The Power of Moms: Transforming Grassroots Environmentalism

Stories about moms turned activists resonate with me. Having a child with persistent asthma, after all, motivated me to start advocating for cleaner air and lower emissions through websites like this one. There is nothing quite like the mothering instinct kicked into overdrive and funneled into the effort to protect and preserve the land, air, and water for our children. On a less serious note, the chaos of early parenthood is possibly the best training available for battling environmental damage.

nancyTake Ontario's Nancy Pancheshan. Spurred by the natural beauty of Ojibway Nature Preserve where she takes her children, and lacking any previous experience with the law, she is trying to block the Coco Development Group from building a big box shopping center across the street. Along with several others, Pancheshan has appealed the City of Windsor zoning decision that would allow the development. It's a project, they argue, that would endanger the sensitive ecosystem and biodiversity of this tall grass prairie habitat, including,

"the five endangered and five threatened species that reside in the park, including the eastern fox snake, the butler's garter snake, blanding's turtle and the slender bush clover.

[Pancheshan] has interviewed numerous botanists, biologists and geologists to find expert witnesses that she can call to testify that the big box development, which might attract up to 130,000 vehicles a week on Matchette Road, will harm the nature preserve across the street." - Windsor Star

This isn't the first time the nearly 1,000-acre (400 hectares) Ojibway Prairie Complex, which contains the preserve currently in danger, has been threatened by development:

"In the early 1970s, the nearby Windsor Raceway planned to build a training track in Ojibway Park. A proposal was also made to dump fly ash (a coal-combustion byproduct used for making cement) in the prairie, and in the mid-1970s a local community college wanted to teach a course on heavy equipment operation in what is now Tallgrass Prairie Heritage Park." - On Nature

Pancheshan and her struggle to protect the Ojibway form part of the moms' grassroots activist movement that's growing in influence. It's a trend that's been quietly building for the last couple of decades.

Back in 1990, mother and nurse Terri Swearingen left her career path to fight the Waste Technology Industries' building of toxic waste incinerators in Appalachian communities. Swearingen also helped found the Tri-State Environmental Council for Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia and, after she organized protests and marches against the incinerators and got arrested more than once, her efforts (and arrests) paid off:

"[T]he Clinton administration announced a major revision of the government's rules for overseeing the nation's hazardous waste incinerators, mirroring the steps that Swearingen proposed earlier that year.

An 18 month nationwide moratorium on new incinerators was initiated, while old regulations were overhauled. A new combustion strategy and waste minimization plan was developed to include the creation of more stringent permitting standards and stricter limits for the release of toxic heavy metals and dioxin from toxic waste incinerators." - The Goldman Environmental Prize

Swearingen won the 1997 Goldman Environmental Prize for her accomplishments, the most respected award for grassroots environmentalism in the world.

There are countless other moms like these two, mothers fighting in the frontlines of factory emissions and toxic waste regulations and land preservation. They're writing blogs to raise awareness and creating blog round-ups like the Green Mom Carnival, volunteering for their favorite causes, and even creating their own nonprofits. You may not know their names yet, but give them enough time and you will someday.

Related Reading:
A Fresh Take on Commercial Living

The Age of Genius

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Kate G. 10°

Thank you so much for telling the stories of Nancy Pancheshan and Terri Swearingen. In a culture that glorifies violence, it is always a delight to meet non-violent heroes who sacrifice so much to assure a peaceful, beautiful and bountiful world for our children and grandchildren.

Written in April 2009

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  • Posted on April 15, 2009. Listed in:

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