Monday, June 05, 2006

Laurie Pettine, Mother Activist, Part 1

It's welcome back to me, I've taken many a week off from writing here, the usual combination of the limited hours I have these days for sitting at the computer. In that regard, too, my apologies to regular fellow-blogger-readers, I've been woefully out of touch with everyone's blogs.

In the month that I haven't blogged here, I've had some interesting experiences, some inspiring, others negative. I took part in a MotherTalk in NY, at the home of Isabel Kalman, the CEO of Alpha Mom TV, which was among the most energizing evenings I've had in the last few years. There, I was surrounded by fabulously interesting and energetic women who all seemed to feel able to do their work in the world, even if the pace was slower than they liked, who all were so clear and articulate about the challenges ahead. A negative, on the other hand, was working on an article for a national political magazine (and as the classy gal that I am, I will drop no names) which after several outlines and drafts, told me that unless I could tell a story about one group of mothers STOMPING (that's the exact word the editor used; I am not making this up, believe me) on the other, it wasn't really a good story for them. And this was the editor who told me she didn't like Mommy Wars reporting. Really.

I've been wanting to post this interview with Laurie Pettine for some time now. As I mentioned before, my new goal is to interview women and men who have become activists around issues that would mothering and parenting and fathering easier, and who think about this in truly political and structural ways. As I travel around, I hear people saying that they want to do something, and then sighing that they don't know how to begin, where to enter the political process. My hope is that by interviewing people who have entered the political fray, at all levels, that more of us can think of ourselves as confident participants in the politics of our schools, communities, states and nation.

Anyway, without further ado. I can't remember how I met Laurie. Probably online, but I do remember us finally getting to talk, very late on evening last summer or fall. It was one of those clarifying conversation where I began in quite a funk. After all, I had just published a book, and voila, our society did not fall on its knees and immediately commit to progressive change. By the end, I believed Laurie, that in working together and taking the longview, change could happen. I took notes during our talk, because I knew I would need a boost of encouragement, and I was right. I've often thought back to Laurie and her vision.

Laurie has been working with the National Organization of Women on their new taskforce on Mothers and Caregivers Economic Rights. She has been central, as she works with others, in getting NOW to focus on Motherhood, and to pass resolutions like this one: "NOW values Mothers and Caregivers Economic Rights," and getting the organization to put info about the politics of motherhood up on its website. She's been visionary in seeing what the power of an already existing organization that knows how to lobby and knows how to turn people out to politicians' offices can do for mothers.

I'll post part of the interview now, and the rest in a few days. Enjoy, and on behalf of all of us, a big thank you to Laurie for the work she's doing.

Laurie, you've been involved with NOW's new task force on mothers, caregivers and economic rights. How did that involvement start?

The National Organization for Women (NOW) under the leadership of NOW president Kim Gandy appointed six members to the Mothers and Caregivers Economic Rights (MCER) ad hoc Advisory Committee in September 2005. This committee is the result of a resolution entitled “NOW Values Mothers and Caregivers Economic Rights”, passed unanimously at the NOW National conference in Nashville.

We also have NOW-MCER task forces which serve different purposes on state and local levels. The state task force is working on legislation for programs like Paid Family Leave. We are also working with business leaders to promote work/life policies and raise awareness of the bias against employees with care giving responsibilities.

Our local task force is a community building effort--a group of feminist mothers and caregivers who gather together to discuss political/social issues. The NJ group, Morris Mothering NOW, was created as an answer to the traditional, apolitical culture surrounding playgroups and playgrounds. We focus on actions and events that speak directly to local needs.

I live in a very conservative part of New Jersey. Oftentimes I feel I can't be forthright about my politics. While NOW is a bipartisan organization, it has been quite vocal in its disapproval of the social and foreign policies of the Bush administration. As a feminist and a liberal I turned to NOW for a means by which to gather mothers who were concerned about the direction the country seemed to be heading -- worried about their family's safety and their own reproductive and economic rights as women.

NOW has been extremely supportive of all of this work.

Who came up with the idea?

I was aware of the growing “mother’s movement” through my membership in Mothers and More, MOTHERS/NAMC and Judith Stadtman Tucker’s Mothers Movement Online.

As for our “founding mother,” the credit goes to Mavra Stark, the president of Morris County NOW in Morristown NJ. Back in 2003, I sought out my local NOW chapter after I had my second child. I was looking for a feminist community of mothers who could meet during the daytime hours. Mavra gave the green light to the first Mothering NOW Task Force. We have as second Task Force at the South Jersey Alice Paul Chapter headed by Jennifer Armiger. Other NOW-MCER Task Forces are being developed across the nation.

In addition to fostering this new task force, Mavra insisted that I read Ann Crittenden's “The Price of Motherhood." In reading AnnĂ‚’s book I had the classic consciousness raising “aha" moment and was motivated to into action around these issues. It was clear that this suite of issues needed to be our platform. But, more than anything, we had to integrate with NOW state and national issues to make these programs a reality.

Mavra stepped in again, suggesting that we draft a resolution for our state NOW chapter as well as National NOW to urge the organization to rededicate efforts to MCER. Through the combined work of NOW membership on a local, state and national level and the full support and guidance of Kim Gandy (she’s a mother of two girls) and her board we are currently moving ahead with NOW-MCER actions, workshops and educational outreach pieces.

How did you start doing political activism?

Motherhood (sound familiar?!). I had dabbled in activism in college for ACT UP and working against cuts in arts funding. When I was in my mid-twenties I joined NOW. I didn't have kids yet, was working long hours in an advertising firm and felt isolated from my political self. I was seeking like-minded community -- a connection to the women’s movement.

When I became pregnant, I knew that I was going to be in a high risk situation due to a health problem. My husband and I came to an agreement. I gave notice and figured that I'd have to take it a day at a time, hoping I could re-enter paid work when I got through pregnancy and the first few months of sleeplessness with an infant. When my first child was eighteen months I became pregnant with my second child.

Then 9-11 happened and everything changed for everyone. Everything seemed to be spinning out of control, governmental lies piled up and it became achingly clear that health of our democracy was at stake.

My five year old knows that bending the truth is the same as lying. We are now witnessing the results of a culture of obfuscation and rationalization on a massive scale. Moms know better, that's why we need to get out the vote.

How did you get others involved?

The resolutions on the state and national level were big motivators. On a local level it was all about grassroots grunt-work - flyers, word-of-mouth, tabling, and articles in local papers. Talking with other organizations and building friendly coalitions on specific issues is key.

It was also pretty audacious to use the words "feminism" and "“motherhood" in the same sentence. For some reason, that really freaks some people out. But for the people who get it, I think more people will as all parts of this aspect of the women'’s movement grow, for them it's a natural.

How did you even get involved with a big national organization like
NOW, it seems so professionalized and impersonal?

Quite the contrary. These are real people fighting the good fight. Any grassroots organization that gives you the cold shoulder and doesn'’t jump up and down with joy when you volunteer is probably in it for the wrong reasons (or the person answering the phone is having a bad afternoon, so try calling again!).

NOW has been fully accessible, friendly and supportive. And if you don't get the response you need from one individual at a chapter (people have off-days), just email me at and we'’ll work to match you with a chapter.

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