Climate Conversations S3E8: Moving into Action with Mothers Out Front Chapter Leader Stacy Levy
In Episode 3, we heard how Mothers Out Front takes climate action through learning in community, from and with each other. Here's an extended cut of the conversation from that episode with Stacy Levy, a co-founder of the South Bay CA (San Jose) chapter of Mothers Out Front. Stacy tells us about how a deep love for her children, and deep commitment to do anything to protect them, led her to organize a new climate action group with friends. We discuss the growth and connections fostered by house parties, and how mentoring and mutual support leads to continuous learning and leadership.
Stacy Levy: [00:00:00] [00:00:00] For me, when I had my first son and he's just a little baby, I think, just like any parent, when I saw him, my heart burst and I had just way more love than I ever knew I could have for another being and I knew I would do anything to protect him.
Rajesh Kasturirangen: [00:00:23] Welcome to Climate Conversations.
Curt Newton: [00:00:33] Before we get started, a quick note. If you haven't yet, please listen to episodes two through four in this season on Learning to Change where we tell the stories of three groups who have modeled our season theme. We had to cut so much good stuff out to create those stories, so now we're releasing extended cuts of the individual interviews. We hope you'll like them as much as we do and that they lead you to a richer appreciation for what it means to learn to change.
[00:01:00] In this episode, we're gonna be sharing an expanded version of the interview we did with Stacy Levy. Stacy is a co-founder of the Mothers Out Front South Bay chapter in San Jose, California. We had a great conversation with her and wanted to share more of her thoughts than what we were able to include in the previous Mothers Out Front consolidated episode. Here's Stacy.
Dave Damm-Luhr: [00:01:23] Welcome, Stacy. We're really glad to have you as our guest today. We've heard great things about what's happening with South Bay Mothers Out Front out in the San Francisco region. C an you tell us a little bit about how you got there to Mothers Out Front South Bay and what you're up to these days?
Stacy Levy: [00:01:38] Yeah, thanks for having me. I'm in San Jose, and a few years ago, a friend of mine and I were both concerned about climate change and decided to do something about that, so we started showing movies in a library for women and moms, inviting other women and moms, and we just [00:02:00] wanted to increase awareness about it and show how it is a problem for our kids. For us, as parents, that's part of our responsibility to protect their future. So the movie screenings were going well, but we got really motivated and wanted to take some action and start actually doing something about it instead of just learning about it.
My friend Linda had heard about Mothers Out Front, which was very active in Massachusetts, and so we started talking with one of the co-founders and decided to start our own group. That was a pretty easy because we already had this base of moms and women who were fired up about climate change and how important it is to protect our kids' future. We actually had our first party the weekend after the November 2016 election. It had been planned for a while. We didn't think it was gonna go the way that it went, so we were all still in a bit of shock, [00:03:00] but it was so empowering and encouraging to have this group of women come together and be able to talk about, "What can we do?"
Curt Newton: [00:03:08] What was it like, that moment when you realized, "We've assembled a bunch of great people. We should do more." What was it like?
Stacy Levy: [00:03:16] I feel like it was a growing feeling of knowing that we want to, but we can now. It was something that was building up and then all of a sudden you realize we can do something. With the Mothers Out Front model, it was really easy to just plug in and start having house parties and start inviting people and from a group that would take action. So it was empowering.
Curt Newton: [00:03:42] Yeah. The house party's a really big deal in Mothers Out Front, right?
Stacy Levy: [00:03:46] Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Curt Newton: [00:03:46] Could you take us through one? Pretend you've brought me in and I'm brand new to this. What's the experience like?
Stacy Levy: [00:03:56] For the first little while, people are just gathering and getting to know each other a [00:04:00] little bit, and then once everyone is gathered, we sit in a circle and get an overview of what we're going to do. There's usually one or two facilitators who facilitate the meeting, and it's a combination of agitation about the urgency of climate change and also conversation with, "What brought you here? Why does this matter to you?" So everyone's voice is heard in the circle. We go over, not only the urgency of climate change, but also how important our voices as mothers or grandmothers is to this movement, how it's a new constituency that can't be written off as left wing, crazy activists. We're moms. We just wanna protect our kids' future.
