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Elisa Batista's picture

LOUISVILLE, KY -- As I mentioned on my blog MotherTalkers, I was a speaker at the Coffee Party Convention in Louisville, Kentucky. Before I delve into day two of the conference, I have some leftover pics and stories from the previous night.

There was a bipartisan panel in support of the Fair Elections Now Act (H.R. 6116), which would allow matching funds to candidates who raise a certain amount of small dollar donations.

"On this issue I am to the left of (Harvard Professor) Larry Lessig," said Republican consultant Mark McKinnon. "I don't think corporations should have first amendment rights."

He received mad applause for the latter statement. All the panelists urged the audience to call their members of congress in support of the bill.

(Photo from left to right: Zephyr Teachout, Bart Turner, Mark McKinnon, David Donnelly, Frances Moore Lappe, Marco Ceglie, and Stewart Snider.)

A shot of the audience:

I got a late start on day two. Considering I had had a previous long day and was jet-lagged -- I came to Kentucky from California -- I did not show up to the convention until my panel at 10:40 a.m., technically, 7:40 a.m. for me. Ouch!

I joined documentarian John de Graaf, the brains behind the film Motherhood Manifesto, for a discussion on the "politics of happiness and work-life balance." Unlike my previous discussion on divisive politics with Rich Benjamin and Lt. Dan Choi -- which was packed -- this panel was sparsely attended, yet the most engaging discussion I participated in the conference.

I opened the talk by going to this Wikipedia page listing the amount of paid maternity and paternity leave offered by all the countries in the world. I asked the audience which two countries offered no paid maternity leave. Everyone got the United States right, but left out Swaziland in Africa.

Someone had guessed "Saudi Arabia" along with the United States, but I looked it up and answered, "Nope. Saudi Arabia offers 10 weeks at 50 percent or 100 percent pay, which I am assuming is based on what you do for work.

"And they offer one day of paid paternity leave, which is one day more than the United States."

One of my favorite exercises in these panels, is to read the amount of paid maternity and paternity leave offered by Third World countries, because let's face it, if any country can't afford to give their workers time off it's them. Yet, Haiti offers 12 weeks of paid maternity leave, including 6 weeks at 100 pay. Mexico offers 12 weeks at 100 percent pay. Guatemala offers 84 days at 100 percent pay, and two full days of paid paternity leave for fathers.

"India has a billion people, China has a billion people, and they have paid maternity leave," I said. (India at 12 weeks at 100 percent pay and China at 90 days at 100 percent pay.)

"We don't offer women paid maternity leave because we don't want to."

I gave my background as a mom who writes for the blog MotherTalkers and also, a non-profit organization that advocates for family economic security. I gave anecdotes of women who are sandwiched between two generations, caring for parents and young children at home on top of their jobs; moms who have worked full-time, commuted, taken care of children to have a nervous breakdown; and, women who must return to work a mere days after giving birth. "Nowhere else in the world are women expected to meet these unreasonable expectations," I said.

"Except Swaziland!" someone shouted out to laughter.

"Yes, except for Swaziland."

John de Graaf rocked it. He showed a clip of his upcoming film, which humorously deals with our culture’s obsession with work and "stuff," and the downsides to them: no social services, lots of prozac and unhappiness.

He was prepared. He shared studies showing that despite our low taxes and abundance of "stuff," Americans were nowhere near as happy as the countries that paid the most in taxes, and had the most social services. Think Finland, Norway and Sweden.

He let our audience know of bills in congress like the Healthy Families Act, which would give families paid sick days, and the Paid Vacation Act. (Can you believe that the American Dream does not include even one week of paid vacation for our workers??) I urged everyone to sign up for's news alerts to keep track of all these bills.

There seemed to be agreement in the room that if there was a panel to attend, it was this one. These issues affect everyone whether you are a bleeding-heart liberal or the most conservative of Tea Party members. I was proud to be a part of it, and I am looking forward to John's next film, which I believe is called something to the tune of the "The Pursuit of Happiness" or the "Happiness Movement."

This is already a long post, so I will continue with Day 2 tomorrow. In the meantime, how are you all doing?

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