On a chilly Thursday afternoon the week before the midterms, about 50 Latinx grassroots organizers gathered at a community garden in South Phoenix to celebrate their get-out-the-vote efforts and canvass surrounding neighborhoods.
Before dispersing into the streets, a series of speakers and organizers including the musician and Afro Latina activist Amara La Negra addressed the group. “I unite forces with you as women, as Latinos, and now with you as mothers, to make sure that we leave this world in the best conditions that we can for our children,” she said.
Amara La Negra told The 19th that becoming a mother to twins earlier this year changed her perspective on the urgency of addressing climate change. “OK, now I’m bringing two new lives into this world,” she remembered thinking. “And things can only get worse if this generation doesn’t do something to better the next one.”
Her own mother had migrated to the United States in search of a better life. “I know the struggles and other things that she had to go through in order for me to have a better future,” she said. “And in my case, I want to make sure to do the same thing for mine.”
The Latino Victory Project, an advocacy group, and Chispa Arizona, an arm of the League of Conservation Voters, hosted the event as part of the Vote Like a Madre campaign, a broader voter mobilization effort focused on Latina mothers ahead of the midterm elections. As a 501C3 nonprofit, the campaign doesn’t endorse political candidates, but instead asks moms to vote for their children’s future in the face of the climate crisis. The campaign made similar stops in Nevada and Colorado.
“Our aim is to mobilize Latina moms to vote and demand that candidates have a bold plan to fight the climate emergency that we’re all facing,” said Nathalie Rayes, the president and CEO of the Latino Victory Project. “Nearly 60 percent of Latinas, mothers like me, say that they support candidates who champion initiatives to combat climate change. So we have an opportunity here to rally and mobilize Latinas around this issue.”
The Vote Like a Madre campaign, which had its first run in the lead-up to the 2020 election, asks moms to make a “pinky promise” to their children that they will vote with the climate in mind. It is part of a broader trend within the climate movement to mobilize moms to take action and tap into their political identities as caretakers of the next generation to get them, and their families, to turn out at the polls.
One volunteer at the Phoenix event, Blanca Miherra Jácome Pérez, has been working with Chispa for years on behalf of her 17-year-old daughter. “Being a mother gives me the strength to defend and protect her future,” she said. “I only have one daughter, but I want that when she gets married or has her own kids, I want her to live on a planet that is healthy for her and for my future grandchildren.”
Latina moms like Jácome Pérez are seen as a demographic that can motivate other moms to turn out the vote on climate and head to the polls themselves in states where they make up a growing percentage of the population. In places like Phoenix, lower-income Latinx communities are disproportionately impacted by issues like extreme heat: It’s been shown in numerous studies that lower-income neighborhoods are hotter than their wealthier counterparts due to disparity in shade and trees. Their neighborhoods also have higher concentrations of air pollution, which leads to higher rates of asthma among children.
So far the Latino Victory Project has invested $5 million in the Vote Like a Madre campaign in Arizona, Nevada and Colorado. In these three Western states, a historic drought has led to concerns over water scarcity, and extreme heat and wildfires gripped the region for most of the summer. It’s also where Latinx voters have made their political voice heard before — contributing to a narrow defeat of President Donald Trump in 2020 in Arizona, a state that not long ago was reliably red.
The organization is focused on digital advertisements featuring the voices of people including singer Camila Cabello and actor Eva Longoria, and honing in on the fact that Latinx people, like other communities of color, are disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis. One commercial depicts a child using a gray crayon to color pollution on a picture she is drawing while listening to a newscaster talk about climate change. Her mother squats down, eye level with her daughter and says, ‘Mama will fix this.’”
For decades, moms have joined together to voice their concerns for their children. “Motherhood as an organizing tool, it is a voice and a position from which women can speak with a certain kind of authority,” said Debbie Walsh, the director of the Center for American Women in Politics.
