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The Activistas are ready for the revolution

By Lisa Frack

So why am I writing about the mothers movement at 11:56 PM on April 29, 2008 when I should really, really be sleeping? A year ago I would have been sleeping. Or quite possibly doing the laundry. 'Cause let's face it, when else was I going to do the laundry? But I'm far happier this way, pounding away at the keys until all hours, strategizing ways to forward this thing we're calling the mothers' movement. 

It all started innocently enough. A group of mamas in Portland, Oregon. A little wine, some really good tiramisu, and The Motherhood Manifesto. Yeah, we had a house party. We were annoyed -- about it all. The "part-time" work, the lack of paid family leave, the pumping nightmares, all of it. We watched the video (not that impressed) and shared our personal frustrations and what we really wished was different. We even wrote a group letter to our state legislators. Gave us that sense of doing something instead of just talking about doing something. Before we all headed home to the kids, we brainstormed next steps. Chief among them was to pitch a popular local parenting blog to add some parent activism into the mix somehow. Create a place where parents could come together to discuss these issues and -- hopefully -- make change.

Enter Activistas, brainchild of urbanMamas.com. Working mamas on the fly, they had created an amazingly successful community blog for Portland parents and were rarin' to make some change. Like I was. So we blogged. Then we met. Now we advocate. And it's working. Why? Because we blog, we meet, and we advocate. We think.

Since we are mostly winging it in our spare time (you know how that goes), I am in no position to conduct a SWOT analysis of the U.S. mothers' movement as a whole. That said, we're pretty busy -- and increasingly effective -- right here in Stumptown. And since our first post went up way back in April 2007, I've observed a thing or two about the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats of our own very local mothers movement here in Portland. Sure beats analyzing myself. Ready? I'll bet a lot of it sounds real familiar. Yeah, politics is local. But. We all need paid leave, and few have it. We all want safe toys for our children, and none of us can be sure that's what we're getting. We all need affordable, quality childcare, and few of us can find it. Whether we live in Portland, Oregon or Portland, Maine or any old place in between.

1. Strengths:

It's personal. We are all directly affected by one or more bad, bad family policies and we see a better way. We aren't content to function within them, we not only see a better way, we can now see the road to get there.

We're connected. The amazing power of the internet is bringing us together to work together, to help us e-mail our legislators with a nursing baby on our lap, to sense a greater movement. This, mamas, is powerful stuff.

Citizen media rocks. We women are dominating the blogosphere. We have a powerful voice and our reach is great. Keep posting, discussing, sharing personal stories, because ultimately we are raising consciousness and drawing people into the democratic process, without which we will make little change.

We're so very ready for the next step. The women who came before us have accomplished so very much. But it's not enough and we see a better way. A bumper sticker I saw recently read: Stop Bitching, Start a Revolution. I'm still bitching, though, because it's part of the revolution, far as I can tell. It's how we know what we want to change.

There's a whole lot of us. On election day, there is power in numbers. Together, mamas, our voices are strong. Yes, strong enough to change laws.

We have momentum. Strike while the iron's hot, as they say. Well, mamas, the iron is heating up. Our issues are in the press regularly. MomsRising is busy. We're busy. You're busy. The Democratic Presidential candidates are talking about it. Time to run it on in, mamas.

2. Weaknesses:

We're busy. Our kids need us, our partners need us, our bosses need us. The laundry is dirty, the lawn isn't mowed, the fridge is empty, and I need. to. exercise. 'Nuff said?

We're different. Like all women everywhere, there is a socio-economic divide among mothers that can be difficult to reach across. Not to mention the many other barriers to reach across, like parental age, core beliefs, parenting styles, race, and disabilities.  No small feat to get us all drinking coffee at the same table.

We change. As we move from pregnancy to maternity leave to nursing and pumping to childcare to K-12 to college there are so. many. different. issues. As our focus changes our attention to the last issue is lost.

We're busy. Did I say that already? Twice is not enough. We're that busy. 

