Mothers Out Front, a Cambridge-based organization with community teams in five states, educates and trains mothers and supporters to advocate and act for a “swift, just and complete” transition to renewable energy. Not a few Cambridge members have gone on to play roles in the growing national movement grappling with climate change through “grassroots organizing, personal and collective action, and a focus on shifting policy.” We caught up with Mothers Out Front Cambridge Community Team Co-Coordinators Zeyneb Magavi (right) and Leslie Bliss (left) at a city park recently. Magavi,a graduate student, has three daughters 12, 11, and 6. Bliss, an educator, also has three daughters, 24, 23, and 21.
1. What makes Mothers out Front different from other organizations working on the global warming issue?
Bliss: Since we’re building a grassroots national movement, there’s an emphasis on empowering others and creating leaders.
Magavi: Well, it’s run by women and it’s not hierarchical.
Bliss: We spend time building relationships with each other—within community teams, and with other Mothers Out Front in the state, across the country, and with allies. We give importance to taking the time to listen, connect, and respect.
Another difference is that we are focused on fossil fuel policies as an ethical choice. Environmental organizations have focused, in past years, on love of nature, on trees, etc.; others focus on the science of climate change. These are important, but Mothers Out Front has a very human focus.
Magavi: Mothers Out Front is based on a moral directive—that it is immoral to ruin the climate for our children’s future.
2. What have you told your daughters about climate change and how have they reacted?
Bliss: My kids have heard a lot of talk about it at home and are very aware of climate change. We were chatting with one of our daughters, who dreams of becoming an apple farmer. My husband reminded her that she’d have to look even farther north than New England to be able to do that. Our daughters have been part of mitigating our reliance on fossil fuels in the household.
Magavi: I think of discussing climate change with children the way any parent deals with any other parenting problem. It needs to be developmentally appropriate. My oldest two know the “big picture scary part” of climate change. My youngest (6) and I haven’t yet discussed it directly. The first step is to learn to love nature, understand how it works and that is a system. Once you understand that it’s a system, that you can understand more clearly how it can be disrupted by human activity.
Also, if you present a problem along with information about an action to address the problem, it avoids the anxiety in young kids. My middle daughter got really worried for a while. I brought her to a march, and her worry went away because she had done something about climate change and saw that other people are working hard on the problem. We’re giving them hope.
Bliss: At one point I was gathering postcards and sending them to Governor Baker. My daughter stepped up and said, “Oh, I’ll do that, too, mom.” This sort of thing creates a jumping off point, where you can connect and have a conversation about actions we can take.
3. How do you see the relationship between Black Lives Matter and Climate Activism?
Magavi: Both movements fight injustice. Often the infrastructure for fossil fuels extraction and delivery goes geographically through disadvantaged communities. If you step back in time and think of colonialism and the extraction of resources it involved, you can see a parallel, that the fossil fuel economy is being played out in a class way.
I’ve read a paper spelling out how inequity is the root cause of climate disruption. The main idea is that only from inequity and huge gap between haves and have nots can you get the kind of extraction and consumption of natural resources that has driven climate change.
Black Lives Matter UK recently had a sit-in at the London City airport (editor’s note: The airport is slated for expansion into adjacent neighborhoods). They were drawing attention to the fact that it’s the wealthy who fly in those airplanes, and it’s the front-line communities and the poor who suffer the most as a result of the environmental effects of the air travel industry.
Bliss: The No-DAPL movement is a recent example I’ve seen that’s really taken fire, highlighting the connection between injustice based on race and injustice based on climate.(Editor’s note: The “Dakota Access” Pipeline (DAPL) is a fracked-gas pipeline that will stretch from North Dakota’s Bakken shale fields through Lakota Treaty Territory and underneath the Missouri River, to Peoria, Illinois).
4. What does being part of Mothers Out Front mean to you personally?
Bliss: We’re pragmatic and get things done one step at a time—that’s how parenting is, too.
I’ve come to know know I’m not alone in being concerned about this. I have built strong relationships with other women in Mothers Out Front who are part of our Cambridge team. This has been deeply motivating and reassuring.
Magavi: I would second that. I would also say what’s been inspiring is the strength and brilliance of the women in the group. The way we work is so low stress. We work collaboratively —it’s a pleasure. It means a lot to me to take action on climate change through Mothers Out Front because it turns worry into a positive, meaningful action.
5. What does a member do? Can people who aren’t mothers join ?
Magavi: With Mothers Out Front, you can participate at any capacity you are able to do—from ‘liking’ the Mothers Out Front Facebook page to volunteering at a table at a community event. You can volunteer when you have free time, and then not, when you don’t. We’re mothers, so we understand about time constraints.
Bliss: Also—we are mothers, grandmothers, and allies. Anyone of any gender with or without children, can show up at events and support us. The organization is women-run (no man can be in a leadership role). We have people who say, “I have nephews and nieces, so I am very concerned about climate change because of them.” Or, “I’m a caregiver, and I’m very concerned.”