We also talk about how important it is to build political will, that the technology is there, it's just a matter of building the political will and getting our voices heard. We talk about how we do [00:05:00] that. We're just starting on a local level and building relationships with decision makers. We also talk about how mothers throughout the country have been effective in making their voices heard both with climate change and with other initiatives.
Dave Damm-Luhr: [00:05:13] So tell me, compared to that first meeting in November to the most recent one that you've had, how's it different? What have you learned or what are you doing differently based on the experience that you had with house parties since then?
Stacy Levy: [00:05:26] I feel like we tweak it every time. Every time we have a house part, we tweak the slide deck that we use. We're now able to talk about a campaign that we had that was successful and show the process that we went through, so it's really personal now. I feel like we've also learned how important our own individual stories are and how I went from not being politically active to now feeling like I know lots of different ways I can get involved, whether I have a lot of time or a little time, so bringing those stories in and how easy it is to get involved. You don't have to commit your life to [00:06:00] this.
Curt Newton: [00:06:00] Would you be willing to tell us your story, the origin story that you might share in one of these house parties?
Stacy Levy: [00:06:07] Okay. It's been a while since I've shared it, so let's see.
Curt Newton: [00:06:10] Yeah.
Stacy Levy: [00:06:11] So for me, when I had my first son and he's just a little baby, I think, just like any parent, when I saw him, my heart burst and I had way more love than I ever knew I could have for another being. I knew I would do anything to protect him, and I still feel that way now. As he grew up, I got very involved in different, like, how can I keep him healthy? How can I make sure he has a good education? How can I help him have a balanced life? All those different things. I spent a lot of energy as a parent looking out for my kids in those ways. I've always cared about the planet and climate, but I really wasn't that active in it. It was a bit intimidating, [00:07:00] overwhelming really. It just felt way too complex of a problem. I tried to not cry very much. I tried to make good choices in my individual life, but I was a little bit overwhelmed to get involved myself.
I guess as time went on, I just started getting more worried about it and realized this is a part of keeping my kids healthy. This is a part of their future. If I'm willing to spend so much time cooking them healthy food, I can make time to get active and do something, so I learned different ways that I could get involved, whether it was through just showing up at a meeting and educating myself about something going on locally or joining a group, like Mothers Out Front or founding the group Mothers Out Front here, so that we can help make other voices heard as well, other moms' voice, inspire [00:08:00] other moms to get active.
Dave Damm-Luhr: [00:08:02] So as you look back on all of that experience, taking your own personal story and weaving it together with other moms in the South Bay, what's made the difference for growing and expanding the South Bay Mothers Out Front team?
Stacy Levy: [00:08:15] I think for our team, working with allies, working with other groups that are already aware of important issues and have more of the expertise on policy, et cetera, is really helpful. Choosing a campaign that was doable, not starting with something that we wouldn't be able to achieve, that was also helpful. I think that having our regular team meetings ... They're fun. We're friends. We get to know each other. It's fun to show up at the meeting, so having it be something where we're lifting each other up and keeping each [00:09:00] other motivated in different ways has been really helpful. Also seeing the growth of different team members has been really exciting, just different people who are not sure and then seeing them take steps in getting more involved and empowered themselves.
Curt Newton: [00:09:17] That's a theme that we've been hearing a lot, that this realization that, "Wow, I can do this," that, "I'm empowered," seems really fundamental.
Stacy Levy: [00:09:27] Yeah.
Curt Newton: [00:09:28] I was thinking of reflecting on what you just said about the teaming up with other organizations. There might be a particular issue that some group has really done a lot of work on. I'm curious if you've observed your influence on these other groups, and so your organizing model and people saying, "Boy, the way Mothers Out Front goes about building its teams and its connections, what can we learn from them?" You've seen anything like that?
Stacy Levy: [00:09:52] There's a group called San Jose Community Energy that was focused on the community choice energy campaign that we [00:10:00] had and they said they really did appreciate the political will that we brought. We had moms showing up at city council meetings and had youth show up and make statements. They let us know how much that helped with our campaign for getting San Jose to approve CCE.
Dave Damm-Luhr: [00:10:19] They're community choice energy? Is that the CCE you're talking about?
