It wasn’t long into the first session of the conference before my baby started getting noisy. While my fellow attendees discussed climate change and air pollution, I swayed in the background, trying to shush her to sleep.
I had been nervous about taking her. It was a three hour drive – longer when you have to pull over to change diapers and replace pacifiers. Sleep was a bit hit or miss. My husband had been working crazy hours lately. There were a million reasons not to go, and one good reason that I should.
I really wanted to get out of the house.
I know, I know. That’s not what the reason should’ve been. The reason should’ve been that I care deeply about the world we are leaving our children. And I do. I promise I do. And being a stay at home mom to two wild preschoolers and a baby during one of Montana’s worst winters had left me with a raging case of cabin fever. So despite my nerves and reasons why not, I decided to attend the Moms Clean Air Force Mama Summit outside of stunning Livingston, MT.
“What’s this conference about again?” my husband asked before I left. “Uh, like moms and kids and climate change and clean air and stuff,” I answered, all the while thinking, “It’s about spending a weekend at the gateway to Yellowstone while getting out of having to cook dinner for a few nights.”
When I got there and I finally had an uninterrupted chance to peruse the agenda, I realized it was about more than kids and climate and stuff – it was about encouraging women to get involved in their local governments.
As I listened to various session leaders encouraging the attendees to run for office, I scoffed. I could barely listen to a talk between blow outs and spit ups. The idea of running for something like the school board seemed laughable. I had young kids – it just wasn’t going to happen. Plus I was a stay at home mom with a gaping, diaper shaped hole on my resume.
But when all the pacing in the back of the room worked, and my baby did fall asleep, I realized it probably wouldn’t kill me to attend a school board meeting. Or call my city council members and ask what they are doing about local air pollution. I could check in with my neighbor and see how her fight to get HEPA air filters in classrooms is going.
My baby, being my third child, was not used to receiving my undivided attention, plus the adoring attention of twenty or so other women. She relished returning their smiles, and when she fussed, the other moms shot me sympathetic glances, or offered to take her for a bit so I could get a break. She wasn’t a nuisance. She was the reason I was here.
It dawned on me – our children shouldn’t preclude us from getting into politics. They should encourage us.
Moms have perfected the art of excusing ourselves to the back of the room. We hide our messes in our Instagram photos. We hush and rock our babies. We apologize for tearing up when talking about emotional topics – lead in the blood of babies growing up next to superfund sites, ER trips for children’s asthma attacks. We see the decorum of formal meetings and tell ourselves that the political world is no place for children – and by extension, no place for moms.
As the weekend continued, my conversations with other women flowed from swapping pie recipes to the latest developments on superfund projects. I was surrounded by community leaders – city council members, executive directors, state legislators. “Oh, what do I do? Um, babies, and blog and write sometimes and stuff…”
Although I was less worried about my baby interrupting the talks, I still felt inadequate and unqualified. But as we talked more about climate change – I realized how it would take far more than a few elected officials to create change. It would take an army of people standing behind them. No, I didn’t understand the intricacies of all the science, or the details of every policy.
But I knew what it was like to hear my kids cough from smoke pollution.
So, listen up moms. (And dads and grandparents and aunts and uncles)
It’s okay if your baby cries in the background while you call your representative to ask if they support rolling back car emissions standards.
It’s okay if you ignore the growing pile of laundry to send a letter during nap time to the school board to ask if they’ve considered banning idling in front of schools.
It’s okay to show up to a town hall with a restless kid and ask why air quality is so poor that they’ve had indoor recess every day for the past week. Heck, it might prove your point.
Women, especially moms, have been told for a long time that we aren’t a good fit for politics. We’ve got babies to take care of, and heaven forbid, we might get emotional. But we wold be mistaken to think these are our weaknesses. Our strength lies in our passion – for our families, for our communities, for our home.
So pick up the phone and call.
Pick up a pen and write.
Maybe even pick up a candidate filing form and change the world.
This post was sponsored by Moms Clean Air Force and The Mission List. If you want to learn more about how you can take a stand against climate change, check out Moms Clean Air Force’s work to get involved.