Who: Molly Rauch
What: Public Health Policy Director, Moms Clean Air Force. https://www.momscleanairforce.org/
Where: We have over a million members. We have members in every single state. Every year we have an annual event where we bring families to D.C. to show our power and talk to our lawmakers. We call it a Play-In because kids can’t sit still for a sit-in. We created this family-friendly play event to call for climate action. We are holding our 6th Play-In on July 11 this year. We bring members to D.C. from all over the country.
Why: I’ve been doing this work since shortly after the project started. It’s been a little more than seven years in different roles. I started out writing occasional blog posts for what at that point was really a blog. We didn’t really know where we were going as an organization but what we wanted was a platform where we could talk to moms about air pollution and climate change from the mother’s perspective. I have a background in public health, that’s my training. I’ve worked in environmental health for years. My focus had been on chemicals and pesticides and their impact on children. When I had three small children, climate change became my problem because of my own babies. Before I had kids, I understood that climate change was a major problem, but there were lots of problems. I can’t work on everything. But after I had kids, it just became my job to protect their future. Climate change became so much more important to me personally. A friend told me that a friend of hers had a friend who was starting this project and she thought I’d be interested. Our founder, Dominique Browning, had this idea to get moms involved in advocating for clean air, and she wanted to put people and people’s health at the center of the work. In other words, she wanted to make climate change and air pollution about people, instead of about some environment out there or some other animal species. I really wanted to help. I was galvanized by Dominique’s vision. It just clicked with me and I became very passionate about it.
When: I get to work from home, which is great in some ways. We have a really mom-friendly structure where many of our staff members are working from home. That allows me to stay involved more easily in my kids’ day to day lives but then it also means that sometimes I do my work at unusual hours. The other thing that happens is that it’s hard to unplug. Climate change is a very difficult issue and one of the problems is that the more you know about it, the worse it is. If you’re really reading in the science, looking at what experts are saying and following the models and trajectories and all of that stuff… the more you know, the worse it is. That part is hard.
How: One of the things I do is develop materials. I’m writing fact sheets. I’m writing up our petitions. I’m writing emails to our members. I’m writing talking points that we use in various meetings. So this is nitty gritty detail work. A lot of editing, writing, talking to colleagues, talking to scientists, talking to doctors. It feels very incremental while I’m doing it but of course I know it’s part of the bigger picture. I go to Capitol Hill from time to time to go to briefings or meetings. One of my favorite parts of my job is a couple times a year I get to bring moms and their kids directly to the offices of decision makers to tell their stories. We’ll bring them to talk to their Senator or the Senator’s staff members or we’ll bring them to testify at public hearings at the EPA headquarters for example. This is one of my favorite parts of my job. Often a family will come into a Senate office building and they’ll say, “Are we allowed in here?” And I’ll say, “You own this building.” And they’ll say, “Are we just allowed to walk in here and ask for a meeting?” And I’ll say, “They work for you, you’re their boss.” It’s really exciting for me to help people understand our democracy in that framework. I feel a lot of gratitude when I can shepherd those voices into the room where major decisions are being made.
Molly Rauch (fourth from left) joined Moms Clean Air Force staff and volunteers in January at a Senate hearing where Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler answered questions about his efforts to undermine pollution protections. | Image Courtesy of Molly Rauch
Join the movement: The way to join is to take an action with us, whether that’s signing a petition or signing up for our newsletter. We are excited to work with you at any level, whatever level you want. Whether you want to come to D.C. to talk to your lawmakers, or you want to sign a petition online twice a year. The way to join is through our website.
Biggest frustration in the work: The political climate right now at top levels of government could not be worse. There is a lot of concrete change and progress happening at the local level, but my work focuses on federal stuff. So I do feel a lot of frustration. President Trump outwardly mocks the reports being issued by the world’s leading scientists. He dismisses even the science summaries that are issued by his own agencies as unimportant or misleading. He’s literally turning his back on reality. To me it’s the definition of cowardice. There’s nothing more frustrating. It’s a daily knot in my stomach. Trump is putting together a group to evaluate the threat of climate change on national security, but this exact thing has already been done. In fact, the Department of Defense makes budgeting decisions every day based on avoiding climate change threats. It is insane to rehash these decisions that are already the basis for how the defense department spends its money.
Upside to Political Climate: Like a lot of groups working on environmental issues, we did see some special excitement about getting involved after the Trump election. There’s a lot happening at the local level. People are getting more focused on what they can do locally on these issues. That’s been really exciting. For example, we have a lot of members who started out as volunteers with us and became interested in running for office or joining a local board or commission. There are local decision-making advisory boards all across the country at every level of government and they are looking for people who have time and interest to help lead their communities. We’ve seen a lot of our volunteers go into these local positions, which is really exciting.