Stacy Levy: [00:10:22] Yeah. The CCE.
Dave Damm-Luhr: [00:10:22] Yeah.
Stacy Levy: [00:10:23] Yeah, San Jose Clean Energy is what they're calling it.
Dave Damm-Luhr: [00:10:27] Mm-hmm (affirmative). So what's made the difference along the way in that campaign?
Stacy Levy: [00:10:31] I think it's been a lot of different things. It's been learning about why this is important. For example, being able to say, "This is one of the top things San Jose can do to reduce its carbon footprint," just educating people about that has been, I think, very key. Helping the youth and the other moms learn how to go up and make a statement just using their own experience, they don't [00:11:00] have to be experts on this, just why do I care about this and wat do I want you to do. Just really learning how to use our voices, I guess, has been what's made a very big difference and having the support to do that, to encourage us, and support us in that process.
Curt Newton: [00:11:17] Do you think about how what you've been going through is teaching your kids important lessons?
Stacy Levy: [00:11:22] I do. Also there's times where it's really tricky for me to fit this into my life. I need to pull on different strings to keep me involved in it at times. That's one of them is I wanna model for them, one, that I care about them and their future enough to do this, but two, that getting involved is, not only important for me as an individual and it fills me up, but it also is a way of giving back to our future.
Dave Damm-Luhr: [00:11:53] Yeah. So the last time we talked, you mentioned that you've been in grad school recently, and I'm assuming that there are a [00:12:00] lot of folks who are listening to this who would understand your having to juggle an awful lot in order to do that with parenting and then trying to stay involved in Mothers Out Front. How do you balance all those different demands?
Stacy Levy: [00:12:15] It has been very trick and at times, my husband's complained that I'm a little too stretched, but I think there's a few things that have helped me. One is I really try to stay very organized and have my priorities cleared so that I have time to stay engaged and get everything done that I need to get done. I also have learned I need to say no to things sometimes. There's sometimes where there's something that I'd really love to do, but I just can't do everything. So learning to say no has helped me avoid burning out.
It's also been really important for me to avoid getting numb. It's been important to keep myself awake to what's going on. There's so many things I could do everyday that take my attention and seem very important and [00:13:00] this whole climate change thing can seem very abstract at times, so I try to keep myself engaged in reading articles, listening to podcasts now and then to make sure that I'm staying awake, that this is a real problem that really needs all of our attention.
Curt Newton: [00:13:16] As we've been talking and thinking back on some private conversations, I'm returning to this thought about the different forms of learning that go on around doing climate change work and when people talk about learning, there's this tendency to dive into, "Oh, information. It's the facts," and things like that. But groups and experiences such as you've been talking about really seem to lean so heavily on our attitudes, our beliefs, say, in ourself and our empowerment and actions, ways that we can actually work together to make things happen. Does that way of thinking about things make sense to you?
Stacy Levy: [00:13:54] Yeah. Definitely. I think if we only give information, it doesn't mobilize [00:14:00] anyone. I think it just overwhelms people. I feel like that was were I was at for a while, just overwhelmed by the fact that I was seeing. So I think it's hearing stories and hearing people become empowered that helps make it something relatable, and not only that, but also hearing the attitude of this is something that we can do something about and we really need to do something about.
Dave Damm-Luhr: [00:14:28] And certainly the community choice energy campaign is about something that's happening right there in San Jose, so it's not some abstract, 2000 miles away where some disaster's happening, but it's right there in your backyards.
Stacy Levy: [00:14:41] Yep. Yep, exactly. It's a win-win because people don't have to pay extra to have the cleaner energy. San Jose will be able to take any profits and put it back into programs for bettering San Jose and it's better for the climate, so it's been a very easy thing to [00:15:00] get people excited about.
Curt Newton: [00:15:01] Could we take a moment to start from the beginning for our listeners who maybe aren't familiar with that program is? Could you introduce and talk us through what this program, what this campaign is about?
Stacy Levy: [00:15:12] Sure. So right now in San Jose, the residents and business get their energy from PG&E and the San Jose Clean Energy, or CCE, community choice energy, is a program that the city of San Jose would manage that basically uses that infrastructure of PG&E, but purchases energy from various other energy sellers, and it would be a higher percentage of clean energy than what we could get for the same price for PG&E.
