I have a lot of mom friends who are really worried about how the world is looking these days. But so many of these moms never think beyond the ballot box every few years. Their lack of self-assurance is startling: “I never could do anything like that.” “I’m not an activist.” “I don’t know how.” “I know nothing about grassroots organizing, where would I start?”
Dearhearts–we’ve gotta start underselling ourselves. I can’t tell you how many moms I’ve talked to who just don’t think they have it in them to take on Goliath.
Truth is, when women run they win. But women are half as likely to see themselves as potential candidates. Did you know that when a group of people in fields that would give them lots of experience (business, law, education, and politics) were asked if they ever considered running for office, only 57% of the women thought that they were qualified or very qualified to run for office whereas a whomping 73% of the men did–even though ALL of them had the same qualifications?
I can throw statistics at you all day. You’re not going to believe me. There’s something downright evil out there that keeps telling women not take the reins of their own communities. Especially moms.
I’m not sure if it’s how moms are questioned about every frickkin’ choice we make (I’m looking at you formula-vs.-breastfeeding-CIO-vs.-attachment-organic-vs.-takeout-screen-time-developmental milestone nazis) that undermines our self-confidence? Or is it that we’re all so overloaded that we can’t imagine being capable of one more thing? It’s all noise, though. Don’t let it distract you. Moms make the very best community organizers and activists.
So let’s take a real look at the actual things you do as a mom every day. Because, honey, you’ve got this in spades.
1. Momma bears got the passion
Hell hath no fury like a Momma Bear defending her cubs. Kid throw sand at your kid on the playground? He better be a hella fast runner. Teacher being too rough on your little Einstein (a genius who flunked most of grade school, you would like to remind the principal)? That teacher has a reckoning coming.
Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating a little. We’d probably take a deep breath and talk to little Jimmy-Sand-Thrower’s parents first, and we’d probably recognize that the teacher also wants our kid to succeed even if they’ve got differing strategies on how that should be done. But that first instinct—that rush of adrenaline to protect your child is real. Momma Bears defending their young are powerful.
You know there’s actual threats out there—companies that let chemicals leech into your baby’s formula, lead in their water, and resist making their schools and neighborhoods safer. I have seen few things more powerful than a mom taking the podium and explaining why her child deserves to be safe too. Go on, try and tell a mom she’s wrong about her child’s safety. Defy the Momma Bear, I dare you.
You don’t need to have all the eloquent words, you just need to have the courage to stand up for what’s right. We may not always be good at doing it for ourselves, but when it comes to our kids most moms have got courage and passion by the bucketful.
2. Moms think of the long game
Moms understand that we’re working on a project that won’t show results for 20+ years. Moms are long-game experts. We’re making decisions today that are based upon strategic plans with serious long-term returns. Will little Sarah be an upstanding member of society? We hope so, but no way of knowing how we’re doing right now, so we’re going to do this one little step (no hitting your brother! pick up your shoes!) and place our faith in the fact that accumulated effort will eventually show results.
We know there aren’t easy fixes. We see the big picture, where we want to head, and our every parenting decision (ok, not every decision—sometimes we’re just plain tired and flop to what’s easiest–I’m not judging) is with that final destination in mind. It’s not easy raising a kid. There’s no guidebook. Similarly, it’s not easy solving society’s ills. No guidebook for that one either. Moms know that you do the best you can, and if it doesn’t work out how you intended you try again.
What does this mean for organizing? You Moms are patient. You know how to put one foot in front of the other, and keep your eyes on the prize. Yes, I know it doesn’t feel that way when you’re in the trenches. But that kiddo has trained your patience muscles to superhuman strength. You, m’dear, have got staying power that few others can match.
3. Moms have excellent bullshit detectors
Every mom I know has NO time for nonsense. There’s work to be done, and exactly 4.75 too few hours in the day to get it all done. Want to distract me with your drama? No time. Want to tell me a long story about why you were going to vote for that bill, but finally flip-flopped at the end? Save it, buster.
Moreover, our children practice lying to us every day. The Experts That Advise tell me that it’s developmentally appropriate, that the little bastards are testing our boundaries, learning appropriate social behavior, yadda yadda. I can’t say the same for my Senator. However, the mental muscles that have me cross-examining my five-year old’s explanation of why Daddy might have authorized her eating all the cookies right before dinner? Those muscles are jacked, y’all. I can sniff out a lie in at least five different non-confrontational ways that move us onto really what happened without breaking a sweat. I’m sure parents of adolescents can boast even more. So calling out a whiny Congressman on why they’re not doing their homework? Piece of cake.
