Playing at Climate Change

As climate change becomes an increasingly pressing issue, more groups are coming up with innovative  ways of taking action and being heard. Such was the case on Tuesday, July 7th, 2015 when Mom’s Clean Air Force hosted their second Play-In for Climate Action in Washington DC. Turning the traditional sit-in style of peaceful protesting on its head, with over 500 families from across the nation gathered on DC’s Upper Senate Park to take a stand and play some games for stronger policies around clean energy, reduced pollution, and overall healthier communities through responsible policy and decision-making.

As the morning emerged, locals and passersby found the park’s central lawn strewn with map-imprinted play parachutes, inflatable globe balls, hula hoops, cardboard houses and assorted costumes, plus lots of kids. By 9:30am, yoga and capoeira instructors were leading short classes, performers entertained participants with musical acts, and giant puppets waded through the crowd.

Climate change activists of all ages united

Climate change activists of all ages united

Kids were still playing when community leaders from across the country, representing our nation’s broad ethnic, cultural and social diversity, took to the microphone, rallying the group using their personal stories on the impact, importance, and urgency of taking climate action now.  Partners and fellow organizers stood in solidarity under the blazing sun, holding up large posters bearing messages and signatures directed at their respective state senators, asking they take action to protect children from the negative impacts of climate change.

By noon, the group had organized themselves into a rough line, ready to march in front of the US Capitol building before breaking off into smaller groups organized by state. Each group had pre-arranged meetings with their state senators and/or staff to discuss first hand experiences with climate change and urge their representatives to take action.   

Young activists ready to take flight

Young activists ready to take flight

More young activists hard at work at the play-in

More young activists hard at work at the play-in

Our Florida group consisted of  roughly 10 adults and kids  who met with staff members of both of Florida’s senators. We discussed issues associated with sea level rise, solar energy and climate-related health impacts (especially asthma, allergies, and skin conditions). One piece of legislation that drew particular interest from Moms Clean Air Force participants and our Florida group is the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, set to release state-specific renewable energy recommendations aimed at reducing carbon emissions by 30% while increasing energy efficiency. The group urged Florida’s senators to look beyond party lines and take action for cleaner air and energy. We also took the opportunity to present the same question to our meeting hosts, asking “Will the senator support the EPA’s Clean Power Plan?”.  

Rubio was concerned the plan was overreaching and would place too much power in the hands of the EPA and federal government. Senator Bill Nelson’s (D-FL) staff, on the other hand, quickly asserted Nelson’s support for the EPA’s plan and urged our Florida group to continue taking action at the state level

Senator and presidential hopeful Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) legislative correspondent met with our group a bit after 1pm. When asked whether the senator would support the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, the correspondent hesitated before stating that Rubio was concerned the plan was overreaching and would place too much power in the hands of the EPA and federal government. Senator Bill Nelson’s (D-FL) staff, on the other hand, quickly asserted Nelson’s support for the EPA’s plan and urged our Florida group to continue taking action at the state level, since his power to affect change is greatly enhanced by on the ground efforts of dedicated citizens.

The contrast between the meetings, not just responses to that one question, was striking -- probably about as striking as finding 100s of kids clad in bright red t-shirts taking over a park right off of New Jersey Ave. Senator Nelson’s staff was prepared and knowledgeable, while Rubio’s aide seemed pleasant but unknowing, asking questions like, “are there any studies that link climate change and health impacts?”.

What remains clear is that although our elected officials are urged to view climate change not as a political issue, but as a growing challenge to our community’s basic health and well-being and a critical threat to our kids’ future, the issue remains entrenched in the partisan divide. Additionally, action and change, at least in Florida, will have to emerge at the local level, build support from neighboring communities and swell into a regional movement that the state can no longer ignore. To that end, Mom’s Clean Air Force provides a useful lesson: when all else seems to fail (or at least move unacceptably slow), throw in the towel, sunscreen, crayons, and bubble maker and invite others to play all the way to the top.


About Moms Clean Air Force

Moms Clean Air Force is a special project of the Environmental Defense Fund, headquartered in New York.  Moms Clean Air Force is a community of moms and dads united against air pollution – including the urgent crisis of our changing climate – to protect our children’s health.

The organization aims to arm its members with reliable information and solutions through online resources, articles, action tools and on-the-ground events.  

More information at Mom's Clean Air Force and @cleanairmom