Cherise Udell is a “grizzly bear mama” who lives in Utah. The name was coined after she founded Utah Moms for Clean Air, a group of moms across Utah state that advocates for clean air for their children. The idea started when Cherise learned that breathing 24 hours of Salt Lake City’s air in winter is equal to smoking half a pack of cigarettes. Urged by this threat to her young children (like a grizzly mama threatened by hunters) she decided to act. She quickly emailed a hundred moms asking them to band together to make Utah’s air cleaner and safer. The response was tremendous- many moms, sick of their childrens’ illnesses and suspecting smog as the culprit, were moved to join Cherise.
The ladies began targeting senators, Utah’s governor, and local newspapers to put health over profits and clean up Utah’s air. Cherise recalls Salt Lake City air smelling like gunpowder and tasting like metal before their efforts. Since the group formed, Utah Moms for Clean Air has suceeded in defeating three coal-fired plants and a proposed freeway bypassing 21 schools. They also have influenced the passage of legislation to retroift diesel city buses and enact an idle-free policy. Cherise believes clean air is a human right and cites the success of her group in the dedication and diversity of her grizzly mamas. Cherise notes that “Mothers defy political, racial, socio-economic and religious categorization so therefore [they] cannot easily be dismissed.” In addition, she says:
“Mothers, after all, are in a special moral position to advocate for a clean air. Our intent is simple: to ensure that our children, whose lives are entrusted to us, have a healthy environment in which to grow and flourish. We deliberate over car seat models and the right foods to feed our kids. We study the latest child development information, investigate schools and choose appropriate after-school activities. We often agonize over our children’s safety, worrying about crime and abuse and accidents. Yet the way we are living is permanently damaging our kids’ health. Convenience should not trump our children’s well-being; nor should industry profits. We can choose to behave differently; Utah’s (and America’s) children are depending on us to do so.”
Cherise’s next sights for her group are to green the largest air polluter in their state, an open-pit mine owned by UK corporation Rio Tinto. Utah Moms for Clean Air is also fighting for the continuation of the Clean Air Act in face of current GOP attacks. Hopefully, those in power will listen- after all, mother knows best!