Pushing the Motherhood Cause
Sunday, May 13, 2007
They are moms with office jobs, moms with toddlers, moms with weekends that hustle them to birthday parties and scout meetings and supermarkets. No one has much free time, yet on this Saturday morning, they gather at Kim Love's home in Silver Spring to consider a political movement.
They settle into living-room couches and chairs as Love serves brunch and turns on "The Motherhood Manifesto," a documentary she promises will not take long. "I'm sure we all have soccer practice to get to," she says.
So begins another "house party" -- largely unnoticed in the political world, but one of hundreds that have been hosted in recent months in 37 states and the District. They are an outgrowth of MomsRising.org, founded a year ago to bring mothers together as a force for change in public policies that affect their everyday lives.
More than 90,000 people have registered, galvanizing around six main issues: family leave, flex time, health insurance, child care, fair wages and children's activities, such as better after-school programs. Their proposals are not new, but together they create a "motherhood" agenda that has attracted a fresh enthusiasm.
"They have struck a nerve, or maybe they have just sharpened the debate," said Love, 37, who said her generation of friends is consumed by the tug between work and family. "Literally, these issues are all we ever talk about."
Said Kristen Kiefer, a mother of two in Manassas: "The reality is that, no matter what your situation is, everyone struggles with this."
This nascent mothers' movement sealed its first legislative victory last week. In Washington state, MomsRising members vigorously lobbied for paid family leave for working parents. Gov. Chris Gregoire (D) signed a measure Tuesday making the state the second, after California, with such a mandate.
"The Washington state experience shows moms truly can make a difference, and that is thrilling," co-founder Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner said, recalling the effort: 14,000 e-mails to lawmakers, hundreds of telephone calls, 600 hand-delivered cookies and a mass display of decorated "onesie" infant leotards.
The group's documentary will air today on more than 30 PBS stations, including at 9 p.m. on the District's WHUT.
U.S. mothers have long organized, starting in the 1850s with Anna Reeves Jarvis, who called attention to poor conditions in Appalachia, said Stephanie Coontz, a history professor at Evergreen State College. But in modern politics, since the 1970s, motherhood issues have been associated mostly with conservative women's groups that have pushed for women to stay home with their children, she said.
MomsRising stands out for its working-mother focus and also as an example of new-style, online community organizing. Co-founder Joan Blades also helped launch the liberal group MoveOn.org -- "the great success story of Internet politics," said Michael Cornfield, who wrote a book on the topic.
The group may revive debate on family-friendly issues that have idled in recent years, said Ronnee Schreiber of San Diego State University, who studies women and politics. With Democrats in control of Congress, she said, "I think it could go somewhere."