R-E-S-P-E-C-T for the grassroots. There are some impressive organizations working on this stuff (yeah!), but other than some auto-generated e-mails, we grassroots parents who FEEL REALLY STRONGLY and are willing to work really hard on this aren't being included.  Get in touch with us. We want to help and we're actually pretty smart, too. Think community organizing: policy developed by the community for the community. Please don't just call me to testify with my kids and my compelling story in the final hour.

3. Opportunities:

We're powerful. We mamas are everywhere now. Not being paid equally, but in powerful posts across the spectrum: in state legislatures, Congress, the media, corporations. These mamas can -- and should -- make it happen. We can -- and should -- ask them to.

Work CAN be flexible. Thanks (again) to the internet, the options for work flexibility are improving literally every day.

Meet with candidates. Talk to them before they're elected because, well, they'll meet with you. Raise a little consciousness with these people because: 1) they might become very powerful, 2) they are often completely unaware of our concerns and, of course, 3) to learn what they think, what they're gonna do for us. And if you're lucky, you might just help their campaign by alerting them to issues that resonate with voters.

Meet with state & national legislators. Grab some mamas and head to the capitol or the local office of your U.S. Senators and Representatives. They have local offices for a reason, and if we're not meeting with them, someone else is!

Remember traditional media. Talk about it. Write about it. Build the case. Get. It. Everywhere. We can blog all day and all night, mamas, but we also need to spread the word in print and on the air to the off-liners. Letters to the Editor are a quick way to respond to an article and introduce other issues. Opinion pieces offer more space and can be pitched most any time.

4. Threats:

The economy. Voters and elected officials might be less likely to make change that could cost workers and taxpayers, like paid leave funded by an employee payroll tax.

Some businesses. Some businesses understand the overall benefits of work-family balance (bless them).  And others will fight it till the end, forever penny wise and pound foolish.  Small businesses cry especially loudly over higher costs of any sort.

The mommy wars. Is it my imagination or has the media whipped this one into a big, unnecessary froth? Yes, we're different. Big whoop. We'll partner across the SAHM and WOHM acronyms on some issues and not on others. We'll still prevail. Stop talking about it, already.

Burnout. I am tired. My husband would very much like to hurl my laptop out the window. My kids say "no" as soon as I utter the 'e' in 'e-mail.' While it is empowering to think that little old me can really effect change, it is just as easy to think it's all a huge waste of time that might well be more appreciated and needed by loads of other people in my life (my husband, kids, parents and boss, to name a few).

5. All Together Now

Apparently one should never undertake a SWOT without a specific goal, or else it'll just be terribly useless, a time sink. Our goal? Nothing less than electing supportive legislators, improving laws and forcing better private-sector policies that affect families in Oregon and beyond. To get there, accomplish our goal, we need to use our strengths to take advantage of our opportunities (the positives!), but also be sure to minimize our weaknesses so we can overcome our threats. We have our work cut out for us, mamas -- but what revolution doesn't?

I wrote a post a few months ago after reading an opinion piece by Barbara Ehrenreich called On Race and Progress. In it, she recalled some important social movements in 20th century America, and in my America-can-be-family-friendly obsessed brain, I linked her observations to us, to now, to this early 21st century mother's movement. Here's how I ended that post, and now this piece:

Ehrenreich reassures us how necessary we are in all this, how our willingness to stand up and -- in the little free time we have -- fight for a more family-friendly America is in fact a key to the change itself. As she writes about the fight for women's rights decades ago:

Women's rights, for example, weren't brokered by Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem over tea. As Steinem would be the first to acknowledge, the feminist movement of the '70s took root around kitchen tables and coffee tables, ignited by hundreds of thousands of now-anonymous women who were sick of being called "honey" at work and excluded from "men's" jobs. Media stars such as Friedan and Steinem did a brilliant job of proselytizing, but it took an army of unsung heroines to stage the protests, organize the conferences, hand out the fliers and spread the word to their neighbors and co-workers.

Anonymous? No problem. Unsung hero? I can only hope.

mmo : april/may 2008

Lisa Frack lives in Potland, Oregon.

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