A Sustainable Solution: Mothers Out Front

The monthly meeting was running overtime, but Nia Amoruso didn’t seem tired. Sitting cross-legged in a burnt-orange armchair, she was encouraging the six other women in the room to “kick it up a notch.” It was the brainstorming part of the night, and Amoruso had an idea to help others living in Norfolk, Virginia, better connect the dots between proposed pipelines in the state, dependence on fossil fuels and sea level rise.

Circled up in an array of chairs in Erin Wickersham’s living room, the women had braved Norfolk’s icy and snow-covered streets, still not cleaned days after a storm hit the city, to attend the meeting of Mothers Out Front’s Hampton Roads chapter. About a year old, this is just one chapter of the grassroots group of mothers, grandmothers and other caregivers working across the country to fight climate change with a focus on transitioning from fossil fuels toward clean and renewable energy.

Over red wine, decaf coffee and snacks set out in the adjoining room, the women had already covered initiatives members had recently undertaken, such as speaking to local delegates and planning events. Ruth Amundsen was working with Wickersham to determine the best strategy to to convince Norfolk mayor Kenny Alexander to commit to a future goal of using 100 percent renewable energy. They wanted to approach him with a diverse group of Norfolk moms, including those affected by flooding, living in disappearing homes and in public housing. The Norfolk-Hampton Roads region, on the Atlantic Coast, is one Mothers Out Front considers to be a frontline community impacted by climate change. The area is especially vulnerable because of sinking land and rising sea levels.

Many neighborhoods here experience routine flooding, as does the world’s largest naval base, which is in the city. A Mothers Out Front campaign, called Safe Crossings, is trying to get children in the housing project Tidewater Gardens safely to their nearby local elementary school on days when it floods. Two Mothers Out Front members who live in the predominantly African American housing complex, with its two-story red-brick buildings sitting in neat rows, decided this was a priority. One of them, Michelle Cook, has a sign that reads “I heart clean air” in her home’s front window.

While it’s only a 5- to 10-minute walk for most of the kids, the asphalt walkway to the school and its surrounding fields often flood after heavy rains, as do some streets. Kim Miller, the Hampton Roads organizer, says the school’s principal reports that there’s around half the regular attendance on those days. So Mothers Out Front is working with mothers in the community to determine a safe and dry bus route to take the kids to school. After they’ve resolved that, the group will discuss ways to divert water away from school grounds using sustainable methods.

“My job is to help organize, help empower groups of women who maybe in the past have not been used to being heard and being out front and telling their stories and voicing their concerns and talking to decision-makers,” says Miller, who started her position as organizer last March and jokes that she has a T-shirt that reads “trouble-maker”—that it’s essentially her job description.

She adds that this can cause a domino effect for the mothers, eventually helping them to be leaders in lots of other ways. “Getting a bus route isn’t going to solve climate change but it’s a win,” Miller says, and “when we get one win, we get excited and want another.”

This piece is an excerpt from a feature which appears in the Spring 2017 issue of Ms. Subscribe today to get a copy and become a member of the Ms. community!

This post is part of a series of Ms. reports on the blog and in print that look at the organizing models of some of the women-led groups helping to build a sustainable grassroots movement to boost renewables and combat climate changes. This effort has been supported by the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems. 


Juhie Bhatia is a journalist focused on gender and health issues. Formerly the managing editor of Women’s eNews, she’s also written for The Guardian, Rolling Stone, Nature Medicine and Bust magazine, among others.