Chandra Bocci: ”My son associates climate action with a fun play date!”

An artist and animator based in New York City, Chandra Bocci is one of the key members of Climate Families NYC. Over the past two years, she has created wonderful installations and pieces to take along on their actions. She believes in actions that are fun, friendly, and positive. With this joyful approach, Chandra hopes to expand the group all over New York City.

I grew up in Oregon, on a farm. I rode horses, played in the woods and my siblings and I built forts under beautiful evergreen trees. The feel and colours of my childhood are mossy, lush, very green. And then during the pandemic, while I was living in New York, we had awful wildfires there, and my parents came very close to having to evacuate. They were in the evacuation zone, and I knew many people who lost houses or land. It was just very scary. The quality of the air was so bad – my little nieces, who were two and three, couldn’t step out of their house for two weeks and this was combined with the covid lockdown so you can imagine what it was like. This was a very pivotal moment for me. Growing up, I was raised by my mom to always feel that nature was protecting us and that we had to protect nature. As an artist, I always think about sustainability and consumerism. But being the mother of a 2-year-old in 2020 and seeing the changes around the place I grew up, pushed me to reflect on my values and whether my life was resonating with them.

I don’t think many people connect the dots and that is why I’m very glad to be part of a group that creates awareness on these issues. A few years ago, a group of us came together at a library event and formed the Sunrise Kids NYC. (We’re now called Climate Families NYC) I found people with young kids who can only meet at certain times, juggling multiple things and yet, have the time to be committed to creating a better future for their kids. When you’re a parent with a young child, you suddenly have a different kind of time. Earlier, when maybe I was spending my morning doing my own projects, now because I have a kid it makes sense for me to go to the playground and do some climate action at the same time! From an email chain, we’ve now evolved into a WhatsApp group with 20 very active members and a larger group of about 100 parents. One of the very wonderful things about our group is that we are very diverse – there are teachers, artists, musicians, lawyers, journalists and even union organisers. It’s a talented pool and we are constantly brainstorming new actions.

On Mother’s Day this year, we marched up to Citibank with a message for the CEO, Jane Fraser. We held signs, sang songs, carried beautiful huge sunflowers that we made from paper and card and asked her to come out and meet us and talk about how they plan to reduce or stop funding fossil fuel. A few weeks later, we were outside Governor Kathy Hochul’s office to talk about the Climate Jobs Justice package. We take our kids with us. We create beautiful installations and make powerful banners. Art empowers us but until you go to the doorstep of the people in power and make them look in your eyes, you’re never going to get anything done. That’s why we take our messages to those in power, and sometimes they do come out and interact with us. For example, Larry Fink the CEO of Black Rock spoke with us and arranged some meetings with some group members later.

I don’t think we are going to achieve our goals with one action. What we do around the action is crucial. For example, outside Citibank we spoke to their employees, we spoke to others who were visiting the bank, we handed out flyers and explained to people why we were there. There were reporters there who spoke to us. We’re giving the public another perspective. In NYC for example, you’ll see bikes all over with the Citibank logo on them, because they are the sponsors of the city bike program.  So, they’re seen in the public eye as one of the better banks and not everyone knows that they fund massive polluting projects. That’s why we claw away at that reputation and hold them accountable. 

We need a shift in public consciousness around climate change. Just two summers ago, there were bad floods in my neighbourhood caused by rainstorms – and a child asleep with his grandparents in a basement apartment died. Just like with the fires in Oregon, we have rainstorms in NYC that we’re not prepared for. I don’t think that anybody foresaw that these basements would flood so quickly when we have abnormal rain.

In early June, the smoke from wildfires across Canada reached NYC. When the smoke was at its worst, it was incredibly eerie—unlike anything I’ve seen before. It was the middle of the day and as if all of the windows in our apartment were tinted orange, like the glow of a furnace. The whole city smelled like a campfire. I am an extremely tolerant person and have found it challenging to step into the role of “activist” –  because I genuinely believe everyone, even fossil fuel executives, are doing what they believe is best within a tragically broken system. Generally my feelings around climate are those of despair and mourning. But during that week in June, I felt a new spectrum of emotion, tilting more toward outrage & exasperation. The mama bear in me came out. The scale of human folly, to truly break something as huge and resilient and enduring as our very climate–and the fact that because of ruthless greed, my son now cannot have access to something as basic as clean air – I had the distinct urge to find the responsible persons and look them hard in the eyes. “How dare you?” I would say. “Our children’s lives are not a game.”

Here, in NYC , the climate change discussion is around the weather, wildfires etc but when I speak to other parents from the Our Kids’ Climate Fellowship, I see that elsewhere people are already facing huge shortages of essential items, crop failures and food security. These conversations gutted me and made me want to work that much harder.  

Being part of this group has given me a larger perspective and has freed me from this cloud of guilt all the time that I wasn’t doing something, or I wasn’t doing enough. I now feel like I’m doing all that I can. Having a network of moms that also share the same concerns is wonderful and creates an atmosphere of hope. My work this year has been about building a foundation for my organisation so that we can continue to grow and do bigger and better projects. We want to create community hubs in every neighbourhood.

We’re already living through climate change, and because it’s bound to get worse before it gets better, it’s even more important to keep the momentum going.  We use art and music to make a point and all our actions feel joyful, hopeful and our kids are a big part of that. Since a lot of us take our young kids with us, the actions are super fun, like a birthday party.  My 5-year-old son associates climate actions with a fun play date! If I tell him that I’m going to an action on a school day, he wants me to take him out of school so that he can accompany me instead. He understands what we are doing. The other day, he was watching a nature show about caterpillars. It was about how biodiversity is impacted and how many species of caterpillars don’t exist anymore. And instead of being sad, he stood up in his chair and said, “that’s why we do climate action!” As a mom, that moment made it all worth it for me.