Hundreds of mothers and their children converged Thursday morning on Capitol Hill for a “play-in” rally to urge Congress to take action on climate change.
The “Moms Clean Air Force” and their kids transformed the grounds of Upper Senate Park near the U.S. Capitol into a playground of about 600 people, most of them sporting red T-shirts emblazoned with “Tell Washington: Listen to your Mothers!”
Hula hoops, building blocks, parachutes, flags, puppets and bubbles were all available for the children to play with in the grass, as parents and members of Congress looked on.
“All great moral battles were won because of one reason — love. There is nothing greater than the love of a mother, father, or grandparent of a child,” Gretchen Dahlkemper, national field director of Moms Clean Air Force, told the crowd. “So today we fight. We bring our battle of love to the United States, because we know that our love is stronger than their greed. We will win, and we will win because we are all working here together.”
The fourth annual event play-in came to Washington as the Environmental Protection Agency faces a 30 percent cut in its overall budget and its pollution protection programs face a 36 percent reduction.
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, Pennsylvania Republican, and Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island showed up at the play-in, lending their support for Moms Clean Air Force.
Mr. Fitzpatrick commended the families for bringing their children from nearly 40 states to be a part of the movement. He said Congress would be unable to turn a blind eye, since attendees were headed to about 150 appointments in their state representatives’ offices to ask about climate change. Half of those meetings involved speaking to the lawmakers in person.
“What you share with these members is not lost on us. Because if a representative is doing their job, their job first and foremost is to keep an open mind,” said Mr. Fitzpatrick. “We’re expected to be experts in a whole host of areas: environmental policy, energy policy, educational policy, national security. You people are experts in your area — you have knowledge from the ground up. You have a passion for it. And if a representative is doing his or her job, they’re going to listen very attentively.”
Moms Clean Air Force says it wants the government to make substantive movement toward halting global warming and preserving the environment for future generations.
Cara Fleischer, a mom from Florida, said she was forced to move from her home and self-made business in Atlanta because of the toll air pollution was taking on her children.
“After my daughter was born and we were coming home from the hospital, it was a Code Purple smog alert day, which is worse than Code Red. It’s like Mexico City bad,” said Ms. Fleischer. “And I didn’t really know a lot about air quality or anything until that happened. I was hustling into the house, and I really couldn’t step outside with her. It opened my eyes to the air problems in Atlanta.”
Ms. Fleischer said her daugther’s pediatrician suggested she move, adding that her family’s transition to Tallahassee made sense to her since all of her children have breathing problems.
“You know, the national average for kids with asthma across the country is much lower than the average in the cities. It’s somewhere around 20 percent in the city and 6 percent nationally,” she said.
Organizations supporting asthmatic children, such as the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, at the play-in handed out educational pamphlets detailing the toll of pollution on the immediate and long-term health of children.
Physicians for Social Responsibility also encouraged attendees to sign a petition asking Congress to adequately fund EPA programs that fight pollution.
Ms. Dahlkemper said EPA funding and bipartisan support for the agency are critical to the mission of the Moms Clean Air Force.
“First of all, we need to ensure the EPA has the budget to fund our current bedrock environmental laws. We also need more people like Congressman Fitzpatrick, who is bringing Republicans and Democrats together to have this discussion on how to address the issue. We need leaders like that,” she said. “There has been a vacuum of leadership here in Congress for far too long. We need those people to step up, on both sides of the aisle, and come together to make a difference for our kids.”
But she also siad the public needs to realize that environmental activism is not necessarily a hallmark for left-leaning voters.
“It’s actually a faulty assumption that only people on the left care. We recently surveyed our leadership, and we had 27 percent of the people that identified at liberals, but over 30 percent of people that identified as conservatives. I think that if you open the tent up and you talk about everybody coming to this issue, you’re gonna hear more and more people speak up,” Ms. Dahlkemper said.