Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mobilizing Moms

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.


  1. Thanks for a really interesting peice Teadrinking. Although the work they do sounds important, as a woman and a mother I feel put off by the merging of women's and parents' issues in organisations such as the one you mention. As a woman I'm a keen and active member of Fawcett in the UK, but as a parent I don't feel comfortable joining an organisation that only represents female parents. The reason is probably that I'm not sure mothers in particular are oppressed or that their interests are marginalised much more than those of fathers, at least in the UK. For me, it's parents, and families in general that society could do more to protect. I worry that an organisation that promotes the interests of mothers risks missing the bigger picture. Whats your view?

  2. Ed Miliband was recently accused of being a wuss for taking his full paternity leave. How can we challenge these kinds of view Teadrinking mom?

  3. Valid and interesting point Hadj. I recognise your concerns although I have a different take on it... So long as UK mothers continue to make up the vast majority of underpaid part-time workers; so long as UK mothers continue to do the majority of domestic work even when they work the same hours as their partners; so long as UK public and private services, individuals (men and women) and government policy continues to make assumptions that the burden of responsibility for bringing up children should be on women, I believe motherhood remains a feminist issue as well as a wider social issue and an appropriate place for the women's movement to channel its energy. Having said that, the devil will of course be in the detail. It would be fully in the interests of a 'motherhood movement' to speak out strongly in support of fathers and paternal rights. In my view, a motherhood movement which failed to do this would indeed miss the bigger picture.

  4. This is really interesting, thanks TM. There are women's groups which have email forums, but not the extra tools use mention, such as contacts and email updates. And I agree, this would probably work. I was at the protest, and there was a great deal energy - I'm sure many other people have this too but may not have heard about the protest. Also, people at the protest could be harnessed so that they would come back to another! There needs to be a sense of belonging.