Activists are deploying the moral authority of mothers to push for climate action. Their protests must steer clear of nap time.
Many of you write to us and tell us about your feelings of powerlessness in the face of a global climate catastrophe. That sentiment is giving rise to a small but potentially potent force in the climate movement: moms, who have been catapulted into action by the hazards facing their children.
In Brooklyn, moms are taking aim at the world’s biggest asset manager, BlackRock.
In Phoenix, Pittsburgh and Denver, moms are pushing lawmakers in Congress for climate legislation.
In London, Lahore and Delhi, moms are pushing their governments to clean up the air from the very pollutants that warm the planet.
Chandra Bocci, mother of a 4-year-old in Brooklyn, summed up her motivation this way: “I want to be able to say to my kid, ‘We’re trying to do something.’”
Of course, many climate groups have long been led by women who happen to be mothers. But what I’m referring to here are groups that deliberately deploy mom moral authority. Grief and rage drive them and, as Bocci put it, “a desperation as moms of young kids.”
Some are focused on local issues. Mothers Out Front has agitated against a gas pipeline in New York City. Others, like Bocci’s group, Sunrise Kids NYC, have singled out fossil fuel financiers, once staging what they called a protest play date at the Westchester County farmhouse of Larry Fink, the BlackRock chairman.
As Bocci and I spoke on a video call, her son Zasper climbed onto her lap to complain that he didn’t get a chance to press Fink’s doorbell repeatedly, as the other kids had. (More on that play date in a bit.)
Mom-led environmental movements are not new. Mothers of East Los Angeles, or MELA, was among the first groups to call out environmental racism, when, in the early 1990s, they protested the establishment of a toxic waste incinerator in a largely Latino neighborhood. The Chipko movement in India and the Green Belt Movement in Kenya were built by mothers. Lois Gibbs leveraged her credentials as a mother to draw attention to a toxic waste dump in Niagara Falls, N.Y., which eventually led to the creation of the Superfund program.
A calamity that strikes your child can drive any mother to extraordinary action. That was certainly true for Columba Sainz of Phoenix. Only when her daughter was diagnosed with asthma did she learn of the city’s extremely hazardous air. Sainz is active with a group called EcoMadres, affiliated with a national group known as Moms Clean Air Force. In Phoenix, its members have pushed city officials to plant shade trees in neighborhoods disproportionately burdened by extreme heat, testified at federal hearings to strengthen air pollution regulations and marched to the offices of their state senators to demand climate legislation. Nationally, Moms Clean Air Force has successfully lobbied for federal money for electric school buses.
“We are mothers and we know what our kids are going through,” Sainz said. “We just have to go wherever we can go and be that voice, and motivate the voices of other moms.”
Thing is, moms are never just moms. Some are climate scientists who call themselves Science Moms, and who have created tip sheets and online videos to help others grasp the science. “As scientists and moms, we want to provide other moms the climate change information and the resources they need,” said Melissa Burt, an atmospheric scientist at Colorado State University and a co-founder the group. “Moms are worried, overwhelmed and anxious about the climate crisis, and the way to push through the anxiety is by taking action.”
Which brings us back to the play date at Larry Fink’s house.
On a crisp Sunday last October, after a morning of apple picking, Bocci drove up with a half dozen other Brooklyn moms. They brought a basket of apples, along with placards and toddlers. They had planned to take pictures of their protest on Fink’s lawn and splash them on social media.
Except that Fink came out to talk. They urged him to move BlackRock’s trillions of dollars from coal, oil and gas. Zasper rolled down his yard, again and again. Some of the other toddlers had straight-up meltdowns.
The moms said they were dismayed to hear Fink tell them there were limits to what BlackRock could do. “If he can’t make changes, I don’t know who can!” said Marlena Fontes, one of the other moms who was there.
(BlackRock confirmed the meeting took place, though not what was said. Fink has said in the past that, as a fiduciary organization in charge of other people’s money, the firm can’t divest from fossil fuel companies over climate issues. A company spokesman added that the moms’ group was later invited to speak with two BlackRock executives in charge of sustainability.)
Sunrise Kids, part of a network called NYC Climate Families Coalition, are mostly moms of toddlers. They work the playgrounds and farmers markets. They meet online in the evening after their kids are in bed. They plan protests on weekends, steering clear of nap times.
Several of the members of Sunrise Kids said they felt consumed by the climate crisis once they became parents. They found individual action, like composting, to be inadequate. They turned to each other to take on what Fontes, mother of a 2-year-old and another due soon, called “the levers of power.”
“We are a mostly white, middle to upper class group based in Brooklyn,” she said. “This is a constituency that has access to power and resources and has a responsibility to take action.”
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Thanks for reading. We’ll be back on Tuesday.
Claire O’Neill and Douglas Alteen contributed to Climate Forward.
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A growing force in the climate movement: Moms – The New York Times