There is also a long and storied history of mothers organizing specifically around environmental issues. The environmental justice movement as a whole is largely led by Black women, many of whom are mothers who felt a duty to fight the industrial pollution and landfills peppering their landscapes and polluting the air their children breathe.
In the mid-1980s, Mothers of East Los Angeles, moms who had come together to protest a prison that was planned for their community, became environmental activists too, fighting an oil pipeline and toxic waste incinerator.
Today two organizations, Mothers Out Front and the Moms Clean Air Force, work year round to mobilize moms on issues like bringing electric buses into their school district’s fleet to combat diesel pollution. Another group of climate scientists, Science Moms, works to educate other mothers about climate change and encourage them to take action.
“Women have long tied being mothers to their work on environmental advocacy. And, to me, it’s sort of a natural link, in that thinking about protecting the environment is often connected to future generations and the mothering role of protecting children,” said Jill Greenlee, an associate professor at Brandeis University. “Making sacrifices for their benefit kind of fits in with ideas about environmental protection: taking action now, in order to protect the future of kids.”
It’s what motivated Bobby Monacella, a volunteer on the national leadership team of Mothers Out Front, to start her own local chapter in Fairfax, Virginia. “When I became a mom, it really hit home a lot more,” she said. “It’s kind of abstract when you don’t have kids. … It was a little bit to me, and then once I had kids, I was like, ‘Oh gosh, this is their future.’”
Monacella, a mother of two daughters who worked on the clean bus campaigns, is now organizing with other moms to get out the vote ahead of the midterms. In addition to being worried about what candidates might be elected into office and how they could roll back progress made on climate initiatives, she’s also worried about preserving the right to abortion.
“It’s not our main issue, obviously, at Mothers Out Front. But, of course, as women, we can’t separate from that,” she said.
One of the largest campaigns organizing mothers on climate ahead of the elections is run by the Moms Clean Air Force, which has 1.3 million members and organizers in 14 states working on get-out-the-vote efforts for the midterms. “We’re focused on mobilizing moms and dads and caretakers to advocate on behalf of their children who don’t have a vote and don’t have a voice,” said Ali Simpson, the national field manager.
There is some evidence that using a person’s identity as a parent can also help bridge the political divide in the climate movement. Emily Diamond, an associate professor at the University of Rhode Island who studies communication strategies on climate change, published a study in 2020 examining whether approaching people through their parental identities versus their partisan identities impacted how they felt about climate change.
She divided parents into different groups, asking one set of people a series of questions based on their identity as parents — like how many children they had and what their ages were — and asking the other about their political identity. She found that Republicans in particular, when primed on their parental identities, were much more supportive of climate change policies than those primed for their political identities.
“For people who are engaging in these identity-based groups, like parent groups, like mom groups, [you are] getting people in those contexts where they are thinking about themselves on a different dimension than their politics,” she said. She found “that can actually be a pathway to break down some of these partisan barriers that we have on climate change and also on other issues.”
Like the Vote like a Madre campaign, these other groups are also nonpartisan. They don’t endorse political candidates anyways, but they can tie in their organizing work to successful legislation passed under the current administration. Just this month the Biden administration announced another $1 billion for electric school buses with funding made possible by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
“That sort of is a part of our [get out the vote] work, right?” Simpson said. “Talking to people about, why do we have this clean school bus program? Oh, it’s because we had the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.”
In Phoenix, where Chispa also secured victories on clean school buses, their canvassers went door to door in a low-income Latinx neighborhood, using an app to figure out which households had registered voters. Their aim was to leave as many door hangers as possible before it got too dark. As of Friday, they had collectively reached 230,000 households and made contact with 42,000 potential voters. Their message: Latina moms hold the power to vote for our children’s future.
One organizer’s young daughter accompanied the group of canvassers. Her hair pulled back in two long pigtails, she ran between the houses, eager to do her part to help hand out the materials. Before long, she was posing with Amara La Negra and other canvassers. She gave everyone pinky promises, symbolizing their promise to vote on climate.