4. Motherhood is all about living your values
Wanna know my first organizing experience? I went to a union rally at age 4 with my teacher mother who was on strike. I have a vague memory of sitting on a tailgate covered in colorful posters.
We spend a lot of time trying to teach our values to our children. We work on helping them to value vegetables, share with playmates, honor personal space and consent, put the trash in the trash can. I know a bunch of parents who started going to church again, because they wanted to make sure their children were raised with a certain set of values. We buy children’s books with their learning in mind. We book vacations for them to see the world. For chrissakes–we fuss over the pajamas we buy and do they send the right messages about girl power? (full disclosure: My daughter has Wonder Woman pajamas, which make me extremely happy, and I’m sure they’ll be instrumental in convincing her to be a doctor some day.)
But every study will tell you, you can control their media intake all you want, the real determinant of our children’s values are what they see reflected in their parents’ actions. When it comes down to it, what really matters is what we do as parents every day. I know, no pressure, right? You’re only being watched every second of the day–don’t fuck it up.
But why aren’t we also extending this into politics? Many of us take our children into the voting booths. Why aren’t we also showing our children the rest of democracy, and why it matters? Really, there’s no better motivation.
You, Momma, are the example to your kids of how the world should be. Mahatma Ghandi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” In this case, be the change you want your children to be in the world.
5. It’s not called “Organizing” for nothing
I had a conversation with my own mom a few years ago. She was looking for ways to get involved in her community. At the time I was really active with a grassroots organizing group and suggested she look up their chapter in her area; they’d love someone with her skills.
“I don’t have any skills,” my mom exclaimed, “I don’t know the first thing about organizing.”
“MooOOOOM,” I howled, “You organize a plant sale for your church every year! It has tons of volunteers and nets thousands of dollars!”
We sell ourselves SO short, mommas. My mom–church organizer extraordinaire–knows fundraising, signing up and managing volunteers, planning out a timeline, and event advertising. But she says she doesn’t know how to organize. Sure, mom. (love you)
Politics is not just running for office. Defending democracy is a year-round job. Did you ever do a snow-day phone tree? Voila! You know how to do an action alert network. Ever talk to your kid’s teacher? Voila! You’re practiced on interviewing your legislator. Did you help on the bake sale? Voila! You’re a fundraiser. How about that conversation with your your neighbor about how the community playground could really stand some fixing up? Voila! You’re an organizer. So many of the skills we moms practice every day are actually community organizing, just no one gives them the credit due.
Most moms spend day in and day out organizing their families’ lives. What if I told you that those are all the same skills used in community organizing? It’s the same process of herding cats, just different kitties. Mommas, you have no idea what organizing powerhouses you are.
6. Moms get things DONE
I have a union organizer friend who once intoned: “If you want to get something done, give it to the person who’s already busy.” I laughed at his nonsense. What? Why not give something to the person who’s got the free time? Why recruit the person who’s got the full calendar? It makes no sense!
Then I learned: there’s lots of people out there talking a good line but doing nothing. And there are the people who are quietly making the world go ’round. Moms fall solidly into that second category.
I hear you already–but I’m swamped! I couldn’t possibly! I know. Me too. But if something important came along and you decided you needed to help, you’d know what things in life you’d need to rearrange to get it done, wouldn’t you? You’d already be mapping out in your head when in the day you’d be getting that task done as soon as you put your name on the sign-up sheet. Moms get stuff done–more things in a day that most of the blow-hards out there even imagine doing in a week.
If I want to recruit a passionate volunteer, one with a strong sense of perspective, grounded and patient, one who will do what she say she’s going to do, well, I’m gonna look to a mom. It just makes sense.
Demand your Space, You’re Worth it
Mommas, you are amazingly capable creatures, trained in so many aspects of community organizing. Don’t let anyone overlook you. You’re an asset any organization should be proud to have. And they need to make space for you.
Next meeting you go to, ask the hard questions. If there isn’t childcare for you to attend, ask why not? Push them on it. If the meeting times conflict with bedtime or soccer practice–say so! Bring your kids to the meeting with a coloring book and a hairy eyeball for anyone who dares look at you twice. Bring your best Momma Bear to the table and offer no apologies. You deserve to be there.
Moreover, Mommas, you’re gonna take this world by storm.