Editor’s note: Anna wrote this post (and a few more) before she left on maternity leave. She gave birth to a healthy baby girl—Audrey—in December.
All moms have a stake in public policies that affect the health and safety of their families. But as I’ve found throughout this series, pop-culture resources for pregnancy and motherhood only occasionally point out the risks of toxics and almost never make the connection between pollution and political action.
It’s a missed opportunity. Moms have the potential for massive political clout, but so far that potential is largely untapped. Concerned mothers could be a powerful voice in climate legislation, for example, since measures to protect the climate would not only help clear the air of pollution that hurts our fetuses, babies, and kids, but would also start to get our families off the fossil-fuel roller coaster and ensure the well-paid, local jobs that our kids will be looking for. Those are real “family values,” and they should be front and center in political debate.
In the United States and Canada, women constitute more than half of the electorate, and eight in ten of women in the United States have children by the time they are 44. So, what is the political power of the mom bloc? What happens when moms throw their weight around?
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It was way back in 1996 when political pundits identified “soccer moms” as a force to be reckoned with in the US presidential election. In that election, suburban women favored Clinton by 53 to 39, while suburban men voted for Dole. Again in 2000 and 2008, moms—especially suburban ones—were swing blocs.
But rather than simply voting their values and attracting indirect attention from political campaigns, moms are increasingly organizing themselves to have a more direct impact. Recently, mom bloggers brought Motrin to its knees after the company ran an ill-advised ad that belittled the benefits of carrying babies close to moms’ bodies. As the New York Times reported, “By Saturday evening they were the most tweeted subject on Twitter. By Sunday there was a nine minute video on YouTube, to the tune of Danny Boy, showing screen shots of the outraged twitter posts interspersed with photos of Moms carrying babies in slings. Bloggers began calling for boycotts. Bloggers asked their readers to alert the mainstream press.”
Moms aren’t just targeting companies but are increasingly organizing themselves online for political action. Mothers Movement Online, Mainstreet Moms, Mothers Acting Up, and Mothers & More (which has been around for two decades) offer everything from parenting advice and social networks to information about political issues and opportunities for what some moms call “naptime activism.”
Perhaps the most successful example of moms’ online activism is MomsRising.org, which works for “paid family leave, flexible work options, excellent childcare and health care for all children, and to stop the wage and hiring biases that penalize so many mothers today.” It’s become a powerhouse. More than 85,000 members joined in less than a year, making the organization the fastest-growing virtual grassroots effort of its kind. Today, the organization boasts more than 150,000 members across the United States.
MomsRising.org aims for change not only on in Washington DC, but also in US statehouses. In Washington State, MomsRising members advocated for a paid family leave bill by e-mailing 14,000 letters, making hundreds of phone calls, and sending 600 home-baked thank-you cookies to elected officials. At the end of April, the Washington Legislature passed and sent to the governor’s desk legislation giving workers $250 a week for as long as five weeks to care for a newborn or a newly adopted child. “The family leave bill would not have passed without the great work of MomsRising,” state Sen. Karen Keiser, a prime sponsor, told the group afterward. It’s the nation’s second bill of its kind, after California’s pioneering measure that allows as long as six weeks paid leave (Delayed due to financing questions, WA’s legislation won’t go into effect until 2012. Oregon’s legislature has been flirting with this kind of legislation for years).
In addition to state and national organizations, there are a slew of local and neighborhood moms’ groups that are active online. They’re not all politically oriented, but they could be. In Seattle, Madrona Moms operates mostly online and has been called, half-jokingly, a “cultural cabal,” capable of deciding “which high-chair-powered restaurants succeed or fail.” Given the group’s alleged impact on local businesses, it’s not hard to see that it could also be a potent force in local politics as well.
There are surely similar networks in Portland and other Cascadian cities and towns that I haven’t found. Let us know of your favorites!
It seems to me that a little information would go a long way with this type of online network. Moms certainly can’t be neatly fit into any one stereotype or political persuasion, but they do tend to care about the health and safety of their kids. And caring about kids means caring about food, water, air, parks, neighborhoods, transportation, energy, pollution, and jobs.
So I’ll be joining my own on-line neighborhood group as soon as my maternity leave kicks in.