Do You Wear Pearls to the RNC?
by Katie Bethell
This afternoon, the Power of ONEsie will be unleashed on the Republican Convention in St. Paul. Along with dozens of MomsRising members, we'll unpack the two suitcases that carry this powerful display, we'll don our beautiful sashes, and we'll make hand-drawn signs calling on politicians, pundits, and the media to wake up to the realities of American families today.
Although I firmly believe in and work every moment to uphold MomsRising's work to be trans-partisan, I have to admit I'm a little nervous about the event.
While many of the policies that MomsRising advocates have been associated with progressive and centrist political views, the challenges that American families face certainly are not. Families in red states, too, have low-wage jobs that don't provide paid maternity leave or sick days. They are counted among the 45 million Americans without healthcare. The results of weak, uninspired, and often ill-advised domestic policy in this country have impacted Republicans and Democrats alike.
I was raised by Republican parents, and all of my grandparents were Republicans, too. Why, then, do I feel like I am entering the dangerous unknown as I prepare to bring the voice of mothers and families to the Republican Convention in St. Paul?
The butterflies in my stomach are familiar. These same butterflies flashed their colors when I was invited to eat in the home of a Japanese family on a recent visit to Tokyo. I felt the same way (although much more intensely) entering the townships of Cape Town, South Africa. These butterflies are, simply, the anxiety borne of an upbringing that focused on graciousness and adherence to social mores: The constant ringing voice in my head that asks "What should I wear?"
Stick with me here. It probably seems airy or simplistic to connect the deep ideological schism in this country to the nervous fretting of well-mannered, good girls and boys. But these concerns are very real--and the prospect of finding oneself in an embarrassing social situation is enough to prevent many people from doing things much easier than talking to their political opposite.
When MomsRising.org was founded, we asked our members to host "Purple Parties," inviting both Republicans and Democrats to view our documentary film, "The Motherhood Manifesto." We had hundreds of parties, but only a handful successfully recruited both Democrats and Republicans to attend. The biggest problem wasn't that people didn't know anybody from their opposing party (although that is a common, and equally disturbing, problem); it was that the opposing party folks didn't show up. A Republican mom, for example, inviting her 1 or 2 Democrat friends to join her Republican social circle, received polite regrets from her friends across the political spectrum. For my own party, hosted in liberal Seattle, Washington, I had to bribe Republicans with beer and home made dinner to get them to come.
This reluctance to engage socially and politically with the "other side" isn't because people don't want to talk about the issues: it's because they don't want to be embarrassed. This social anxiety precludes the real and important conversations that we as a country must have if we are going to solve the problems of the 21st century. My wondering about what to wear at the RNC isn't harmful in itself. The real problem is when that anxiety causes me to stay home and miss an opportunity to engage with an active and politically interested group.
MomsRising is, first and foremost, an organization for moms, not for party ideology. And all moms, no matter what side of the aisle they voted to fill, know what its like to worry about their children, to balance the demands of motherhood with the demands of family and self, and to try to raise a next generation that is better than their own.
The solid foundation of this common ground is powerful. Maybe with the Power of ONEsie today we will help bridge the divide that has kept so many conservative and progressive women apart, despite the issues they share. Today, I hope moms wearing pearls, jeans, baby bjorns, and briefcases will break down these barriers to get to the real challenge: building a country that supports us all.
Katie Bethell, a long time advocate for citizen engagement and
education, is a Program Director at Momsrising.org.
MomsRising.org is an organization working to build a truly family-friendly nation. Started in May, 2006, MomsRising uses the power of online organizing in coordination with grassroots activities and media outreach to educate the public about problems facing American families and to propose common sense solutions. MomsRising.org provides citizens with an opportunity to amplify their voices and to take their concerns to leaders who are in positions to implement real changes.
Find us and join us at MomsRising.org.