Moms raise awareness of climate change

ROCHESTER — Mothers know how to multitask, especially when it comes to their children’s well-being.

That is one of the reasons why the organization Mothers Out Front: Mobilizing for a Livable Climate targets moms to help raise awareness about climate change and create a better future for their families, the local group’s leaders say.

"Women and mothers have that nurturing drive," said Mary Lupien, one of the organizers in Rochester. "And I love the potential of this group. … Mothers are multitaskers. They get things done."

Neely Kelley brought the organization to Rochester last year following a move from Massachusetts, where the organization launched in 2013 with a group of climate change advocates. New York is the second state to join Mothers Out Front, said Kelley, who is on the founding leadership team and is lead organizer for New York.

At first, she wasn’t sure what the group could accomplish. But then at an event, Kelley heard Marshall Gantz speak of his experience registering African-American voters in Mississippi during the civil rights movement. He then went on to explain how all the country’s major movements from civil rights to suffrage were successful because mass groups of people mobilized with a singular focus, Kelley said.

"The key to the movement is building relationships and doing it on a local level," Lupien added.

Lupien learned about the group at a house party, which is the model the group uses to increase its membership, Neely explained. So, like Tupperware parties, women are invited by friends to learn about the movement and then are given a variety of options based on their interest and other commitments, she said. They can merely join an e-mail list, host a party or become active volunteers, Lupien said. They also can sign petitions, lobby their own local town boards or city councils on environmental issues, and switch to clean energy companies individually and communitywide, Kelley added.

About 70 women have become active volunteers on four organizing teams around New York, she said.

"I love the (house party) idea because it’s what women are used to … and it offers a method of exponential growth," Lupien said.

The house parties also provide a place to humanize the issue, to move beyond facts and figures by hearing other women’s personal stories and identify common values, the women said. Kelley often talks about living through Hurricane Irene and Hurricane Sandy, and she knows other women have their own personal climate change experiences.

On a local level, the group is focused on stopping trains carrying crude oil from passing through Rochester, Kelley and Lupien explained. The oil is obtained by hydrofracking the Bakken Shale in North Dakota, and a train carrying this oil derailed and exploded in Quebec in 2013, according to the group’s information at

Forty of these trains carrying crude oil travel through Rochester, Kelley said, including some that go by several schools in the city.

Wendy Lowe said she didn’t know about the trains before joining Mothers Out Front, even though she and her husband had noticed an increase in trains passing near their home in Rochester’s Blossom Avenue neighborhood.

Hannah Sommers, 12, supports Pope Francis’ stance on climate change during a protest with the group Mothers Out Front at the Monroe County Building Sept. 24.

"Sometimes you hold out on your awareness until you find out what you can do about it," she added. "Sometimes people never think about global warming because they don’t know what they can do. That’s why Mothers Out Front is invaluable. It has actual steps people can take."

Those steps include lobbying local boards to not let the trains pass through their areas and marching in local parades to spread the word about the group’s issues, said Lupien and Kelley. The local contingent also is trying to gain the attention of more mothers of color, Lupien said. While understanding that some mothers in the city are focused on how to put food on the table, she said she hopes that connecting the effects of climate change to poverty also will get more mothers involved.

"This is not about, ‘I’ve got to save the world,’" Lupien added. "It’s about, ‘I’ve got to save my family.’"

The group also is grateful for all that Pope Francis has done to raise awareness of the need for everyone to do their part to reverse climate change, especially when one considers the power of mobilizing a billion Catholics around the world, Kelley said.

"You can’t ignore that," she said. "He called on everyone, our common humanity."

By connecting climate change to social justice and how it affects hunger and poverty around the world, the pope’s encyclical moved his message beyond religion, Lupien added.

"More and more people are tying (climate change) to a moral responsibility," Kelley said.

In addition to praying for the pope, group members were part of a local march on the same day he addressed Congress during his U.S. visit. They also were involved in the interfaith gathering responding to his visit that was held Sept. 21 at St. Mary Church in Rochester.

Lowe, who joined Mothers Out Front at a house party last spring, said she hopes the group can do for climate change what Mothers Against Drunk Driving did to make the streets safer for everyone.

"A bunch of women said enough, we are not going to let our children be killed because people want to drive drunk and were able to push (tougher enforcement) through," Lowe said. "When women understand what a threat (climate change) is, they are not going to stand for it. When they won’t stand for it, perhaps nobody will stand for it."

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