opportunities for the Children’s Bureau to implement it’s a broader agenda on behalf of children. Under Herbert Hoover the Children’s Bureau had been weakened, but Franklin Roosevelt’s election brought the plight of children into focus. Three representatives from the Children’s Bureau, Katharine Lenroot, Martha May Eliot, and Grace Abbott wrote the seminal child welfare sections of the 1935 Social Security Act. Title V provides federal funding for maternal and infant care for low-income mothers and children. During World War II Title V was expanded to include medical care for the wives and newborns of enlisted men in the military. From 1942 to 1946 one of every seven babies born in the United States benefited from this Emergency Maternity and Infant Health Program. The 1935 Social Security Act also included the Aid to Dependent Children Program (ADC, later renamed Aid to Families with Dependent Children and eliminated in 1996 under President Bill Clinton’s Welfare Reform Act), and Title VII that created federal allocations for handicapped children.

As some of its critics had feared, after its initial work on infant mortality, the Children’s Bureau also worked to eliminate child labor. The 1910 census counted 1,990,225 children under fourteen years of age working for wages (18.4 percent of the total age cohort). In 1915 the bureau began lobbying against the worst abuses of workers under age eighteen. Congress responded by passing the Keating-Owen Act in 1916, but the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the law in 1918. Congress passed an anti-child labor constitutional amendment in 1922, but the measure was never ratified by the necessary number of states. It took the onset of high adult unemployment rates in the 1930s to change the political and legal atmosphere in favor of federal child labor regulation. Congress passed he first permanent federal restrictions on child labor as part of the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act. The U.S. Children’s Bureau enforced the federal prohibitions that kept youngsters under fourteen out of the wage-labor force and regulated the participation of adolescents under eighteen.

In its first decades of work the Children’s Bureau also shaped policies concerning minors who entered the nation’s justice system or otherwise depended on the government for their support. By 1920 forty-five of the then forty-eight states had some form of juvenile or family court. The establishment of juvenile justice systems were a clear recognition of the middle-class ideal that set childhood aside as a distinct period of life separate from adult responsibilities.

In an interesting turn of events, the growing role for the federal government in child welfare did not translate to an ever expanding role for the U.S. Children’s Bureau. The Social Security Board (established in 1935) was given authority for administering ADC and the Public Health Service handled Title V’s maternal and child health program. In 1946 the Truman Administration’s government reorganization lowered the Children’s Bureau status within the federal hierarchy and set the stage for the eventual removal of all administrative and regulatory responsibilities from the agency. Symbolically, the change removed the “U.S.” from the agency’s name. The Children’s Bureau’s became solely a clearing house for information on child welfare. Following Julia C. Lathrop (1912-1921), the Children’s Bureau was headed by Grace Abbott (1921- 1934), Katharine F. Lenroot (1934-1951), Martha May Eliot (1951-1956), and Katherine B. Oettinger (1956-1969). The bureau relocated again within the federal hierarchy in 1969, this time to the new Office of Child Development in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Frederick C. Green, served as acting chief when Oettinger stepped down in 1969 and marked the first time a man headed the agency. President Richard M. Nixon appointed Edward F. Zigler chief in 1972, making him the first African American and male to officially sit as chief of the Children’s Bureau.

Since 1972 the Children’s Bureau’s has continued to narrow its focus. By the 1990s the agency was one of four bureaus within the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Children, Youth and Families. Today the agency works with state and local agencies to prevent child abuse a role much smaller than its original responsibility to investigate and report on “the whole child.”

Bibliography
DeWitt, Larry. Social Security Online, History http://www.ssa.gov/history/

Goodwin, Joanne L. 1997. Gender and the Politics of Welfare Reform: Mothers’ Pensions in Chicago, 1911-1929. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Ladd-Taylor, Molly. 1986. Raising Baby the Government Way: Mothers’ Letters to the Children’s Bureau, 1915-1932. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

Ladd-Taylor, Molly. 1994. Mother-Work: Women, Child Welfare, and the State, 1890<en>1930. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.</bibcit>

Lemons, J. Stanley. 1973. The Woman Citizen: Social Feminism in the 1920s. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Lindenmeyer, Kriste. 1997. “A Right to Childhood”: The U.S. Children’s Bureau and Child Welfare, 1912-1946. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Lindenmeyer, Kriste. 2005. The Greatest Generation Grows Up: American Childhood in the 1930s. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee.

