Mothers Out Front: Mobilizing for a Livable Climate

by Shelley Rieman

CityHallGasLeak.JPGThe feisty grassroots group Mothers Out Front has been raising a stink in Cambridge! 

“Sign by sign, flag by flag, we have built a successful campaign to raise awareness about the harm caused by leaking methane gas from pipes in Cambridge,” the group proclaimed in a recent message to supporters.

Mothers Out Front, joined by several city councilors, held a lively kick-off event at City Hall on May 2 to launch its latest campaign (photo above). Then volunteers fanned out across the city for the next two days, tagging gas leak sites. Major leaks—ones that could cause explosions—are addressed by Eversource but these smaller ones are significant too because of the harmful methane emissions. I took a photo of one leak at the corner of Sidney and Pacific Streets, a sports field where many Cambridge children play soccer.

Some 2.7% of the gas delivered to Massachusetts is leaked, and most of it is methane, a powerful contributor to climate change. (Methane is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, according to the Environmental Defense Fund.) There are 20,000 gas leaks statewide. Mothers Out Front has identified and tagged 231 in Cambridge alone.

Mothers Out Front sprang up in the same period as the Cambridge Residents Alliance, during 2012. (Grassroots activism and civic responsibility must have been in the air!). Kelsey Wirth, a Cambridge resident and mother of two co-founded Mothers Out Front with Vanessa Rule of Somerville. Vanessa is a veteran climate organizer and also a mother. In Dec. 2012, they brought together a small group of mothers for an initial meeting to hatch a plan.  A month later, Kelsey hosted the first house party at which half those attending volunteered to host a party.  In the next fifteen months, MOF facilitated 80 house parties with over 600 attendees.Mothers and grandmothers and other caregivers came together, determined that their children and future generations will live in a world that still resembles the one we know.

They want to stop and reverse climate change by replacing fossil fuels—coal, oil, and gas—with only renewable energy resources to power our electric grid. This means Mothers Out Front (MOF) is committed to stopping the building of any new infrastructure for fossil fuel sourced energy: here in Massachusetts, opposing the pipeline tax and saying no to the construction of the West Roxbury Lateral Pipeline.

MOF now has 5100 names on its mailing list and is active in four states—Massachusetts, New York, Virginia, and California. They have launched three major campaigns here in Cambridge. The first was “The Switch” which asked households to change their energy supplier. I am among the 950 who have subscribed to Mass Energy through Mothers Out Front. I now pay about $5 a month more to help add renewable energy to our electric grid.

MOF found that Cambridge contracts with Trans Canada for the electricity in all of our municipal buildings. Trans Canada is the owner of the Keystone XL pipeline, which environmental groups actively oppose. Rachel Wyon facilitated a meeting with City Councilor Dennis Carlone to talk about changing our energy sources here in Cambridge. He was right on board. Shortly after the meeting, he drafted a Renewable Energy Policy Order.

The order was brought before the City Council and referred to committee for more study.  MOF used this time to meet with all of IMG_8311.JPGthe city councilors. They urged each councilor to make “The Switch” and lobbied for their support of the policy order.  In three months, all the councilors were on board and the policy order was adopted unanimously on Feb. 20, 2015. There is now a research group studying how to implement the order. They decided to spend three years investing in solar and other renewable electricity projects to feed clean energy into the electricity grid.       

The goals of Mothers Out Front dovetail with our organization’s objective of working for a livable, affordable, and diverse Cambridge.

MOF is also pushing for Cambridge’s citywide planning process – called Envision Cambridge – to keep issues related to climate change front and center in planning for the future. One of the members of the Cambridge MOF team, Zeyneb Magavi, is on the Envision Cambridge Advisory Committee. Zeyneb would like to ensure that the Envision Cambridge discussions around housing, transportation, infrastructure, health and employment all include sustainability and lead us to a livable and equitable future for all.

In future newsletters, we will cover other environmental action and justice groups such as Green Cambridge, Livable Streets Alliance, and 350.MA.

To contact or learn more about Mothers Out Front, visit their website at:

 http://www.mothersoutfront.org.

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