Parents with Purpose: Community Organizer Mary Cleaver

In 2015, Vancouver-based mom Mary Cleaver posted an “Open Letter to Stephen Harper” on Facebook and it went viral. Shared by many notable Canadians including Margaret Atwood, Raffi, Joseph Boyden, and Sarah Harmer, the note addressed how Cleaver took issue with the Conservative party’s disregard for aboriginal people, science, and refugees — despite the boost the party’s economic policies provided for her family finances. And as the online reaction and subsequent media attention illustrated, it hit a nerve with a lot of Canadians.

Advocating for issues she cares about is a huge part of Cleaver’s life. She attends demonstrations and marches, writes letters — like the one to Harper, and has even taken out a full-page ad in the Vancouver Metro against the Kinder-Morgan Pipeline. Cleaver balances her passion for protest with raising two young daughters and a successful real estate business. We chatted with Cleaver about how she manages makes space for it all, and why we should unite as Canadians for social change.

A lot of us feel helpless. What can we really do to fight the world’s problems?

We need to find people who share our concern over particular issues and address them with collective action, coming together instead of being divided. I feel like with climate change especially we’re facing a very immediate challenge that can only be addressed if we’re all on the same page.

Well, I think there’s definitely a division between us when it comes to talking about the environment.

Yes. Like with Kinder-Morgan in particular, I hate this idea it’s Alberta versus British Columbia. Alberta gets all of the economic benefits and British Columbia gets all of the risk. Those things may be true but we don’t protect our coast in BC because it’s ours and we think we own it, we want to protect it for all Canadians.

You also feel like the government needs to do more, right?

I think people in Canada are ready to be asked to help. It doesn’t just fall to one man, but nationally. If Trudeau were to do a half hour prime time interview and say, “Look, we have this challenge and we can only meet it together. This is what your federal government is doing, and you — Mr. and Ms. citizen — here’s how you need to help us participate.” Then we have the individual action having a place in a framework, and we all know that what we’re doing isn’t just a drop in the bucket or a waste of time, but a concerted effort.

How do you talk to your kids about all this?

I don’t go into great detail with them because this is something that worries me a lot as an adult, so I wonder how I can talk to my children and not have it be so overwhelming that it hurts them needlessly. They learn things in school, and we support that, addressing it through our individual actions and the things that we do at home. So they know that what they do plays a role in the health of animals, the oceans, and things like that, but it’s not very specific.

Do you worry that your views might be bad for your career?

I did worry, especially when I took out that ad in the paper against Kinder-Morgan. But the beautiful thing about real estate is you find the people you should work with. There’s a realtor for everyone, and I don’t need everyone, I just need the clients who get on well with me. People don’t have to align with me politically for me to sell their home, but when we understand each other it makes the conversations easier. So, in a way, maybe it helps hone in and find the people I should be working with.

You’re perhaps not what many people think of when they envision an environmentalist.

I am not a green, hippy type at all. That’s part of what I think my strength is, because I’m none of those things. I don’t even like hiking. I hate gardening, I hate getting dirty. I wish I could tell you the reason I do this is to save the homes in the Marshall Islands or somewhere else affected by climate change. I’m doing it for my daughters. Completely selfish.

Mary with a few friends at The People’s Climate March in Vancouver September 2014

How do you manage all these parts of your life?

It’s hard, but I think like all moms I struggle with being pulled in several directions and feeling guilty about anything that takes me away from my kids. The irony of that is I’m doing it for them, 100 percent. This is to protect their future.

How can other parents get more involved?

Join in with other parents. I’m part of a Facebook page called Canadian Parents for Climate Action which is really in its infancy, but a good place to start. It was started by Fiona Koza, who also has two daughters and works for Amnesty International. She’s a mom that I really admire because her career is helping others. The people I admire most in the world are people who choose careers that try to make life better for others, knowing they’d make more money doing something else.

Also, write letters, to politicians (local, provincial, federal) and to publications (local paper, magazines like Macleans etc). Don’t be afraid of getting political. Be respectful always, but speak up! Politics is just how we make decisions collectively. If we can’t talk to each other about things that matter, how can we work together to solve problems that require our cooperation?


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The Whole Family Happiness Project is a group of moms exploring our connection to our individual purpose, our family happiness, and the happiness of the world around us. Come join us on Facebook.

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