Dave Damm-Luhr: [00:15:47] So it's buying wholesale where individual consumers couldn't get that, but if you buy large amounts together, then is that the idea?
Stacy Levy: [00:15:56] I think so. Here's a situation where I'm really not an expert on it, [00:16:00] but I feel like I knew enough about it to be able to talk about it with friends and acquaintances and encourage them to sign postcards and show up at meetings. So that's what the community choice energy is and San Jose had been considering it for some time and when our Mothers Out Front group was forming, Linda, the person who co-founded it with me, was aware of that already and we decided it would be a really good first campaign because we didn't have to start from scratch with it.
It was already being looked at and considered, and part of what was missing was a political will and showing the city council members that the residents do want this. So we were able to get a whole bunch of postcards signed, have meetings with council members, show up at city council meetings and make statements, coach middle school students, even some elementary students, [00:17:00] on making personal statements at these meetings to encourage the city council members to vote in favor of it. It was so exciting to see the kids give their statements, see them find their voice at such an early age and get connected to this issue. You could just see the pride in our faces. That was definitely my favorite part of it.
Curt Newton: [00:17:23] I imagine you see the councilors guards falling down, too, in the face of that.
Stacy Levy: [00:17:28] Yes. Indeed. Yep. I think that they were all moved by seeing the kids show up and be brave and get up there and make their statement.
Curt Newton: [00:17:37] Yeah.
Stacy Levy: [00:17:38] For me, personally, I really don't like public speaking at all. Finding that courage to, first of all, go up there and make a couple statements a couple different times, it's definitely stretched me, but I did it and I survived and I felt really good afterwards. Then during that [00:18:00] campaign, there was a People's Climate March in San Jose and we had an opportunity to talk about what we were doing, our Mothers Out Front South Bay team. So Linda and I actually spoke at that, at the end of the march at a rally, and I was really nervous to do that 'cause it was a much bigger audience, and so that's another time where I feel like I pushed myself to do something that was very much out of my comfort zone. In the end, I'm really glad that I did it. That's just an example of how the Mothers Out Front model helps to stretch us and grow us. We received so much support and encouragement to do all of those talks.
Curt Newton: [00:18:43] I'd like, if we could, to go a little deeper into that process of stretching yourself.
Stacy Levy: [00:18:49] Sure.
Curt Newton: [00:18:50] What makes that possible for you and what you've observed other people going through?
Stacy Levy: [00:18:56] I think that it has to do with [00:19:00] caring so much about this and being motivated to do something that can make a difference. I guess I figure that this is a relatively small level of discomfort to go through compared to what future generations might have to go through if none of us speak up, so keeping that in mind helps me just deal with that anxiety and discomfort and stress, and then also having so much support of my team members, and we have a mentor with our Mothers Out Front team, so having all that support helped me get through that process.
Dave Damm-Luhr: [00:19:35] Yeah. Is that somebody from the national team?
Stacy Levy: [00:19:38] Yeah. So when we first started, Vanessa Rule was our team's mentor, and as our team has matured, we don't have her as our mentor anymore. Actually, Linda has now joined the national team and she's now coaching our team.
Dave Damm-Luhr: [00:19:53] Great.
Stacy Levy: [00:19:54] Yeah.
Dave Damm-Luhr: [00:19:54] So that's an evolution that you all went through in terms of when it was helpful to have [00:20:00] somebody from another part of the country helping out and then when it was right to have a transition to somebody who's locally based.
Stacy Levy: [00:20:06] Yes. Yep. That's part of this Mothers Out Front model that's so helpful is having a mentor and someone who can coach our team or individual members at time when they're facing something new. So before we met with council members, we had some support about how to do that. They actually arranged a training and they invited other teams to join it as well so that the other teams were able to benefit from that at a time when we were needing it in that moment. So there's a lot of support in getting teams to step up to the next level.
Dave Damm-Luhr: [00:20:40] Sounds like there's a real just in time learning approach here to find where in the national scene across the U.S. and Mothers Out Front, somebody may have done something similar before and you can stand on their shoulders and don't have to start from scratch.