Meckel, Richard. 1989. Save the Babies: American Public Health Reform and the Prevention of Infant Mortality, 1850-1929. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Michel, Sonya. 1999. Children’s Interests/Mothers’ Rights: The Shaping of America’s Child Care Policy. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Muncy, Robyn. 1991. Creating a Female Dominion in American Reform, 1890-1935. New York: Oxford University Press.

Trattner, Walter I. 1970. Crusade for Children: A History of the National Child Labor Committee and Child Labor Reform in America. Chicago: Quadrangle Books.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families. About the Children’s Bureau. http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/aboutcb/about_cb.htm

How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Lindenmeyer, K. (2011). Children’s Bureau. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved from http://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/programs/child-welfarechild-labor/children%E2%80%99s-bureau/

Resources related to this topic may be found in the Social Welfare History Image Portal.


Keating-Owen Act

This act limited the working hours of children and forbade the interstate sale of goods produced by child labor.

The 1900 census revealed that approximately 2 million children were working in mills, mines, fields, factories, stores, and on city streets across the United States. The census report helped spark a national movement to end child labor in the United States. In 1908, the National Child Labor Committee hired Lewis Hine as its staff photographer and sent him across the country to photograph and report on child labor (see Hine photo). Social reformers began to condemn child labor because of its detrimental effect on the health and welfare of children. Among those helping to incite public opinion against it were Karl Marx and Charles Dickens, who had worked at a factory himself at age 12. One of the most effective attacks came from Dickens's novel Oliver Twist, which was widely read in Britain and the United States. Dickens's masterwork portrays an orphan boy, raised in poorhouses and workhouses and by street criminals in industrialized London in the 1850s.

The first child labor bill, the Keating-Owen bill of 1916, was based on Senator Albert J. Beveridge's proposal from 1906 and used the government's ability to regulate interstate commerce to regulate child labor. The act banned the sale of products from any factory, shop, or cannery that employed children under the age of 14, from any mine that employed children under the age of 16, and from any facility that had children under the age of 16 work at night or for more than 8 hours during the day. Although the Keating-Owen Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson, the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional in Hammer v. Dagenhart 247 U.S. 251 (1918) because it overstepped the purpose of the government's powers to regulate interstate commerce. In its opinion the Court delineated between the Congress's power to regulate production and commerce. A second child labor bill was passed in December of 1918 as part of the Revenue Act of 1919 (also called the Child Labor Tax Law). It also took an indirect route to regulate child labor, this time by using the government's power to levy taxes. It too, was soon found to be unconstitutional in Bailey v. Drexel Furniture Company 259 U.S. 20 (1922). The Court reasoned that “The power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce does not extend to curbing the power of the states to regulate local trade.”

Despite the nation's apparent desire for federal laws against child labor, the Supreme Court's rulings left little room for federal legislation. A constitutional amendment was soon proposed to give Congress the power to regulate child labor. The campaign for ratification of the Child Labor Amendment was stalled in the 1920s by an effective campaign to discredit it. Opponents' charges ranged from traditional states' rights arguments against increases in the power of the Federal Government to accusations that the amendment was a communist-inspired plot to subvert the Constitution. Federal protection of children would not be obtained until passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, which was also challenged before the Supreme Court. This time, the movement to end child labor was victorious. In February of 1941, the Supreme Court reversed its opinion in Hammer v. Dagenhart and, in U. S. v. Darby (1941), upheld the constitutionality of the Fair Labor Standards Act. It is still in force today.

Source: The People's Vote, National Archives of the United States.

