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Nanette Fondas

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Moms Movement Voices Progressive Ideal

Posted: 05/12/08 04:11 PM ET

Many election-year observers have noted the absence of a compelling idea or framework to unite either party -- and ultimately the electorate -- in the Presidential race. Slogans like "change," "experience," and "security" don't suffice at a time when Americans are being pounded by waves of global, demographic, and technological change. But while candidates, leaders, and pundits strain to articulate the "vision thing," a group of mothers may well have done it.

Mothers? Yes, a two-year-old, cyber-savvy, bootstrap organization called MomsRising.org has harnessed the Internet to recruit thousands of mothers to join a movement to create a more family-friendly America.

The components of the organization's mission are summarized neatly by the acronym MOTHERS: M for maternity and paternity leave; O for open, flexible work; T for technology and after-school programs; H for healthcare for all kids; E for excellent childcare; R for realistic and fair wages; and S for sick days for all.

To promote solutions to these and related challenges confronting families, MomsRising's members engage in "netroots" as well as grassroots action. They display hundreds of decorated baby "onsies" at state capitals, party conventions, and Presidential debates. They send electronic petitions, letters, "applegrams," and e-cards to decision-makers; and phone and visit local, state, and national legislators. A recent campaign to halt cuts in funding for after-school programs generated over 44,000 letters to Congress.

The mission may sound like, yes, motherhood and apple pie, because policies like these have been advocated since the 1960s. But placed under an umbrella philosophy of building a country where citizens can be both excellent workers and excellent parents, MomsRising's approach contains the seed of a progressive ideal for this early 21st century moment.

Why? Because the U.S. can ill afford to shun the needs of working families when they fuel the engine of economic growth, prosperity, and competitive advantage. Yet the U.S. lags far behind other industrialized nations in support provided to working families at this critical moment of globalization (for example, the U.S. is one of only four countries, of 170 surveyed, without paid family leave for new mothers. The other three are Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, and Lesotho). Globalization has clarified the imperative of leadership focused on the human capital families create.

It is quite possible that American mothers have been first to feel the harsh realities of the march toward globalization. They feel the effects of increasingly fast, demanding, and time consuming jobs on their families and themselves--effects such as the family's breadwinner (be it mom or dad) working longer and harder to avoid being outsourced; seeing a good full-time job get cut to part-time (without needed benefits like health insurance) to compete with contract workers; watching children spend more and more time after school in academic-only pursuits in order to compete with what will be a global labor supply; giving said children after-school remedial help because school instruction is incomplete; feeling the need to return to work quickly following childbirth to avoid the possibility of career derailment or, worse, a pink slip; wondering how to take a day off to meet with a teacher or pediatrician; wondering who will fill in the care-gaps when working to earn needed dollars for health care, education, technology competence, and other aspects of nurturing the next generation. The list goes on and on. Mothers are stressed, uncertain, and worried about their lives, children, and country.

American mothers are the canaries in the coal mine: the first to feel the crush of globalization and alert us to danger ahead. Globalization's consequences include strenuous demands on workers and heightened pressure on parents to prepare their offspring for this world. The challenge at the nexus of work and family is not going away any time soon, if ever. This practical reality grounds the mothers' movement. By placing children center-stage in their effort to move toward equality and justice for all, MomsRising makes an argument that all progressives might well embrace: That the country's future health, standing, and competitiveness rest on its treatment of its children (and by extension all citizens) who need safety and care, health and education, equality and opportunity.

But children can't raise themselves. Parents -- who cannot escape a global world's demands -- need the support of a truly family-friendly America. Without it our children won't grow to be world-class scientists, educators, managers, doctors, inventors, entrepreneurs, and leaders. And we won't find solutions to global warming, economic dislocation, energy efficiency, pandemic threats, and international strife without them. Will we?