Why Our Moms Make Such Great Activists

BY ON June 6, 2016

There are a million ways to make a living, most of which aren’t as intense, frustrating, or complicated as trying to save the world. Why do this work – the work of stopping climate change and cleaning up the air and reducing our exposure to toxic chemicals – and why do it now?

Terra Pascarosa

Terra Pascarosa

For the moms I interviewed, creating a better, healthier world for their children is the immediate, driving motivation. Terra Pascarosa, Moms Clean Air Force’s manager of field operations, who lives in Virginia, wants to make sure that “my three year old son, Brady, has clean air to breathe, fresh organic food to eat, clean beaches to run on without fear of offshore oil drilling, safe toys free of toxic chemicals, and renewable energy to provide power to our home.”

Christine Dolle

Christine Dolle

“The issue of climate change and its impact on children’s health hits an especially strong chord now that I am a mother to young children (kind of like Deputy Dog meets Mother Bear!),” concurs field organizer, Christine Dolle of Pennsylvania. “It is a much healthier response for me to channel my frustrations into taking action, and I hope in doing so I am also teaching my children that they can make a difference.”

Rebecca Whitley

Rebecca Whitley

Rebecca Whitley, the field consultant in New Hampshire couldn’t have been clearer about what motivates her. “I am incredibly concerned about climate change and the impact it will have on my son’s future,” she said. “What will his life look like in 50 or 60 years?”

Trisha Sheehan, Moms Clean Air Force’s New Jersey-based deputy field management consultant, said that protecting her kids’ health became a particularly strong priority for her after she and her family faced a life threatening situation brought on by forces seemingly beyond their control.

Trisha Sheehan

Trisha Sheehan

“In 2012, a train had derailed carrying 23,000 gallons of toxic vinyl chloride in Paulsboro, NJ, just 2 miles west of our home,” Trisha recounts. “The air inside our house quickly became filled with the toxic chemical, and my family’s health began to deteriorate. This experience made me realize that while I can control the toxins my kids use on their bodies from the products I buy and from the foods they eat, I could not control the air that they were breathing that day. Going to the store to buy nontoxic air was not an option!

“I knew that Moms Clean Air Force was working on these issues with our local and state elected officials to fight dirty polluters and the toxic chemical industry in Pennsylvania. I reached out to Gretchen Dahlkemper, our national field manager and a mom and friend who lives in Pennsylvania, on what I could do, as a mom, to take action in my own state to make sure that the air my kids were breathing was not making them sick. I started the New Jersey chapter in February 2014 and am now the Deputy Field Manager for the Eastern States for Moms Clean Air Force.”

Still, despite their devotion to the cause, virtually everyone I spoke with acknowledged that juggling work and family takes a toll.

Gretchen Dahlkemper

Gretchen Dahlkemper

Moms Clean Air Force’s dynamo field director, Gretchen Dahlkemper of Philadelphia characterized it aptly thus: “It’s like extreme weather: some days are really hot, others are really cold. It’s always a struggle.”

Kelly Nichols of Illinois summed it up this way: “It puts more (SELF-INFLICTED) pressure on me to “do it all” or be a “superwoman.”

Kelly Nichols

Kelly Nichols

“It eats away at the already limited time I have to keep a household running and be the kind of mindful parent I strive to be,” acknowledged Christine Dolle. “It is a constant struggle for me to stay in the moment with my kids and family, who remain my top priority.”

Trisha Sheehan described her reality like this: “This work can be hard. And exhausting. And personal. And emotional. But it’s necessary. And my children know that. They know that the work I do directly benefits not just their future’s but their friends’ futures as well.

“But it is also energizing and empowering. Reaching out to parents to talk about the hope of the future through the work that we are doing. Speaking to a crowd on the impacts of air pollution in their community and then showing them ways to take action. Amplifying the stories of families struggling to find answers and support through media engagement. And taking those families into meetings with our elected officials to give a face to the impacts that they are facing from air pollution, climate change and the fossil fuel industry.

“It is a roller coaster of emotions, but, in my eyes, it is so worth it.”

In fact, this belief that it is worth it is what keeps everyone going.

Trisha Sheehan at a Newark press conference on safer alternatives to toxic chemicals.

Trisha Sheehan at a Newark press conference on safer alternatives to toxic chemicals.

After the Moms Clean Air Force team, working with a broad coalition of environmental, consumer, and public health groups, successfully helped pressure the U.S. House of Representatives to strengthen the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), Gretchen wrote on her Facebook page, “The blisters on my feet from two long days on the Hill are worth it. I am so proud of the Moms Clean Air Force team who worked for years to advocate for a strong bill that fixes our nation’s outdated and broken toxics law.”

Gretchen Dahlkemper leads parents in a chant at the People's Climate March

Gretchen Dahlkemper leads parents in a chant at the People’s Climate March

 

Trisha, Kelly and Christine all agree that the sense of accomplishment, the belief that they’re making a difference, is what makes working for and with Moms Clean Air Force so satisfying.  

“The sense of pride and empowerment I feel for making a positive difference in this world for my child’s future!” keeps Terra going.

Adds Rebecca, “What is most rewarding for me is the satisfaction of doing something meaningful with my life; it’s not “Just a job.”

Still, being a mom activist is a job that is demanding, sometimes high pressure, often frustrating…but the rewards are immense and you’ve got to admire these moms for persevering.

This the first post 2-post series about Mom Activism. 

Introduction: The Activist Moms of Moms Clean Air Force

Post 2: Our Mom Activists Balance Kids, Play and Saving the Planet

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TOPICS: Activism, Children's Health, Motherhood