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Majority Opinion (Day):

Mr. Dagenhart sought an injunction against the act on the grounds that it was not a regulation of interstate commerce. The court agreed with Mr. Dagenhart, viewing the Keatings-Owens act not as an attempt to regulate interstate commerce, but rather an act intending to regulate production within the states. The court held that: The thing intended to be accomplished by this statute is the denial of the facilities of interstate commerce to those manufacturers in the States who employ children within the prohibited ages(Day 1918) . The Act, in its effect, does not regulate transportation among the States, but aims to standardize the ages at which children may be employed in mining and manufacturing within the States” (Day 1918). The court continued their interpretation, stating that Congress was only claiming to regulate interstate commerce in an attempt to regulate production within the states through a roundabout method. The court clearly saw through this and stated that child labor was only part of the manufacturing process, and unrelated to transport. “When offered for shipment, and before transportation begins, the labor of their production is over, and the mere fact that they were intended for interstate commerce transportation does not make their production subject to federal control under the commerce power”(Day 1918). The Supreme Court continued with this line of thought, arguing that even if manufactured goods are intended for transport this does not mean that Congress can regulate them. “The making of goods and the mining of coal are not commerce, nor does the fact that these things are to be afterwards shipped or used in interstate commerce make their production a part thereof” (Day 1918). Thus, the court clearly saw this as an attempt to circumvent the restrictions placed upon the Federal Government, and thus the majority ruled in Dagenhart’s favor.

A ruling often used in the Supreme Court to explain what and how commerce is regulated and what is classified as commerce is:

“When the commerce begins is determined not by the character of the commodity, nor by the intention of the owner to transfer it to another state for sale, nor by his preparation of it for transportation, but by its actual delivery to a common carrier for transportation, or the actual commencement of its transfer to another state.” (Mr. Justice Jackson in In re Green, 52 Fed.Rep. 113.) .

This quote was specifically used in the case Hammer V. Dagenhart and is stated in the majority opinion to again specify where the court stands. It emphasizes the holding in which they state that it does not matter what the intention of the manufacturer was or how the manufacturer made the good but the way in which the good is transported is what the congress has power to control through the commerce clause.

Another argument supporting Dagenhart comes from the 10th amendment State powers clause. The majority opinion stated this as: “There is no power vested in Congress to require the States to exercise their police power so as to prevent possible unfair competition.” The Court’s holding on this issue is “Many causes may cooperate to give one State, by reason of local laws or conditions, an economic advantage over others. The Commerce Clause was not intended to give to Congress a general authority to equalize such conditions.” The idea being that if one State’s policy gives it an economic edge over another, it is not within Congress’s power to attempt to level the playing field for all states. Each state has its own rules and regulations on how they control their economic growth every rule and regulation may specifically help one state and give them advantages over the other, however congress does not have the power to deny the transportation of goods just because they do not agree with such regulations. The commerce clause is just a means of transportation through state lines and gives the power to the states to regulate the transportation itself, it does not give congress the power to regulate the economic laws in the states.

The last argument of the majority opinion pertains to Justice Day’s fear of Congress gaining power not delegated to it and the freedom of commerce. He believed that if Congress had the power to prohibit the movement of commodities during the interstate commerce process, then our system of government may cease to exist. He claimed that because the United States utilizes federalism, (where the Federal government has powers delegated to them through the constitution) then all other powers not expressed in the constitution belong to the states and people. Manufacturing is a local matter that should be left to the states to decide how to regulate. He stated that the act in a two-fold sense is “repugnant to the constitution” because Congress overstepped their bounds with the commerce clause power and also used a power not given to them in the constitution.

Justice Day’s interpretation of the commerce clause was very specific Congress has the ability to regulate interstate commerce as in the movement of goods sold over state borders. Even though Congress was regulating goods that crossed state lines, Congress does not have the power to prohibit the manufacturing of goods produced by children. Nowhere in the constitution does it state a power of Congress to regulate child labor, therefore this power is reserved to the state. Hence, the majority struck down the act.


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  • Wilson sought to encourage competition and curb trusts by using the Federal Trade Commission to enforce the Clayton Antitrust Act.
  • For instance, the 1916 Federal Farm Loan Act provided for issuance of low-cost, long term mortgages to farmers, and the Adamson Act imposed an eight-hour workday in the railroad industry (prompted by the 1916 summer strike by railroad employees).
  • Wilson also attempted to curtail child labor with the Keating-OwenAct.
  • The Federal Trade Commission effectively restricted unfair trade practices and enforced the 1914 Clayton Antitrust Act.
  • Rather than the piecemeal success of Roosevelt and Taft in targeting certain trusts and monopolies in lengthy lawsuits, the Clayton Antitrust Act effectively defined unfair business practices and created a common code of sanctioned business activity.

