2019 Winner: The fight against climate change gains an army of champions in Mothers Out Front

Kelsey Wirth
McNulty Prize
United States

Combating climate change has never been a more pressing concern. As the recent UN and House climate reports make brutally clear, the window to avert climate change has already passed, and the window to avert its worst effects is closing. Mothers Out Front, a grassroots coalition of mothers and caregivers driven to ensure a safe, livable world for their children, is leading the charge to take decisive action, empowering constituents that have influence at the local level to drive transformational environmental policy change.

Watch the micro-documentary featuring Mothers Out Front

Activists, organizers, and supporters
Volunteers active weekly
Teams of mothers working in 10 states


“If a car was driving down the street and my daughter ran in the street, I would throw myself between her and the car. Because that's what you do, if you're a mother." This is how Kelsey Wirth, co-founder of Mothers Out Front, describes both the origins of the group's name and the urgency of its mission. Kelsey says that although she's known the science behind climate change since she was a child, it was having her own daughter that allowed her to comprehend the stakes.

After a day at the aquarium, Kelsey was reading her then-four-year-old daughter a book about coral reefs. "Suddenly, I realized all coral reefs are projected to die within her lifetime. Every single one. How many other things will vanish? What kind of world will she inherit?"

"Why have we made so little progress?"

Feeling a need to act, Kelsey started working with others to see if mothers in her Boston-area town felt similarly. The response was immediate, and Kelsey found a ready community of mothers who all shared the need to act, but needed an avenue to do so. Using organizing models based on the most successful US social movements of the past century, Kelsey co-founded Mothers Out Front with Vanessa Rule, gathering local teams of moms and training and empowering them to act on issues facing their communities.

Kelsey is no stranger to ambitious startups. She co-founded Align Technology, the medical device company behind the transparent Invisalign braces, and later chaired the board of the Environmental Working Group.

We are uniquely positioned to rapidly grow our mother-led climate movement into an unstoppable force for change.

Kelsey Wirth

Mothers Out Front teams form from the ground up in communities, and influence local officials who cannot afford to ignore mobilized, passionate moms. This proven model of deep organizing is key to overcoming historical difficulties with tackling the climate crisis. The environmental movement has been criticized for leaving out frontline communities — poor communities, indigenous communities, and communities of color — the very communities who are already paying the price of climate change today. Mothers Out Front seeks to center these communities in their advocacy and ensure that their voice is a key part of the movement against climate change.

Mothers Out Front has scaled dramatically: since its inception, the organization has grown to include over 32,000 supporters and active participants, with over 48 community-based teams operating in ten states. Employing the leadership training, network building, and social media strategies supplied by the national organization, local chapters have realized an array of major policy wins.

As a direct result of Mothers Out Front advocacy, Massachusetts passed new laws requiring utilities to identify and fix all polluting large-volume leaks from their gas pipelines within two years. This victory came after Mothers Out Front teams painstakingly examined existing pipeline infrastructure and identified a large number of methane leaks. Not only does methane have harmful effects to humans, wildlife, and plant life, it is one of the most potent greenhouse gases. The leaks Mothers Out Front exposed, representing many millions of dollars' worth of wasted fuel, were shocking, and convinced Massachusetts' to step up its commitment to reduce its carbon emissions by 5%.

The victories by the Massachusetts teams are shared by mom-led groups and coalitions around the country. New York halted plans to expand a major gas plant, instead committing to convert it into a renewably-powered data center, solar array and battery storage; and California passed the landmark Clean Energy Act, with a state-level target of 100% clean electricity by 2045.

Following simultaneous rallies in many cities in 2019's Climate Action March, Mothers Out Front is expanding rapidly, and calling on moms, dads, would-be-parents and other concerned citizens everywhere to join them in preserving the future of today's children and those yet to come.

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