Stacy Levy: [00:20:56] Yep. Exactly. Then there's been times when people from our time have [00:21:00] been asked to share with teams who are newer things that we've done. So it's a model, really, where we're all growing in our own pace and learning from each other. It's wonderful. It's empowering to be able to share what we did and realize, "Oh, we actually have something we can share now."
Curt Newton: [00:21:22] What's coming up next? What's on the horizon?
Stacy Levy: [00:21:26] Actually, just yesterday, a lot of moms, I think there were nine moms, woke up at six ... Actually, they left at 6:30 in the morning to go to Sacramento for Lobby Day, and they brought over 800 postcards that they've had signed for SB-100, which is a bill in California that will accelerate the timeline to getting to 100% renewable energy, clean energy. So that's a focus right now is trying to get that bill passed. Mothers Out [00:22:00] Front still doesn't have a lot of teams developed in California, but this bill felt so important that we decided that we wanted to work on that and do what we could to try to get that passed.
Dave Damm-Luhr: [00:22:11] Yeah. So if you're thinking about all the moms that are out there that are not in a Mothers Out Front group, but might be listening to this podcast and asking, "Well, gee, should we organize one in our neighborhood or our community?" What advice do you have for them for organizing a Mother Out Front group where they live?
Stacy Levy: [00:22:31] Yeah, I would say it's a fantastic experience and I'd encourage them to do so. I'd say if it's possible, do it with a friend. Start it with a friend because then you can share and bounce ideas off of each other. That's something that, I think, really helped Linda and I when we started it to have each other to lean on and get encouragement from. Also to know you really don't need to be an expert. It's just about making your voice heard and building the political will. Were [00:23:00] engaging people who have not been politically active before. It's bringing in new constituency to this movement and it's also very relationship-based, so it's about building relationships within our team.
When we have new potential members come in, we do one-on-one conversations with them to get to know them a little bit better and find out what their strengths are and how they might wanna get involved, what they might love doing. A mom who's interested, even if maybe she doesn't have the time or interest in getting involved in Mothers Out Front, could still offer to host a house party and invite her friends and then facilitators will come and do this presentation and talk about how easy it is to get engaged and all the different ways people can get engaged in making a difference for their kid's future.
For my own self, as someone who co-founded it, I recently stepped back a bit because ... I was in my practicum years, so things have been very busy, and it was really hard to step back, but watching how other members were able [00:24:00] to step in and take on more and grow, and our team is doing really well, so letting other people step in at times is also something that I would encourage, and to know that other people can and likely will step in.
Dave Lishansky: [00:24:15] So there's a lot of emphasis on community and leaning on one another and relationship building. That seems like you guys are experts at that in your own way. Maybe it's not the science part of it, but the relationship part of it you guys have down. So thinking about when you were starting it, you had a mentor come in, you had Vanessa come in and be your mentor, what do you think was the most valuable part of that, especially in terms of learning these really valuable things that you guys are really great at?
Stacy Levy: [00:24:47] I think seeing Vanessa model it, model building the relationship with us, encouraging us to do that, telling her story, hearing the stories of other [00:25:00] teams and how they were stuck at certain points was really valuable.
Dave Lishansky: [00:25:04] When you think back to working with Vanessa, what's something that really resonates with you, just a memory of working with her, just, "Wow, I didn't have that before and now I'm [inaudible 00:25:15].
Curt Newton: [00:25:15] Yeah, something clicked. Yeah? Yeah. Yeah.
Dave Lishansky: [00:25:17] Yeah, exactly.
Stacy Levy: [00:25:18] So when I was preparing to give my first personal statement at the city council meeting, she worked with me one-on-one with that and helped me find what parts of my story might be the most helpful to share. I think she really helped me see how really making it personal was what was gonna get the attention of the city council members, so I feel like she really helped me learn how to tell my story in a vulnerable way that would make me more relatable to the city council members where as before that, I think I wanted to not get teary-eyed. I wanted [00:26:00] to keep my composure and keep it a little bit professional and at a distance, but it was making myself real to the people who are listening that was powerful.
Dave Lishansky: [00:26:09] What did that look like exactly?
