Since the election, I often find myself recalling the wisdom of a former boss I had in my labor union organizing days. Whenever I’d too urgently present him with a long list of problems I was seeking his help to solve, he’d say, “Whoa, whoa, whoa! One tragedy at a time.” That always slowed me down enough to take a breath, roll up my sleeves and start over again with a deeper sense of my own agency.
The Trump presidency creates the constant sensation of tragedy on many fronts: civil and immigrants’ rights, access to health care and quality public schools, clean air and water and a livable climate, the list goes on. I think about the word “distress” more than I used to—as if we’re all walking around with that sensation an arm’s length away at best.
As a mom of two boys who are nine and twelve, I’m angered by Trump’s actions to roll-back climate protections--and his failure to protect kids and communities from the fossil fuel pollution that spikes asthma rates and causes climate impacts like droughts and floods. My kids know about the importance of climate activism, because when they were little I co-founded an organization called Climate Parents, which recently became a program of the Sierra Club. We mobilize diverse parents and families across the country for clean energy and climate solutions. My boys can connect the dots between Trump’s attacks on climate policy and the political power of the fossil fuel industry. They understand the need to move rapidly toward 100 percent clean energy, and they’ve marched in enough rallies to know that realizing our goals takes people power.
But there’s a new level of “sinister” unfolding that up to now my boys have mostly experienced reading about Voldemort, Harry Potter’s evil nemesis. In the last two weeks alone, the Trump Administration dismissed half of the expert members of a board that advises the EPA on the integrity of its science; an EPA senior policy advisor told coal industry executives she wants to make sure the EPA is working for them; and the newly appointed acting head of the Department of Energy’s renewable energy office is someone who actively questions the value of renewable energy and cutting carbon emissions. And in a special blow aimed squarely at teachers and inquisitive school children, the Pruitt-led EPA buried a popular student guide and educational videos on climate change that was formerly featured on the agency’s site.
Trump’s deep commitment to his own reality—one in which he asserts that climate change is a hoax and where he so fully maintains his widely discounted fantasy that millions of people voted illegally in 2016 that he just formed an investigative committee on voter fraud—is a deep threat to our democracy.
So what do I tell my boys about this particular wave of darkness? What do I try to demonstrate through my actions? In words they can understand, which are increasingly all words—especially the bad ones—I tell them this:
We cannot take our democracy for granted. There are many tragedies unfolding at once. And you can work against them all. Just make sure to take enough time to understand the depths of each one, and the allies with whom you need to build relationships. You’ve both been on lots of different kinds of teams—it’s sort of like that. You carefully survey the field, you roll up your sleeves, you take a deep breath, and you act. Because life is precious and you are precious, and this is what it required of us.
I tell myself the pretty much the same thing. I believe that the countless numbers of parents I see mobilizing against Trump—both online or hand-in-hand with their children at a march—intuitively understand that more is required of us at this moment in time. So, inspired by our kids, we step up. And therein lies our hope.