Standing on the National Mall in the February cold, I stomped my feet and tried to ignore how sore my lower back felt. Watching the stage, I strained to listen to the speakers, from Silicon Valley billionaires to Native American activists. I was at one of the biggest climate change protests ever, focused on defeating the Keystone XL oil pipeline. While it attracted 12,000 people, it’s unlikely that many were in the same situation as I was: five months pregnant.
Despite the cold and a serious lack of bathrooms, I marched in hopes of shifting the tide against climate change. Now, with the election of Donald Trump for president and the Republican domination of Congress, I find it more important than ever before to be an activist mom.
My activism goes way back, inspired by a third grade trip to see the manatees at Homosassa Springs State Park in Florida. (I’ll actually be telling this story – and what happened afterwards – at the Story Collider event in D.C. next Thursday. I also hope to stream it live on my Facebook page!) Since then, I’ve been committed to “being the change you want to see in the world,” as the saying goes.
I’ve volunteered for a wide variety of groups, from those focused on systemic inequality to growing local food through permaculture. From biking 300 miles to teaching people how to compost, I’ve shared my skills and engaged in community building. I’ve given and raised more money than sometimes I like to contemplate to social justice, environmental, and sustainability groups. I’ve even taken non-violent resistance training, although I’ve never taken the opportunity to use it.
But having kids made my activism both more urgent and difficult.
As a mom, I want my children to grow up in a reasonably safe and sustainable world. Reading the predictions around climate change, I can’t be certain of that. I wonder sometimes if my sons will even want to have children, considering the potential quality of life by the time they reach adulthood. (If they don’t want children for other reasons, that’s fine, but it shouldn’t be because we screwed it up royally.)
The intense love my own children increases my empathy for other parents and their children. When I see refugee children covered in blood, black children being shot, people standing on the roofs of flooded houses, or grandparents and grandchildren abandoning their homes because of rising oceans, I can’t help but think “What if that was my family?”
While the desire to help is stronger than ever, I have fewer resources. Working a full-time job with two young children leaves little precious time to do anything else. Because I try not to miss more than one or two bedtimes a month, I can attend a very limited number of community meetings. Weekends are even less available, unless I can bring the kids along.
So I’ve adapted. My activism has turned into a family-friendly affair. My children come along on the community bike rides I lead for families. While waiting for the Metro or riding in the car, I squash in time to email my members of Congress.
Since Trump’s election, I’ve upped my game a bit, attending a Stand with Standing Rock protest and calling members of Congress more often. On Saturday, I’ll be attending the Women’s March on Washington.
Nonetheless, it never feels like enough. The news around the future is overwhelming. Finding that sweet spot between how I can be a good mom and a good citizen seems impossible.
But I have to do it, for the sake of my kids, just like on that cold February morning. Because I want to be able to give them a good answer when they turn to me and say, “Mom, what did you do?”