Stacy Levy: [00:26:12] I think it had to do with talking about my process of waking up to how important this is and how it's a responsibility of myself as a mom and how difficult it is to fit that into my life, but I'm still finding ways to do that because I care about it so much.
Dave Damm-Luhr: [00:26:28] This has been really wonderful talking with you today, Stacy.
Curt Newton: [00:26:31] Yeah. Yeah. Thank you.
Stacy Levy: [00:26:32] Thank you very much.
Curt Newton: [00:26:39] We hope you've enjoyed this extended interview cut. Please be sure to check it out in context in the prior episode three, Learning In Community With Mothers Out Front. The Climate Conversations podcast is engineered and edited by Dave Lishansky. Project and media support is by my MIT Open Learning Colleagues, Laura Howells and Mikaela Joyce. Please [00:27:00] subscribe and rate us wherever you find your podcast. Join the community on climate.mit.edu and be in touch at Twitter, climatex_mit, and Facebook group named MIT Climate. For my co-hosts, Rajesh Kasturirangen and Dave Damm-Luhr, I'm Curt Newton. Thanks so much for listening.
- "South Bay Mother's Out Front Community Choice Energy Campaign": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=id33I5kYF8o
Climate Conversations S3E1: The Psychology of Learning to Change, a Conversation with Renee Lertzman - https://climate.mit.edu/podcasts/climate-conversations-s3e1-psychology-learning-change-conversation-renee-lertzman
Climate Conversations S3E2: Free Choice Learning in Universities with MIT Terrascope - https://climate.mit.edu/podcasts/climate-conversations-s3e2-free-choice-learning-universities-mit-terrascope
Climate Conversations S3E3: Learning in Community with Mothers Out Front - https://climate.mit.edu/podcasts/climate-conversations-s3e3-learning-community-mothers-out-front
Climate Conversations S3E4: NextGen Learning to Change with Boston Latin School YouthCAN - https://climate.mit.edu/podcasts/climate-conversations-s3e4-nextgen-learning-change-boston-latin-school-youthcan
Climate Conversations S3E5: More with MIT Terrascope Lecturer Dr. Ari Epstein - https://climate.mit.edu/podcasts/climate-conversations-s3e5-more-mit-terrascope-lecturer-dr-ari-epstein
Climate Conversations S3E6: The Making of a Climate Scientist with MIT Terrascope Alumna Lauren Kuntz - https://climate.mit.edu/podcasts/climate-conversations-s3e6-making-climate-scientist-mit-terrascope-alumna-lauren-kuntz
Climate Conversations S3E7: Building a Community with Mothers Out Front Co-Founder Vanessa Rule - https://climate.mit.edu/podcasts/climate-conversations-s3e7-building-community-mothers-out-front-co-founder-vanessa-rule
Climate Conversations S3E8: Moving into Action with Mothers Out Front Chapter Leader Stacy Levy - https://climate.mit.edu/podcasts/climate-conversations-s3e8-moving-action-mothers-out-front-chapter-leader-stacy-levy
Climate Conversations S3E9: Teaching Climate Change with Boston Latin School YouthCAN Teacher Cate Arnold - https://climate.mit.edu/podcasts/climate-conversations-s3e9-teaching-climate-change-boston-latin-school-youthcan-teacher
Climate Conversations S3E10: From Learning to Teaching with Boston Latin School & YouthCAN Alumna Rebecca Park - https://climate.mit.edu/podcasts/climate-conversations-s3e10-learning-teaching-boston-latin-school-youthcan-alumna-rebecca
Climate Conversations S3E11: Learning to Lead with Boston Latin School YouthCAN Co-President Susan Tang - https://climate.mit.edu/podcasts/climate-conversations-s3e11-learning-lead-boston-latin-school-youthcan-co-president-susan
Climate Conversations S3E12: Turning Learning into Habits with Quinton Zondervan, City Counselor - https://climate.mit.edu/podcasts/climate-conversations-s3e12-turning-learning-habits-quinton-zondervan-city-counselor
Climate Conversations S3E13: Season 3 Wrap-up: What Have We Learned About Learning To Change? - https://climate.mit.edu/podcasts/climate-conversations-s3e13-season-3-wrap-what-have-we-learned-about-learning-change