As wired women keep the heat on Rush Limbaugh and advertisers flee, social media is again flexing its muscle.
For women, it's proving to be the new frontier for social change.
But taking to the web to voice outrage is not enough to create lasting social and political change. The pen -- or in this case, the keyboard -- must be paired with a sharp economic sword.
Online activism that carries the threat of lost revenue can have a real impact. It's why Susan G. Komen reversed itself on pulling funding from Planned Parenthood and the very same reason advertisers have abandoned Rush.
How can we transfer the effectiveness of these women-led spontaneous efforts to the larger political arena? The answer lies in mastering the game of money in politics and harnessing its power through the web and social media.
The web provides women with an unprecedented organizing tool, not unlike what evangelical churches have traditionally been to the Christian right. Women are more active than men on social networks and advertisers are starting to take notice. But unless we use these networks in more effective ways, their potential to influence the bigger political fights will be squandered.
For too long, women and the causes we champion, such as education, reproductive health care, children's and dependent care, maternity leave and benefits, have relied upon traditional models to wage our political battles. We flood the inboxes of our representatives with appeals to do the right thing. We host house parties, donate to candidates and causes and help elect more women. It's all important but it's no longer enough.
And the sad truth is, it's not working.
Twenty years after the so-called "Year of the Woman" in electoral politics, women have actually lost ground. We're 56 percent of voters, yet just 17 percent of Congress and 24 percent of state legislatures. These appalling numbers put the US 74th in the world compared to other countries on gender parity in national legislatures.
American women, mothers and families are living in -- and tolerating -- circumstances that are bad and getting worse.
Consider these statistics: The U.S. is the only country in the developed world with no comprehensive right to paid maternity leave or even paid sick leave. (Save the Children 2011 Mothers' Index Rankings) The U.S ranks 31st out of 43 countries in Save the Children's index of "Best and Worst Places to Be a Mother." A recent report from Human Rights Watch says the U.S. is failing families through a lack of support for breastfeeding and flexible work schedules as well as workplace discrimination against families. And we have one of the highest maternal mortality rates of any industrialized nation.
And here we sit, mired in an absurdist Republican primary contest (being dubbed as a "War on Women") that has become a demeaning referendum on women's reproductive health -- from prenatal testing to birth control. The simple fact that Rick Santorum has even a shot at his party's nomination speaks volumes about women's social position and lack of real influence in politics.
The truth is, they don't fear us. Too many politicians don't believe that our outrage will touch them -- it won't oust them from office, it won't cost them donors, it won't imperil the support of the Super PACs and corporate lobbies.
Until it does. And on that day, we will be heard. The day we take the fight to them on the turf where it hurts -- on the money playing field where real influence is wielded -- is the day the game changes.
We know the political playing field is nowhere near level. But guess what? The money playing field is ours.
American women are responsible for 83 percent of all consumer purchases; we hold 89 percent of U.S. bank accounts, 51 percent of all personal wealth, and are worth more than $5 trillion in consumer spending power. That adds up to more than enough money -- and power -- to ruffle a few feathers.
So how do we wield this economic and purchasing power to create lasting political and social change? Ironically, Super PACs (unaccountable interest groups spending vast sums to support or oppose candidates and causes), dominated by corporate donations and backing from mega-millionaires, may make this possible.
How? Through savvy strategic action online -- and in our purchasing decisions -- that damages bottom lines. It's about withholding our dollars from companies, service providers and the individuals that run afoul of our values as women, mothers and consumers who hold the purse strings.
A USA Today analysis revealed that 25 percent of all contributions to Super PACs since Jan. 1, 2011 has come from just five wealthy individuals, led by Dallas industrialist Harold Simmons and Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson. That's $1 out of every $4 that these unlimited, unrestricted interest groups have raised in the Republican primary.
Target their businesses, boycott their establishments, blast them on parenting listservs, Facebook and Twitter. Target the companies that advertise with them. Make noise and most of all, make it public.
We've seen corporate boycotts work before. When Walmart refused to fill women's prescriptions for emergency contraception (EC sold under the brand name Preven) in 2007, women boycotted the retail giant in impressive numbers and stood with Planned Parenthood when it took Walmart to court and won.
If women and mothers would protest corporations and politicians with the same ferocity we unleash on those who produce faulty baby products, imagine the change we could create. Think of the lightening speed with which a product recall makes the rounds. Don't threats to our health deserve the same passionate response?
Enough is enough. The health and dignity of our daughters, our sisters, mothers and friends demand action. It's time woman unleash the power of our wallets to create real, lasting political change. And use the web to do it.
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