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  • Congress to pass the Keating-OwenAct, which was signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson.
  • In 1938, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act, which, among other things, placed limits on many forms of child labor.

The Federal Reserve Act

  • President Wilson secured passage of the Federal Reserve Act in late 1913.
  • President Wilson secured passage of the Federal Reserve Act in late 1913, as an attempt to carve out a middle ground between conservative Republicans, led by Senator Nelson W.
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  • Despite the fact that the Act intended to diminish the influence of the New York banks, the New York branch continued to dominate the Federal Reserve until the New Deal reorganized and strengthened the Federal Reserve in the 1930s.

Norris–La Guardia Act

  • The Norris–LaGuardia Act removed certain legal and judicial barriers against the activities of organized labor in the United States.
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Keating-Owen Child Labor Act of 1916 (1916)

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The 1900 census revealed that approximately 2 million children were working in mills, mines, fields, factories, stores, and on city streets across the United States. The census report helped spark a national movement to end child labor in the United States. In 1908, the National Child Labor Committee hired Lewis Hine as its staff photographer and sent him across the country to photograph and report on child labor (see Hine photo). Social reformers began to condemn child labor because of its detrimental effect on the health and welfare of children. Among those helping to incite public opinion against it were Karl Marx and Charles Dickens, who had worked at a factory himself at age 12. One of the most effective attacks came from Dickens's novel Oliver Twist, which was widely read in Britain and the United States. Dickens’s masterwork portrays an orphan boy, raised in poorhouses and workhouses and by street criminals in industrialized London in the 1850s.

The first child labor bill, the Keating-Owen bill of 1916, was based on Senator Albert J. Beveridge's proposal from 1906 and used the government's ability to regulate interstate commerce to regulate child labor. The act banned the sale of products from any factory, shop, or cannery that employed children under the age of 14, from any mine that employed children under the age of 16, and from any facility that had children under the age of 16 work at night or for more than 8 hours during the day. Although the Keating-Owen Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson, the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional because it overstepped the purpose of the government's powers to regulate interstate commerce. A second child labor bill was passed in December of 1918. It also took an indirect route to regulate child labor, this time by using the government's power to levy taxes. It, too, was soon found to be unconstitutional in Hammer v. Dagenhart 247 U. S. 251 (1918). The Court reasoned that “The power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce does not extend to curbing the power of the states to regulate local trade.”

Despite the nation's apparent desire for federal laws against child labor, the Supreme Court's rulings left little room for federal legislation. A constitutional amendment was soon proposed to give Congress the power to regulate child labor. The campaign for ratification of the Child Labor Amendment was stalled in the 1920s by an effective campaign to discredit it. Opponents' charges ranged from traditional states' rights arguments against increases in the power of the Federal Government to accusations that the amendment was a communist-inspired plot to subvert the Constitution. Federal protection of children would not be obtained until passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, which was also challenged before the Supreme Court. This time, the movement to end child labor was victorious. In February of 1941, the Supreme Court reversed its opinion in Hammer v. Dagenhart and, in U. S. v. Darby (1941), upheld the constitutionality of the Fair Labor Standards Act. It is still in force today.

Source

Keating-Owen Child Labor Act of 1916 (1916). Our Documents Initiative, http://ourdocuments.gov/ accessed April 14, 2005.

Used with written permission from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the Center for Applied Technologies in Education has aligned this document with New York State Learning Standards at the Performance Indicator Level.

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  • Community-based economics
  • Grassroots democracy
  • Decentralization
  • Gender equality
  • Personal and social responsibility
  • Respect for diversity
  • Nonviolence
  • Global responsibility

"Greens seek to restore balance through recognizing that our planet and all of life are unique aspects of an integrated whole, and also through affirming the significant inherent values and contribution of each part of that whole." The Green Party - Hawaii


Watch the video: Take That - Babe Official Video (August 2022).