Last August, a group of five families from throughout Vermont traveled to the Pennsylvania shale fields to bear witness to the impacts of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Fracking is a way of extracting natural gas from the ground by pressurizing a mix of water, chemicals (including toxic and cancer-causing ones) and sand into subterranean cracks. These families are a part of Mother Up!: Parents Exchange for Change, a project of 350 Vermont that engages families to take action both in their own communities and in those most affected by the fossil fuel industry.
Their four-day trip took them through Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, including the town of Dimock, the epicenter of fracking in the Marcellus Shale and the town prominently featured in the two “Gasland” documentaries. The Vermonters worked with local host, Energy Justice Network, to meet with families and individuals who face polluted waters and have had their land seized; in this way, they experienced both nature’s beauty and the suffering caused by the extreme extraction of fossil fuels.
Each family they visited in Pennsylvania had a different story to share. One family’s water supply was contaminated with methane, making the water undrinkable and the house susceptible to explosion. Another family suffers from chronic skin irritations due to contaminated water. A family with a small sugarbush lost an eminent domain battle, and consequently lost their private property to the State of Pennsylvania. Their maple trees were cut last winter, but the pipeline has been stalled for a lack of permits. One family who won a lawsuit against a fracking company, is not much better off, since their water will be forever unusable.
Vermont participants in the family trip included children from five months to 10 years old. Abby Mnookin, a Mother Up! organizer who lives in Brattleboro, traveled with her four-year-old daughter. She recalls, “My daughter returned home with stories, not only of playing tag at the campground, but also of dirty water that we couldn’t drink.”
One reason these families wanted to take the trip was to have a shared experience, not only with other families, but also with their children. “I want my children to grow up not only aware of the beauty of our natural world,” said Maggie Pesce, a mother from Bennington, “but also that there is a struggle to protect [it].”
“I loved this trip as a radical reinterpretation of what a family vacation means,” said Jane Yager, a mother from Burlington. “It was very much a family vacation, with the kids swimming and petting goats and playing, but at the same time it brought us face-to-face with both the brutal realities of what extractive industries have done to the lives of the people we met and what inspiring resistance to those industries they have mounted.”
Back home, some of these Vermont families have faced related struggles. In Addison County, activists have mounted several years of resistance against Vermont Gas System’s proposal for a 41-mile natural gas pipeline extension stretching from Colchester to Middlebury. The last parcel was recently granted through eminent domain. (For more on this, see “Geprags Park” on page 10 of this issue.)
And last year, several residents in North Bennington learned that their well water had been contaminated with PFOA, a toxic industrial chemical that resulted from 30 years of Chemfab operations in their town. The Vermont families shared these stories in Pennsylvania as a way to show their understanding and solidarity.
Raising children in a time of climate change can be frightening and isolating. Mnookin addressed this, saying, “I sometimes feel paralyzed by thoughts of what the future will look like for my daughters. But by joining with other parents through Mother Up!, my family builds community, and I feel empowered by the knowledge that we’re stronger together.”
Undoubtedly, this family trip was meaningful to both the Vermonters and the Pennsylvania residents. Vera Scroggins, a Pennsylvanian citizen journalist, acknowledged, “Thanks for coming and witnessing the toxic industrialization of our area … and (for) bringing your children.”
More about “Mother Up!” from 350VT.org:
For many parents, our days are filled with putting food on the table, wrestling limbs into snow gear and checking school work. Often our busy lives prevent us from taking a leading role on the larger issues in the world in which we are raising our children. Many parents share a profound sense of despair in the face of climate change, yet feel powerless to act. By building “Mother Up!: Parents Exchange for Change,” we at 350VT are engaging parents to take action in both their own communities and those most affected by the fossil fuel industry. We believe parents are powerful voices in fighting for the health and safety of our collective future.
The name “Mother Up!” was inspired by Sun Dance Chief Rueben George, who, on behalf of his First Nation, was a co-coordinator of the fight against the Kinder Morgan proposed tar sands oil pipeline and tanker expansion. Chief Rueben’s mother, Amy George, a Tsleil-Waututh elder, told him to “Warrior up!” In the fall of 2014, activists from Rising Tide Seattle were granted permission to adapt this phrase to “Mother Up!” and we have been granted permission to use it here in Vermont. Solidarity in action!
As a climate justice movement, we must make sincere efforts to be inclusive to families and to actively seek out the voices of parents in all aspects of our work. “Mother Up!” is intended as a verb — to mother — as opposed to a noun. We believe that “mothering” the Earth by all people and genders is part of the solution. The subheading of “Parents Exchange for Change” denotes our mission to be inclusive.
Our vision is to build locally-based parent networks across Vermont that not only participate in climate justice work, but also become leaders in it. We will support these groups by providing leadership development, educational opportunities and logistical support.
As a tool to facilitate one-on-one conversations with Vermont parents, we began with a survey that asked parents to reflect on their family structure, the challenges that they face as parents, and what climate change means to them. To date, nearly 100 parents from southern and central Vermont have participated, in addition to parents from Chittenden County. Survey results have been used to identify common concerns, to chart existing parent networks within communities and to identify potential parent leaders.
If you are a parent, you are invited to join us at an upcoming event or meet-up. (http://350vermont.org/calendar/) You can also join our active Facebook group, which currently has nearly 500 members.
Questions? Please contact our project coordinator, Abby Mnookin, at email@example.com or at 490-6393.
First Central Vermont Mother Up! Gathering
Friday, February 3 (and 1st Fridays)
Hear reports and stories from the Montpelier and DC marches, talk about next steps, and watch Joanna Macy’s “The Great Turning,” a short documentary that will kick off our year of family activism. Dinner and childcare provided. To RSVP or for questions, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Event will be from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at North Branch Nature Center, 713 Elm St, Montpelier.