Planning Creative, Family-Friendly Actions

How can we make climate actions fun for adults and children, AND make them effective? 

For Our Kids explored this question with organizers from two parent-led climate groups. Maya Mailer is the co-founder of Mothers Rise up (UK) and co-director of Our Kids’ Climate, and Liat Olenick is co-founder of Climate Families NYC. Mothers Rise Up and Climate Families NYC both organize playful, visual, in-person actions that pressure decision makers, capture media attention, and engage organizers and families.




Conversation Highlights

On finding your niche as a parent group

Parents can be the “friendly face” of the climate movement and use creative, playful actions to catch the attention of decision makers and get a foot in the door to meet with them. When you have limited time and capacity, it can help to work in coalition with other groups who may have different skills, tactics, resources and relationships. 

Liat: “We try to fit in where we’re most needed and where our identities (as families of young children) can have the most impact.” 

On designing effective actions

Choose a strategic target. Mothers Rise Up focuses on Lloyd’s of London (an insurance company that enables fossil fuel expansion by insuring fossil fuel projects) and Climate Families NYC targets Citibank, a top fossil fuel financier.

Develop clear messaging. Climate Families NYC holds trainings and orientations to explain why they focus their activism on banks. Knowing that kids like stories of heroes and villains, they made a picture book about the CEO of Citi Bank and the choice she has to be a hero or a villain. To parents, they explain that living in New York City gives them direct access to major financial institutions like Citi Bank, and with this comes an obligation to focus on these targets. Mothers Rise Up keeps their message simple: Without insurance, fossil fuel projects cannot go ahead, making insurance is the “achilles heel” of the fossil fuel industry. 

Make actions creative, dynamic and fun. Climate Families NYC makes their actions age-appropriate, meaningful and fun for kids. The kids become friends with each other and want to be there! This keeps parents coming back. They use costumes and props, bring snacks, and limit actions to 1-2 hours. They sometimes employ “the natural chaos of children” to make an action dynamic. When the action is over, they go to a nearby playground to debrief and share food while the kids play. Mothers Rise Up works with culture and cultural references to tell a story through a large, creative action. In a recent action, they worked with professional dancers and a world-class choreographer to perform a scene from Mary Poppins outside of Loyds of London, re-writing the scene to be about the insurance industry.

Get media attention. Media coverage can be fickle and there's no way to guarantee coverage. Some tips to increase your chances of media coverage include using creative actions with kids at the forefront, focusing on national issues rather than local issues, building relationships with journalists before the action and in between actions, getting the press photo out quickly, working in collaboration with others, doing press releases, and working with social media influencers to spread news of your action (Mothers Rise Up has worked with actors and athletes). 

Engage decision-makers. Hosting playful, non-threatening actions can help get you a meeting with decision-makers, where you can then demand more ambitious action. You don’t have to know technical details about finance or climate solutions to be a powerful voice. In fact, knowing such details may not be your role as a grassroots group. This is another reason to work in coalition with other groups, including policy groups.

On building a sustainable, inclusive group structure

Recruit diverse members and make actions accessible to families. Climate Families has a school ambassador program and engages families through the New York City public school system, which helps them reach diverse families. They bring people up through a ladder of engagement and include  regular “climate playdates” in parks where they do easy, unintimidating actions, like letter writing.

Liat: “This creates an easy first step for families and kids to get to know us and what we do.”

Mothers Rise Up is led by a core group of 7 mothers from diverse backgrounds. Their fundraising allows them to pay each member for two days of work per week, and rely less on volunteers to ensure the success of actions. Unlike Climate Families NYC, their goal is to do effective, big actions, and not to build up a network of parent activists.

Avoid burnout. Climate Families has a concentric circle structure. At the core is a steering committee of 10 people, then a planning or coordinating team, then the school ambassadors, the broader membership, and their audience. These roles create something for each level of engagement. They emphasize that group members are welcome to step in and out of participation as their capacity allows. Mothers Rise Up was doing this work non-stop at first, but realized they were at risk of burning out. They try to ground their work through time in nature and creating space for breaks. They also feel that joy is key to sustaining activism. 

Maya: “For us, the answer is to continue to create joyful, hopeful and uplifting spaces because we feel like that’s what nourishes us and that’s what we need to keep doing the work.”

Watch a recording of the full conversation here on our Youtube channel. 

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