Friday, November 7, 2014

Durga, the Mother Out Front

In Massachusetts, there is a small but growing group of climate justice activists called Mothers Out Front. When I first heard the name, I was skeptical. Why just mothers? Does climate action now fall in the category of cooking, attachment parenting, bargain hunting and PTO fundraising--things that flexibly employed spouses are supposed to execute while their partners punch the 9-5? And what did this group hope to contribute that other activists were not already doing?

So, at the invitation of a close friend, I went to my first meeting. Even as the moderator outlined the group's short and long-term goals, skepticism dominated my consciousness. Why mothers? Especially, mothers who have already made the ever-questioned choice of working full-time outside the home?

"Fierce Protectiveness" was the phrase in the Mothers Out Front declaration of intent that drew my attention. Yes, fierce.

Before my eyes flashed the pratima of Durga--bloodied, armed, serene, determined--fresh from the festival that had ended just a day ago. The crunch of sweet গজা , sent 400 miles by my own mother, lovingly over-packaged by my dad, still lingered in my mouth.

I realized why this climate action group focused on mothers: because it works.

Call it the "mother bear effect" or the "Ma Durga effect", there is science behind the reality that mothers react with vengeance when the vulnerable are threatened*.  Harnessing this anger into collective action simply works, explained the group's moderator.

When climate change disrupts our children's lives much more dramatically than it has today, "If my children ask what I did to stop it," she said, "I want to say that I did my best."

So, on the backs of lions, and with Shiva at our sides, here we come.

De Dreu CK, Shalvi S, Greer LL, Van Kleef GA, Handgraaf MJ. Oxytocin motivates
non-cooperation in intergroup conflict to protect vulnerable in-group members.
PLoS One. 2012;7(11):e46751. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0046751. Epub 2012 Nov 7.