Yes. Parents Can Be Climate Activists Too.

Eileen
Eileen holding a copy of the book that inspired her to help more parents get involved in climate activism.

Guest Post –  from Eileen McGinnis

Eileen McGinnis is an Austin-based writer, college instructor, and activist who founded The Parents’ Climate Community in Summer 2019. You can follow her blog about inspirational caregivers and creators in history at eileenmcginnis.com

Nearly 40 years ago, my mother-in-law stood in the back of a church in Syracuse, NY, cradling her infant son and contemplating the end of the world. 

As she listened to a talk by an anti-nuclear organization called the Physicians for Social Responsibility, she was overcome with a longing to see her baby – my future husband – grow up. She recalls, “I had this feeling that the whole world was in danger and nobody was paying attention.” She dates her birth as an anti-nuclear activist to that moment in University Church.

Parents Climate Community
Eileen’s husband with his mom and older sister, circa December 1980.

My story of becoming a climate activist is decidedly…less dramatic. Basically, I read a book. (The book in question, which I highly recommend, is called The Parents’ Guide to Climate Revolution; it’s full of easy tips, many organized by time commitment, that consider parents’ busy schedules.)

Even though my awakening into activism lacks the visceral impact of my mother-in-law’s story – that singular scene etched into memory – I see common threads. Like her, I recognize that my child has been a conduit, a pathway, into a new identity as an activist. Like her, I have a feeling that the whole world is in danger, that not enough of us are paying attention, and fewer still, especially of my generational cohort, are taking action.

Becoming a parent four years ago was deeply transformative. Not only did it permanently change both my body and my neural wiring; it also altered my sense of purpose and my relationship to the larger world. But caregiving is also exhausting and riddled with compromises. The daily grind can grind down our willpower to make responsible consumer choices or participate in civic life beyond an occasional trip to the polls. There are other tensions – the pull that I’ve experienced to better the world for my child’s sake takes me away from precious time with said child (my 4-year-old said recently, “Mom, you’ve been having a lot of meetings lately”).

It seems that everything conspires to keep us in a place of stuck-ness. As journalist Lauren Sandler writes, “We can hardly find the energy to address our personal challenges, not to mention our global ones. ‘Who’s got the time?’ we commiserate with each other. Of course, it’s not just our personal resources we’re diluting, it’s our planet’s, as we fill bigger shopping carts in bigger box stores and drive bigger cars home to bigger houses in service of our families…”

When I look around at the climate-action meetings I’ve attended, my fellow parents are largely absent. I get it. These events often conflict with our kids’ bedtime. There’s no childcare on site. And, more crucially, we are physically and mentally depleted by day’s end. When 9pm rolls around, I want to Netflix and chill, too.

At the same time, it’s possible to rethink our parenting culture, to make space for civic engagement while raising kids. What I’ve learned from teaching U.S. history is that the folks who have continually stepped up to combat social injustices have often been the most vulnerable and marginalized among us, the caregivers with the least time or money to spare. They’ve done so because it has been a matter of survival, for their children and their communities.

Right now, everyone’s survival is at stake. That can make this a hopeful moment for practicing compassion and reimagining community. As the Green New Deal suggests, what if solutions to the climate crisis can also be an opportunity to address social inequities? Perhaps zoning rules in favor of urban density and funding of high-speed mass transit would allow more of us to get to know our neighbors. Perhaps universal childcare would give more parents the time and mental space to get involved in politics. 

Maybe, in the course of facing this climate crisis together, we can strengthen our relationships both to civic life and to each other. Even where I live, in the relatively urban core of Central Austin, raising a child has been an isolating endeavor. And shouldering the emotional burden of the climate crisis alone, lying awake in bed at 2am, is not a healthy response. This is not a malady that ‘self-care,’ the individualistic buzzword of our day, is going to cure. We parents need to care for each other.  

For this reason, I’ve created a new homegrown meet-up group called The Parents’ Climate Community. Once a month, we’ll meet for an hour to vent about our climate-related angst, share resources and inspiration, and hear from local non-profits about simple ways to get involved. As our membership grows, I’d love to offer more practical services to the community, like back-to-school-supply swaps, guided hikes and tree plantings.

To ask parents to step up on climate action is not meant to add yet another onerous item to our already crowded to-do lists. It is to empower each other to act so that the next generations will not only survive, but thrive.

We invite you join our community at https://www.meetup.com/The-Parents-Climate-Community/ or follow us Instagram @ parents_climate_community or on Facebook at The Parents Climate Community-Austin

And, if your schedule allows, we’d love to see you IRL at our next meet-up:

  • Saturday, Sept. 28th at 9:30 am
  • Central Market – North Lamar (meet near the playground)

 


Please note – editorials and sponsored posts are written by guest writers to inform and educate the community on a variety of different viewpoints, as well as to share information about local eco-friendly businesses and organizations. However, they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Austin EcoNetwork.

 

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