Building a 21st Century Women's Movement
After a day of flying, delays and waiting, I got back yesterday from a women's workshop in Rhinebeck, New York, in the wee hours of the morning. (Ouch!)
But "Organizing for a 21st Century Women’s Movement" by MomsRising's founders was so worth the sleep deprivation. Rhinebeck's Omega Institute is tucked away in this bucolic, sleepy hamlet in upstate New York and its beauty and serenity were conducive to the conversation. Being cut off from the rest of the world, we had plenty of time to bond and speak at length about a long overdue conversation: How do we get the need for a social safety net in the national conscience? How do we make issues like paid family leave, flextime at work, respectable wages for childcare providers -- including stay-at-home-mothers -- universal healthcare and environmental hazards a priority not only for legislators, but the public as well?
Of course, the 30 or so of us who showed up don't claim to hold all the answers. But we left the retreat energized and ended our meeting on a positive note with specific proposals on how to create a national, grassroots movement to spread the word on these issues. This movement, by the way, includes many other organizations in the women's, labor and environmental movements, including Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and MotherWoman.org, which sent five mothers from Amherst, Massachusetts to the retreat.
Unfortunately, no one from the larger women's groups like National Organization for Women or Emily's List were at the event. But they were invited and we hope to include them in future conversations. Here is an update on what happened at the retreat:
We broke up into groups to discuss specific aspects of the platform like "kids and the environment," "family friendly workplace," and "diversity in the movement." I participated in the "family friendly workplace" circle as this has always been an issue close to my heart. I quit my job after finding no telecommuting opportunities -- but wanted to continue to work in some manner. It was the first time I realized how little regard the workplace -- and American culture in general -- has for caregiving. It also made me painfully aware of the many mothers who must work dead-end jobs just for the health benefits or simply want a little more flexibility to take their kid to the doctor's.
But as we discussed over the weekend, there are significant cultural hurdles to telecommuting, flextime and paid family leave. The American public wants mothers to stay home with their children, yet does not want to pay for it. An SEIU representative in our group said she read a Mother's Day poll, in which an astronomical 80 percent of the sampled Americans said women should stay home with their children, but almost an equal amount of respondents said poor women should work. We were in agreement that these issues should be sold as "human" or "worker" issues, and not ghettoized as mother or women's issues.
The challenge posed to us in our breakout sessions was to come up with a fun way to help pass family-friendly legislation. For example, when Sen. John McCain spoke against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a group of MomsRising members delivered 10,000 resumes to his office to show that fair wages was not an issue of women not having enough education and training, which is what he said.
Among the fun proposals thought by the environment and kids group, for example, was creating a website setting the record straight on harmful chemicals, including in school lunch food. The group suggested allowing students to take pictures of their food with their cell phones for all to see. They also suggested re-branding the "save the earth" movement to "save the people," which would appeal to people's fears to take the issue of environmental toxicity seriously.
We also tackled logistical issues like how MomsRising could best support local branches and other groups by sharing knowledge, training, partnerships and other resources. MomsRising co-founder, Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, took mad notes.
We collectively discussed ways to make our movement diverse in terms of race, gender and economics. My group spoke at length on how to brand these issues just like the Republicans have hijacked very clever terms like "Moral Majority," "Family Values," and "Tax Relief." Among some of the slogans we came up with were "All Inclusive Movement (AIM)" and "America's Improvement Movement (AIM). " We liked the acronym, AIM, and someone outside our group cleverly proposed "America Invests in Mothers."
I also liked "United Movement for Economic Security." What do you think? Can you think of clever or snarky -- or both! -- titles for our movement?