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Mnookin: Family Activism

A few weeks ago, my four-year-old daughter and I traveled with other Vermont families to the Pennsylvania shale fields to see for ourselves how hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is impacting the region. We’re part of Mother Up! — 350 Vermont’s campaign to engage parents to take action, both in their own communities and those most affected by the fossil fuel industry.

The four-day trip took us through Susquehanna County, the epicenter of fracking in the Marcellus Shale region. We visited a number of families, each with a different story to tell. One family’s water supply had been contaminated with methane, making the water undrinkable and the house susceptible to explosion. Another family suffered from chronic skin irritations due to contaminated water.

A family with a small sugarbush had lost an eminent domain battle. The maple trees were cut last winter, before the pipeline became stalled for lack of permits. Another family had won a lawsuit against a fracking company, but their water will be forever unusable.

Children in our group ranged in age from five months to ten years old. And so our days also involved hiking to a waterfall, feeding goats, tasting local maple syrup, and swimming in a local lake.

The trip was designed to be an experience shared both with other families and with our own children. My daughter returned home with stories, not only of playing tag at the campground, but also of dirty water that we couldn’t drink. Another mother called it a radical reinterpretation of the family vacation.

Back home, some of these Vermont families have faced related struggles. In Addison County, activists have mounted several years of resistance against Vermont Gas System’s proposal for a 41-mile natural gas pipeline extension stretching from Colchester to Middlebury. The last parcel was recently granted through eminent domain, but the dispute will likely go to the state’s Supreme Court. And earlier this year, several residents in North Bennington learned that their well water had been contaminated with a toxic industrial chemical called PFOA, resulting from 30 years of Chemfab operations in their town. We told these stories in Pennsylvania as a way to show solidarity.

Raising children in a time of climate change can be frightening and isolating. And I sometimes feel paralyzed by thoughts of what the future will look like for my daughters. But by joining with other parents through Mother Up!, my family builds community, and I feel empowered by the knowledge that we’re stronger together.

Abigail Mnookin is a former biology teacher interested in issues of equality and the environment. She is currently organizing parents around climate justice with 350Vermont, and lives in Brattleboro with her wife and their two daughters.
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