Carolyn Kaster/AP

One Mother’s Manifesto

A letter to President Obama from a new mother in Nebraska echoed the hopes of all parents — including the president himself — who want to leave a better world for their children.

All new parents know nights so still that even the breath of their sleeping child can stir those innermost hopes and fears about the young life entrusted to their care. When that happened last year to Lisa Martin as she sat with her baby in the quiet darkness before a Nebraska dawn, she wrote down her thoughts in an e-mail and sent it to President Barack Obama.

“I guess I just want to know my son will not have to go to the zoo to see polar bears,” she wrote, in part. “I want him to know, like we know today, that they exist out there in the wild. I want him to breathe in the air and not be afraid of pollution. I want him to lay under the trees and for him to feel peace in the simplicity of that moment of breathing in the beauty and grandeur of nature. I want him to one day dream of his own children and for him to know that our generation protected his future through protecting the world we live in.”

Reading Lisa’s poignant words, I was reminded of my own longings and worries for my own young daughter, and it occurred to me that Lisa speaks for mothers and fathers everywhere in calling out for the safeguarding of our children’s future. In one mother’s manifesto, Lisa has summoned us all to action on behalf of the generation of children we’re responsible for and the world they’ll inherit from us.

I’m not the only parent who feels this way. Obama was so moved by Lisa’s words that he boarded Air Force One earlier this week and flew to Omaha, then journeyed by motorcade to the tiny suburb of Papillion, where he visited with Lisa and her husband, Jeff, in the brick split-level home where they’re raising their infant son, Cooper.

Later, Obama connected the dots between one mother’s vision for her child’s future and the opportunity we have to invest in cleaner, smarter ways to power our future and reduce our reliance on the oil, gas, and coal that are driving global climate change.

“We should keep pressing forward with the clean energy that’s going to be creating new jobs for decades to come, and transition from dirty energy,” he said in remarks to several thousand people at the University of Nebraska–Omaha.

“We shouldn’t be subsidizing the past; we should invest in the future,” Obama said. “That puts us ahead of the curve. And that’s how we’re going to keep leading the world to combat climate change and protect this planet, Lisa’s son, your kids, and your grandkids.”

Said Obama, “There’s nothing more important than making sure that future generations are able to enjoy the incredible bounty that God has given us.”

Lisa Martin is a young mother who teaches English at a high school outside Omaha. Her voice, though, echoes the yearnings of all parents everywhere who aspire to leave a better world for their children than what was left to us.

“As cliché as it sounds, having a child changes everything,” Lisa said as she introduced Obama when he gave his Wednesday speech, noting that she had shared her letter with her students and admonished them to be advocates for the change they seek. “Even a mother’s nighttime fears,” she said, “can make change happen.”