Everyone from students to workers to anti tax-evasion protesters have taken to England’s streets in recent weeks. And yesterday, British mums stormed Whitehall.... or so my day dream went.
Monday saw the High Court in London throw out a legal challenge brought by the UK’s leading gender equality campaign, the Fawcett society, against the Coalition Government over its 2010 ‘austerity’ budget. Fawcett’s analysis showed that $5.7 billion worth of cuts, out of a total $8.1 billion cuts, are directed at women - yet the Government had neglected to meet its legal obligation to conduct an equalities impact assessment which would have exposed this and potentially prevented it from happening. The case was kicked out on grounds the point was “unarguable - or academic”.
The idea that these events would prove a tipping point for women is surely not so far fetched. But in the end, there was no revolt; the day ended on more of a whimper. The protest outside didn’t attract more than a hand-full, despite the backing of a number of prominent female MPs and Fawcett’s best efforts to rally the troops on Twitter. All trudged back onto the tube at the end of the day, in time to make the tea.
Would the story have been the same if this had happened in the US? My reckoning is: probably not.
As regular readers know from previous blogposts, when it comes to election politics, I don’t believe that America's political parties have a great amount to teach the UK on representing women’s political issues. The narrative that emerged in the mid-terms campaign this year was indistinct at best, and at worst negative.
But look beyond electoral politics and you’ll find a strong, strategic popular American women’s movement, and specifically a ‘moms’ movement, the likes of which I don’t see paralleled in the UK.
Since 2006 the organisation Momsrising.org has provided a cogent voice for women, spearheading campaigns across the country. Their manifesto is primarily about achieving family economic security and wellbeing and the issues they work on include: paid parental leave; health insurance; quality, affordable preschool and after school programs; flexible workplaces; fair wages and ending salary and hiring discrimination based family responsibilities. And their results are not to be sniffed at: they count US’s Fair Pay Act and legislation to eliminate toxic toys amongst their achievements, and also played a crucial part in supporting the Health Reform Bill.
The key to Momsrising's success is that they are not a traditional lobby group. They are a virtual organisation, headed up by a handful of volunteers and paid staff who live in different places across the country, meeting up in person every 6-12 months for staff retreats. Like Fawcett they run excellent, professional campaigns, disseminating information to the public and issuing press releases. But like Mumsnet they encourage members to join online for free and actively participate in debate - albeit in a more tightly administered blog format rather than free-for-all chat-rooms.
This approach has enabled them to build support and connections at grass roots level, going further than Fawcett or Mumsnet and actually mobilising millions of busy moms. They interact with members of the community frequently, providing them with the tools to become advocates for their own cause. Join their mailing list and you will be supported to make timely representations yourself - email updates keep you instantly informed about all relevant votes and policy decisions taking place, as well as details of the political representatives and law-makers you should contact - whether by phone, letter or email. Public rallies is not a central campaign tactic (most moms would struggle...) but, as a result of their mass membership, they have also proven to be able to summons a fearsome mom-crowed at very short notice when needed.
In the wake of yesterday’s decision at the High Court, the women’s movement in the UK must take stock of its future. If we can build a mass movement with clear policy mandate and an effective strategy we could come out fighting yet. America's Momsrising is a model to aspire too.