Congress heard you … It's hard enough for parents to juggle a family, jobs, schedules, school, lessons, meals, doctors' appointments and, by the way, were you planning on being home to meet the plumber tomorrow?

We have to triage our energy-putting it where it will have the most impact. Often, we keep it close to home, staying within our children's world, our schools and our communities. Normally, we have little energy left to weigh in on federal questions.

(Although wading through a piece of federal law can remind you of a homey task, akin to trying to read the owner's manual of a household appliance-in Japanese.)

Let's face it. To effect any change in federal legislation, it would take tremendous energy and effort, right? Wrong. It takes raising your voice.

As Congress comes back for its fall session, you should know your representatives and senators actually listen to you. You can make a difference. The Internet has made it even easier. It has become a powerful tool that is hard for those inside the Washington Beltway to ignore.

Skeptical? Here are two current examples, both key issues for parents and children: The reauthorization of Head Start, the federally-funded early childhood education program for low-income families, and the rules changes passed by the Federal Communications Commission.

Proponents for changing the nearly 40-year-old Head Start program say they want to update the program, that it is not as good as it could be.

Opponents say the changes would dismantle a program which has served 20 million children.

Currently the $6.7 million spent annually is paid directly to the programs. The proposed changes would send the money instead to states. Opponents predict that within five years cash-strapped states would divert the money completely away from Head Start.

Still, the White House-backed changes were considered a sure bet to pass when they first were proposed. Now, prospects of passage are bleak, thanks to the public outcry. The bill squeaked by in the House but, if conventional wisdom holds, it will fail in the Senate.

"I don't think anyone was expecting this response," says Mark Ferguson of the National Head Start Association. The fight was lead by his association and the Children's Defense Fund. But the outcry was far-reaching. Many people-including parents whose children are in Head Start programs-spoke out.

As for the FCC, in June the three-member panel voted to relax ownership rules, allowing companies to consolidate their power by owning both newspapers and TV stations in one market.

Again, the public outcry was tremendous and very grass roots. People called, wrote and sent e-mails. The congressional response was immediate. Already, there are three bills pending that would overturn some of the FCC changes. More are expected. It remains to be seen if any will pass. But voices were heard.

Anthropologist Margaret Mead said it best: "Never doubt that a group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world: Indeed it's the only thing that ever has."

We want to hear you, too It's that time of year again. The end of summer and the beginning of school, which can mean only one thing-time for our readers' survey.

Every two years we ask you to take some time and tell us about you: Who you are, what you like, what you don't like and what you think about the magazine.

It's good for us to know about the people we are serving. It's how we make this magazine better.

In 2001, we found out fascinating things, such as: You actually spend time reading us. (We hope that means you like us you.) Most of you, 43.5 percent, have two children at home, 36.5 have one, 38 percent of you have kids ages 0 to 2 and 50 percent have children ages 3 to 5.

Plus, we were surprised to learn that 30 percent of our readers were men.

We also know you are busy. So, we try not to bother you too much by asking for information. But once we get it, we do use it. It will help us determine our editorial direction.

This year-because we know that 92 percent of you are online-we put the survey there as well. You can find it at: www.pulseresearch.com/ chicagoparent.

Still, we know you are busy, we've seen the survey. And we respect your time. So, we are offering an incentive. If you fill out the survey, you will be entered in a drawing to win a night at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, $500 worth of groceries or a family membership at the Chicago Children's Museum. So, we hope 100 percent of you can help us out.

Kids Eat Chicago

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