Our train in from Philadelphia was 90 minutes late, so we had to rush across Senate Park with suitcases and kids in tow to make it to the welcome dinner.
As we waited for the light to change at a crosswalk we noticed two men in suits standing beside us.
“I think that might be Tim Kaine,” I whispered to my friend.
“I think so too.”
“No, you say something.”
“Um, are you Tim Kaine?”
“Yes I am! Who are you and what brings you to Washington?”
“We are here with Moms Clean Air Force to talk about protecting our children’s health.” (Or something a little less eloquent as we were overcome with excitement about running into the most recent Democratic Vice Presidential candidate.)
But that’s the opportunity Moms Clean Air Force gives us. Of course, this meeting was by chance. But the dozens of meetings scheduled with U.S. congressmen for the following day were rare and momentous opportunities to sit down with our elected officials with meaningful asks for environmental protections.
On July 13, 2017, more than 500 parents and children from across the country came together for a rally at Upper Senate Park in Washington, DC to call for climate action. This was the fourth – and likely the most imperative – year of the family-friendly protest against air pollution, climate inaction, and looming budget cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency.
I met parents who had traveled with their children from as far as Alaska for the opportunity to share their personal message – making my slightly delayed train ride seem like actual child’s play.
Against a backdrop of children playing with parachutes and hula hoops under a broiling 100-degree heat index, event speakers included congressional leaders from both side of the aisle: Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR); Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI); and Representative Brian Fitzpatrick, (R-PA 8th).
Having Representative Fitzpatrick speak underlined the fact that protections for children’s health should not be and has never in the past been a partisan issue. According to a new Moms Clean Air Force survey, the majority of U.S. moms and grandmothers–regardless of background—are concerned about climate and air pollution. I also personally affirmed those statistics when I interviewed a variety of registered Republican mothers earlier this year.
Other speakers included Megan Boone, lead actress, The Blacklist (TV series); Vanessa Hauc, Emmy-award-winning correspondent, Noticiero Telemundo; and Victoria Barrett, plaintiff, Our Children’s Trust.
After the meeting, we broke into small groups for scheduled meetings with members of Congress from all 50 states. More than 300 parents and children had the opportunity to personally share their stories with over one hundred Members of Congress and their staffs. We had the opportunity to speak directly to senators Jack Reed (RI), Lamar Alexander (TN), Tom Carper (DE), Maggie Hassan (MA), Roy Blunt (MO), and Catherine Cortez Masto (NV) to ask about their plans to combat climate change, reduce air pollution, and prevent cuts to the vital protections provided by the EPA.
Later that day, the House of Representatives officially affirmed that climate change poses a direct threat to our national security.
A previous bipartisan vote in the House Armed Services Committee had included the following language in the National Defense Authorization Act: “Climate change is a direct threat to the national security of the United States and is impacting stability in areas of the world both where the United States Armed Forces are operating today, and where strategic implications for future conflict exist.”
Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) offered an amendment to scrub provisions requiring a report to Congress on “vulnerabilities to military installations and combatant commander requirements resulting from climate change over the next 20 years.” But it failed by a wide margin of 185 to 234—including 46 Republicans joining nearly all House Democrats in voting no.
We can take great pride and comfort knowing we – and our children – were a part of that victory. Our vocal advocacy over the years has helped move the needle for bipartisan triumph in the House, as representatives of both parties rejected a climate denial stance pushed by some leaders of the current administration.
We plan to return to the hill next year in even greater numbers to share our bi-partisan and universal message – there is nothing more important than our children’s health.
Moms Clean Air Force is a community of over 1,000,000 moms—and dads!—working together to combat air pollution, including the urgent crisis of our changing climate. Please join us in this very important initiative to help our families stay healthy by letting Congress hear our message.