Mothers advocating for a livable climate for their children carry a significant moral authority, especially when they come together from all walks of life and backgrounds. Mothers Out Front is a movement of over 24,000 mothers in the United States, working to protect their children and communities from the impacts of climate change.
The Mothers Out Front movement started in 2013 when co-founders Kelsey Wirth and Vanessa Rule met in a living room in Boston. Since then, Mothers Out Front has grown into a nation-wide movement, including close to 2,000 active volunteer leaders, 42 community-based teams and 34 staff members. Their operating budget is USD 4.3 million, with two-thirds of revenue coming from small, individual donors.
The advocacy group is grounded in an organizing model that is decentralized and scalable, which means it is designed for rapid growth as mothers continue to join the movement from across the country. Mothers Out Front groups are currently campaigning for national-level reforms and local initiatives, such as advocating for renewable energy and upgrading to electric school buses.
- The Mothers Out Front model focuses on providing training and coaching to help volunteer members raise their voices and develop leadership and advocacy skills, as well as giving them the tools to navigate complex legislative systems.
- Mothers Out Front’s base of supporters includes 29,000 people, including nearly 2,000 active volunteer leaders (those who dedicate several hours a week or more to its work) across 42 community-based teams organizing in nine states.
- While Mothers Out Front does not exclude men, it is an overwhelmingly female organization, with mothers’ voices at the core of its leadership and membership.
The movement’s co-founders believe in the power of engaging a large, diverse and well-organized constituency to advocate for bold government and societal action to transition to a low-carbon economy. Mothers Out Front found that mothers of all backgrounds resonated with their key messages – namely around their fierce determination to ensure their children's health and safety, which has empowered many mothers to overcome their fear and sometimes near-paralysis in the face of climate change.
Noticing the lack of concrete and significant ways for mothers to respond to climate change, Mothers Out Front aims to provide a pathway for mothers to turn their anxiety into action.
Mothers Out Front combines the fierce determination of mothers fighting for their children’s future with the discipline of a proven organizing framework developed over decades of social movement-building, taught at the Harvard Kennedy School by veteran organizer Marshall Ganz. Mothers Out Front empowers mothers of all backgrounds to step into leadership roles by providing the structure, training and tools they need to come together in community-based teams, build power and win campaigns.
Many mothers who are involved have never before been politically or civically engaged, and through their involvement in Mothers Out Front are for the first time discovering their voices and power.
The basic building block of the group’s organizing model is the house party, where mothers build relationships and strategize. Together, they work on a range of discrete, strategic campaigns at the local and statewide levels, such as: getting clean energy policies enacted; stopping construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure; addressing health and safety issues linked to fossil fuels and climate change; changing the overall public narrative about fossil fuels and energy choices; and uniting race equity and economic justice to the work of climate advocacy.
Mothers, as highly credible members of their communities who are willing to do what it takes to protect their children, are a largely untapped and powerful force for affecting change. Fundamentally, Mothers Out Front believes mothers can win because – there are many mothers, and mothers will never top fighting for their children.
Helping the Planet
Mothers Out Front teams mobilize around campaigns to reduce emissions in their communities, including net-zero ordinances, community-choice aggregation programmes and electric school bus initiatives.
For example, in 2015 when the Boston-based Mothers Out Front group discovered that there had been over 16,000 methane gas leaks in their state, the group sprang to action. Its volunteer leaders in Boston and around the state launched and publicized public forums on methane’s health impacts, social media campaigns and other actions to pressure the utilities. As a result, their advocacy transformed the way these leaks must be addressed, through the implementation of new requirements that significantly accelerate leak repair, and shrank the state’s overall emissions by an estimated 5 percent.
Mothers Out Front provides capacity-building to women across the United States, supporting them to “move up the ladder of engagement” – growing from a casual supporter to a volunteer to an active volunteer, to ideally eventually becoming a leader.
To make this possible, Mothers Out Front has created a scaffolding of training, coaching and tools to help women who may never have been civically active to discover their voice and their power as advocates for an issue they care passionately about. For example, Mothers Out Front trains women to develop skills, such as how to compose and deliver a compelling public narrative, how to navigate the legislative system, how to run effective meetings and how to engage other women in joining the movement.
Children and broader communities where Mothers Out Front is active are also beneficiaries of the movement. Depending on the campaign, they benefit from having cleaner air to breathe, stronger local economies with more green jobs, more community leadership and engagement, and, ultimately, a greater likelihood of a livable climate.
The Mothers Out Front model is intentionally designed to be replicable, by providing people and community-based teams with common tools and an overarching structure to allow mothers to organize across communities in a way that builds their collective power. Their national infrastructure, staff, communications network, messaging and branding is intended to work across multiple communities and states.
The model itself it adaptable, following the lead of mothers within each community rather than imposing a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all approach. This assists with the replicability of the model across communities that are dissimilar. Mothers Out Front helps volunteers to identify their highest priority concerns and possible solutions, focused around the question: ‘How will this make our kids’ and grandkids’ lives better?’.
As one active Mothers Out Front volunteer puts it: “Mothers swing a pretty heavy ethical bat,” and when they come together from all different backgrounds and walks of life, there’s no limit to the scale of the movement that they can create.
Images owned by the activity partners, all rights reserved.