When you are a mother, you are never really alone in your thoughts. A mother always has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child. ~Sophia Loren
With the outpouring of support last year after a Texas Clean Air Matters post by mother-of-two Deedra Parrish, we knew that air pollution and its effects on children’s health struck an emotional chord among mothers. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that a national movement started months later has been so successful.
Next month marks the first year anniversary of Moms Clean Air Force and I’m happy to report that at 87,000 members and counting, the organization continues to gain ground raising parents’ awareness of important air quality issues.
Educating mothers and inspiring “naptime activism” while their babies sleep is the primary mission of this growing organization, which spreads the word through a content-rich website, social media, videos and field campaigning. Moms organize playground meetups, educational talks at daycare centers and schools, and even science fair activities teaching kids how the lungs work.
Co-Founder and Senior Director Dominique Browning says that members of this parent-based, non-partisan group are engaged and quite active. Because no politician wants to make a mother angry, she says, Washington tends to listen when moms speak. When the debate began heating up on mercury regulations, for example, Moms Clean Air Force members responded readily, sending more than 51,000 messages to senators and other elected officials.
How do they inspire such collective action? “We make it easy, we make it clear and we make it compelling,” Browning said. “We are focused entirely on clean air and make the connection with families: We bring the subject home.”
Being nonpartisan also helps propel the movement along. “I think that matters too,” she added. “We have born-again Christian conservatives writing about fetal health and Democratic field campaigners rallying community support.
“We talk about everything from mercury in breast milk to heat strokes during the kinds of intense heat waves characteristic of global warming. People see that there are many ways into this. And of course, we are appealing to new moms, and grandmothers, and anyone who wants to fight in honor of children.”
In Texas, Moms Clean Air Force Blogger Gina Carroll has a child with asthma and says that appealing to parents can be particularly effective in the large, urban region where she lives. “Houston is a hard nut to crack when it comes to clean air issues,” Carroll said. “Business rules here. However, there are some industry people who get it, and know if they clean up it’s better for them, their business and the community all around.”
Carroll says one of her primary goals has been to organize a regional, collective voice, especially for those who believed no one was listening. “From a mom’s perspective, the socio-racial disparities here are huge,” she said. “I’m getting really positive feedback from Houston mothers. Many thought they were battling their children’s asthma alone, with no idea how it had reached epidemic proportions here.”
Various Hollywood celebrities also help elevate the issues and profile the work of Moms Clean Air Force. Hollywood actress Julianne Moore created a moving video for the organization, as did Jessica Capshaw, Blythe Danner, Christina Applegate and more. Moore’s video alone received more than 140,000 hits on YouTube. “That’s huge for an air pollution video,” Browning said. As well, members of the medical community continue to partner with the organization, including this month’s announcement of Physicians for Social Responsibility. “We want alliances with doctors and nurses. These are the people moms and dads come into contact with and whom they trust.”
This fall, Moms Clean Air Force will launch a Texas ground campaign. “Field work is the opposite of an Internet campaign, because it’s personal,” Browning said. “Moms sit and talk with their senators, or handwrite letters explaining their concerns, but it perfectly complements our online work.
“Sometimes, being a good mother means being an engaged citizen. I think Texas moms have had enough of asthma, childhood leukemia, and all the other problems that come from breathing toxic air.”
Whether through online or personal outreach, we are pleased that the first year of Moms Clean Air Force has been so effective, and we stand ready as professional partners, giving a voice to moms everywhere concerned about air pollution.
Note: Moms Clean Air Force currently seeks someone to lead efforts in Texas. Contact Erin O’Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Moms Clean Air Force is a special project of Environmental Defense Fund, which leads its fundraising efforts.