Trailblazing organization: Our organization is changing the climate movement. We’re moving us closer to protecting our children’s future. I see myself as doing everything I can to help manifest this vision. Moms have made a lot of advocacy gains before. Moms are really powerful. We led the fight to get drunk drivers off the road. We’re leading the fight for gun control. Moms really do have power. The part that’s new is to leverage that power to solve climate change. I see that as innovative and essential. I’m so proud to be part of an organization doing that.
Grand vision: We are dedicated to making solving climate change totally mainstream. My personal vision is that climate change becomes widely understood as a mainstream health problem, the way we look at heart disease or cigarette smoking, so that everyone understands the profound duty to respond to this problem. I don’t think it’s our role to figure out the perfect solution or the exact response. I see our role more as to build the political will, to put this problem directly in the mainstream. I think mothers have that power to make this a mainstream health crisis, which it is.
The Green New Deal: The Green New Deal is very exciting and has a ton of energy around it. After years of institutional failure in addressing the climate crisis, Congress needs this kind of momentum. One thing we are going to need to grapple with is this: do you address this problem from the left or from the center? What we’ve seen so far is not a bipartisan solution. I’m not sure that we could get a single Republican to support it. Can we get to a point where all of us feel the heat, so to speak, where there’s a ton of pressure to propose solutions from both sides of the aisle? I’m excited about how the Green New Deal has helped make climate change part of the national political conversation. I want to make sure we continue to put the pressure on for all of our decision makers from all political backgrounds.
All in the family: I have an 11, 13 and 15 year old. They are very well informed about these issues. They’re really concerned and they are extremely frustrated that there are not solutions coming from everyone in a decision-making role or a leadership role in our society. When they were little, maybe we overdid it a little. My husband also works on climate change in a different capacity, he’s an attorney. They get a lot of information, maybe too much. But they seem to be typical for their age in that they are positive about the future. They see it as a major problem, but they don’t seem overwhelmed by it.
Pie in the sky [if resources and money were no object:] This is a really fun question. We’re a special project of the Environmental Defense Fund. Our funding comes through members, foundations, and EDF. As with any organization or project, it’s a limited pot of funding and we struggle with that all the time.
Right now we have part-time organizers in some states who work with volunteers at the local level. If money were no object, I’d like to have organizers in every state doing that and that funding would be permanent. In my dream world, it’s permanent because it’s not very effective to go into a community for 6 months or 12 months and then leave. Unfortunately, that’s how our regular funding works. I would love to see a way through that where we could work in a city or state for years, developing relationships and trust with our volunteers and partners and decision makers.
Then I’d like to take this global. Air pollution and climate change – these are problems globally. Every child has the right to breathe clean air. The U.S. has pretty good air quality when compared to some other places. I’d love to be able to make this a global movement. It’s actually an amazing opportunity. Air pollution takes millions of lives every year. And if you solve air pollution, you’re also solving climate change, and vice versa. So these are basically two sides of same coin. It’s a massive win-win for humanity to take care of both of these problems. We can guarantee clean air and a stable future for our children all at the same time. I would love to be able to take the movement global and unite mothers all over the world to demand clean air and climate solutions.
Empowering women: I think climate change is the defining issue of our time. This isn’t about saving the planet. I don’t think the planet cares if we’re on it or not. This is about the people. I get to be an authentic caretaker of my children through this work and I find that really gratifying. I also get to work with passionate and brilliant moms all over the country. I love that about our organization. I have wonderful women colleagues in this women-centered project. That feels empowering.
Biggest personal challenge: Self-care is the biggest challenge for me because as I was saying, the more I learn about this issue, the worse it looks to me. The scientific community is pretty clear and grim right now about this issue. So for me, it’s figuring out how to put the work away at the end of the day and be with my family, to not think about it too much. Then, how to take care of myself, to be healthy and get outside. I think that’s one of hardest things about working in a mission-driven or a nonprofit context because you’re really focused on a problem that you’re trying to solve.
Most important thing every individual should do to combat climate change and air pollution: Call your lawmakers. Tell them that you care about this issue and ask what they are doing to solve this problem. That is the most important thing to do. If 10% of the U.S. population did that in a given month, then the switchboard on Capitol Hill would be overrun and all of a sudden, every single decision maker would say, “Wow, we need to get our act together and do something about this.”
You don’t have to be an expert. You don’t have to be an economist or an engineer or an atmospheric scientist to do this. As a parent, you’re a stakeholder in the future. All of you have to do is say, “I care about this. What are you doing about it?”
How to reach out to your elected officials: https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials