Greetings from the Yearly Kos, where I am sitting in a vast bed with an abundance of pillows 30 stories up on the edge of the lake. My son has been with his grandparents (who live in a corn field 2 hours west of Chicago) since Wednesday. This is the first time that he has been away from both parents. Leading up to this week, I fretted and pouted and imagined that awful things would befall him in my absence. I really and truly needed to “get over it.” And I have! Our reunion will be very sweet. He’s occupying my mind more and more every day.

I attended the MotherTalkers caucus yesterday, and it was nice to meet some of the women behind the screen names. I was bummed that the caucus was scheduled at the same time as the feminist caucus. I’m sure this was inadvertent, and yet it reinforced the fallacy that mother’s issues are not feminist issues. Yesterday I went to a panel discussion entitled “The Fourth Wave: How Feminist Action Online is Changing the Movement.”

It featured five panelists who introduced themselves by speaking about their projects. The charismatic Jessica Valenti of Feministing was the moderator. She related how tickled she was by her blog’s potential for “subversive outreach.” As an example, a gaggle of teenaged girls had googled “Jessica Simpson” and ended up on Feministe instead, where they were surprised by what they found. They assumed that feminists were boring old man-haters.

Another one of the panelists, Gwynn Cassidy, started a web project called the “Real Hot 100” in response to Maxim’s yearly list of 100 hottest women. They wanted an alternative list that celebrated women who “speak their mind and work for change.” Smart is Sexy is another one of their taglines. Gwynn’s site allows anyone to nominate a hottie, and she related a touching story about one of the early nominators. A guy found the site and nominated his wife who is a pastor at an Ohio church. He was so proud of her for injecting feminist themes into her church teachings.

Panelist Aimee Thorne-Thompsen runs a nonprofit called Pro-Choice Public Education Project. Its mission is “reproductive justice” –an amalgamation of social justice, reproductive health issues, education, leadership training, and more. They do a lot of research, finding out what young women think and feel so that they can better give them what they need. I appreciate this approach; it’s always easier to deliver what you think young women need than it is to do the hard and humbling work of asking them what they need.

Latifa Lyles from the National Organization of Women talked about how NOW is exploring the different ways that they can use the web to encourage activism and networking. They posted a survey for mothers this past Mother’s Day in order to gather information from moms who are trying to raise feminist, progressive children. They currently have posted the article that reports their findings. They anticipated that moms would most care about violence, but it turned out the topic of most concern was the sexualization of young girls. Hmm.

Joan Blades was the last of the panelists, and she was hyping Mom’s Rising. Her shtick is fact-filled and powerful (eg. the pay gap between men and women is minimal compared to the pay gap between men and mothers) and her agenda is tight. It’s a slam dunk for parents. However, she didn’t really make a strong case for why the child-free women in the room should give a shit. She was the only mother on the panel. I puzzle over this problem. Someday, the other women on the panel will probably become mothers (statistically, 82% of us will). Then this epiphany will hit them like a ton of bricks: mothering issues are feminist issues! And they will wonder why it didn’t occur to them before. But it just doesn’t.

On a similar note, a man from the back of the room asked what role men can play in the feminist movement. The answers varied, but I thought they were all pretty vague and lame. Aimee interestingly noted that she perceived a generational difference: that younger women were much more willing to bring men into their activism, whereas older feminists were more reticent and grumbling, having endured tougher eras where they had to fight for more basic rights.

I think that for feminism to gain more traction, it has to be more inclusive (think mothers and men) and validating (praising the men who believe and treat women as absolute equals). Feminism gets a bad rap because it’s associated with more stick and less carrot. The stick is very important-for battering Don Imus like a pinata, for example. But we need to think about upping the carrot quotient. How do we convey that “family-friendly” policies benefit everyone? How do we persuade men that enlightened and egalitarian relationships between men and women are win-win? How do we promote the idea that feminism in a man is an extremely desirable and valuable attribute?

I look forward to a food and farming panel this morning, and to hear the prez candidates speak! I wasn’t expecting it, but Howard Dean knocked my socks off Thursday night.

More later…


Hello from YearlyKos

Shortly (4:30 Central, 2:30 Pacific), we’ll have the MotherTalkers Caucus, and I’ll be liveblogging the event. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone, and to meeting more MTs.

Today I’ve just been wandering around, letting the day take me where it wants. I’ve walked out to see Lake Michigan, which is maybe a mile of indoor walking from our hotel room. I planned to go to some of the workshops, but I ended up touring the vendors and doing more just hanging out. John Edwards’ booth is full of inflatable chairs and couches, and I sat and talked there for a while, chatting about DK and local politics. I’m enjoying the luxury of an enormous wireless network that lets me sit down anywhere and be instantly online. Even when I have to catch up on work, it’s a lot more fun to do it in this atmosphere than up in my hotel room.

At the moment, I’m listening to a talk about the FCC by Commissioner Michael Copps, and enjoying his natural expertise and incredible depth of experience at the FCC and how it relates to media, broadband access, and the like. (And I agree with one of the panelists, that he would be a fabulous Chairman!)

So much work has gone into all of this. I am impressed by the amount of effort by staff and volunteers. There are a lot of people doing a lot of work for progressive causes all coming together. The amount of raw expertise here there and everywhere that I encounter on DailyKos is reflected here.

I had lunch with fellow MotherTalker Fabooj and with Begone and LithiumCola from DK. Fabooj seems to know everyone by sight – which makes her especially fun to hang out with. My favorite Hey Howareyou exchanges involve the escalator, where a group going down introduces itself to a group going up.

I’ve been picking up stickers, realizing that there are few things a 6 year old girl likes more than stickers. Corrupt early, corrupt often!

Update, 4:30 central
We’ve taken over a room and here we are.

People present:
Shenanigans (that’s me)
mkkendrick + two sons
chun yang
Sue in Seattle

We’re introducing ourselves, talking about the issues that bring us to MotherTalkers and to YearlyKos.

Christina talks about living the mommy wars, as the working mother of a 22 year old, and balancing work and the kids.

Sobermom talks about her issues in terms of parenting, especially special needs kids and premies, and how her autistic son has a special interest in politics, even debating his bus driver.  She’s planning to take him to see the candidates in person in NH this fall.

mkkendrick’s son: “I’m Nathan and I’m here to eat.”
Nathan wrote a letter to President Bush saying,
“Please stop the Iraqi war.”

Chun yang is an older mom of an eight-year-old, and finds that she doesn’t always fit in with the other moms. Her son helped stuff bags for YK.

Amy is a co-founder of MotherTalkers and also has a full time outside job, and talks about the early days when it was just the four founders chatting with each other.

Diane’s son used to help her distribute political leaflets.


Elisa asks about how we feel about the serious stuff that then leads into a celebrity post.

Amy talks about how she used to wince about the celebrity stuff, but now finds it to be kind of fun, like our culture’s gossip of the Greek Gods.

The media uses these people to distract us, and then forces them to parent in the public eye.

How can we put mothering and nurturing issues into the forefront in the election and other events?

All the overtly negative things said about Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi and their mothering and parenting.

Having a child who will need lifelong medication… how can that work, especially when they turn 18 and they still need expensive medical care. They can’t take just any job, they can’t drop out of school.

Health care is a leverage into some of these issues. How do we get more attention for health care?

We talk about some of the perils, not just for the uninsured, but that even insured, working people are one illness away from a financial disaster.

Elisa wonders what universal health care would look like?

How insurance forces our decisions, that always one spouse has to work for a company with excellent healthcare. Being a mom is always about making choices, not always nice paths, sometimes choosing the least ugly path. Daycare, healthcare, housing, trying to figure out where to live when you’ve got two jobs and a daycare to commute to.

Working with other moms sometimes makes things easier, since it’s more mother friendly.

I talk about flexibility, and the need for everyone, not just mothers (and fathers) to have time available to tend to sick kids, sick parents, sick pets, exploding plumbing, etc.

Joan Blades is trying to get paid leave for employees in small businesses and is getting fought by chambers of commerce. She is trying to get a pay-in program so that  employees can have funds to draw on for emergency leaves.

Companies make a lot of money from education the way that it is – textbook companies, test companies – and just like the health insurance companies, they have entrenched interests.  They have money, and the people who want to change things don’t.

Business in general is hostile to people’s needs, and there’s no ethic of “we have to take care of each other.” From Sicko: “we are a nation of me” – the Reagan years started it, and it still persists.

There aren’t women home any more to help take care of the community and to do a lot of the volunteer and charity activities that used to be part of American life. And what happened to the 40 hour work week? The internet startup boom added in 12 hour days as a regular thing. It adds to the big reality check/culture change that occurs when a woman has children.

The winner-take-all nature of society adds to this, that if you aren’t on top you’ll fall through the cracks.

This is an issue from corporate culture. And since corporations tend to be managed by men with stay-at-home wives, they like this culture.

Worker satisfaction, with good flexibility leads to low turnover. If people found out that a corporation had a good work-family balance, they are viewed as uncompetitive on Wall Street and perhaps with higher-ups in the organization.

Amy hopes that in the next 10-20 years, that there will be a new understanding of what makes a company competitive, and that flexible time and the like gives a company better access to talent.

Becoming a parent forces you to become an authority figure, adds to your multitasking skills. Christina talks about being a better worker because she had to force herself to work in a set timeframe – she had to leave by 5. It had to get done.

Can we get more mother politicians?

Nancy Pelosi was a stay at home mom and look at her trajectory. Madeline Albright is another. Hillary is a candidate for President.  It’s great to see these life trajectories that include great deeds and children as well, that there will be time to get to everything.

Elisa highly recommends the Motherhood Manifesto, a video available from MomsRising.org.

We talk about Hillary, and how she, as a pathfinder, ends up having to be more conservative. How some of us are conflicted about who we’ll vote for. How we worry if she can be elected, when so many people think they hate her but have no idea why they hate her.

Well, we’re out of time here. It was really a pleasure to have a nice conversation with so many interesting people, and I look forward to having more conversations online on these topics.


MotherTalkers Caucus Reminder

UPDATE: We will blog the caucus live for those of you who can’t make it. Thank you, Shenanigans!

Before you board the plane for Chicago, I wanted to remind you that our YearlyKos MotherTalkers Caucus will be held this Thursday, August 2, from 4:30 p.m to 6 p.m.. We will meet in room 106b at the convention center.

What can you expect from our session?

First we will have a 15-minute “speed-dating” icebreaker, in which you will have the opportunity to exchange business cards, introductions, pet issues or just handshakes with the people in the room. We will then discuss how we can catapult so-called “mom’s issues” such as paid family leave and life balance into the national conscience as “labor issues.” This session is open to all, including children, fathers and non-parents. Sound good?

I look forward to seeing as many of you there!


Weekend Open Thread — Entrepreneurs Edition

CHICAGO, ILL — In that same BlogHer political session, I got to hear YearlyKos’s executive director Gina Cooper. (You go, girl!)

Gina told the audience how she started the wildly successful YearlyKos Convention, which is expecting about 1,800 people this year. She made it sound like she found all these busy bees online and started this conference. Wow, is she humble. Nothing could be further from the truth, which is why I want to share the real story about Gina:

When I met Gina two years ago at a Daily Kos meetup, she was a former Memphis science teacher who had just moved to California. She was a Daily Kos reader who wanted to make a difference in the world of politics.

To get DH’s ear, she would attend Berkeley meet-ups and attend every single DKos, blogging and political gathering in the Bay Area. I once had a friend who attended the Berkeley meetup say to me, “Your hubby has a stalker!“ She was talking about Gina.

Markos gave her permission to use the “Kos“ name. He never gave her money, and agreed to give a speech at the event. He would have settled for just showing up since he literally had nothing to do with this convention.  This was all Gina’s idea. She is the one who organized the conference. She is the one who found the volunteers. She did all this work — for free.

And her sacrifice paid off. The entire Democratic Party establishment will be at this year’s event as well as news media from all over the world. It even got the ire of Bill O’Reilly. (You go, girl!)

I tell you this because Gina is an entrepreneur and inspiration. Just to show you that even a schoolteacher who has never worked in politics can make a difference…and find a dream job.

As I mentioned before, I have collected a lot of business cards and I am still sifting through a lot of blogs. I will feature some of them on a separate post. For now:

I know some of you disagreed with marketing guru Nina Burokas — and I tend to agree — but she highlighted an appropriate Business Week story about effective women’s networks.

Silicon Valley Moms Blog covered a session in the BlogHer conference on how to make money off blogging.

As for other stories I encountered:

This Onion opinion piece in the voice of a four-year-old made me laugh.

Annie’s Homegrown, maker of the organic kids’ food line, is accepting applications for its new scholarship program. The program will award $50,000 — three $10,000 grants and eight $2,500 scholarships — to undergraduate and graduate students pursuing studies in sustainable and organic agriculture. The deadline to apply is Sept. 30, 2007.

What else do you want to talk about? What are you up to this weekend?


Hump Day Open Thread

I am off to Chicago for the BlogHer conference and YearlyKos convention. Once again, I am re-packing my suitcase for what feels like the 100th time. This will be a working trip, but my last trip by airplane this summer. Yay!

Thank you all for your suggestions in regards to our MotherTalkers Caucus. I will send out a reminder shortly…

Since YearlyKos is a political convention, I thought it appropriate to mention that Equal Rights Advocates, a non-profit legal organization in San Francisco, is pushing to expand paid family leave in California to siblings, grandparents, grandchildren and in-laws. The bills are SB 727 and AB 537.

“We also encourage you to support SB 836, which proposes the addition of familial status to the list of prohibited bases for employment discrimination in the Fair Employment and Housing Act,“ the group states on its website.

Good deal.

Along those lines, New York Times’s Judith Warner wrote an excellent piece on the lack of part-time work options for mothers, even though for decades, all moms have said they preferred to work part-time than any other arrangement.

(BTW, I am sure non-parents feel the same way!)

Women on a reduced schedule earn almost 18 percent less than their full-time female peers with equivalent jobs and education levels, according to research by Janet Gornick, a professor of sociology and political science at City University of New York, and the labor economist Elena Bardasi. Part-time jobs rarely come with benefits. They tend to be clustered in low-paying fields like the retail and service industries. And in better-paid professions, a reduced work schedule very often can mean cutting down from 50-plus hours a week to 40-odd — hardly a “privilege“ worth paying for with a big pay cut.

It doesn’t have to be this way. In Europe, significant steps have been made to make part-time work a livable reality for those who seek it. Denying fair pay and benefits to part-time workers is now illegal. Parents in Sweden have the right to work a six-hour day at prorated pay until their children turn 8 years old. Similar legislation helps working parents in France, Austria, and Belgium and any employee in Germany and the Netherlands who wants to cut back.

Even Britain has a (comparatively tame) pro-family law that guarantees parents and other caregivers the right to request a flexible schedule from their employers. European employers have the right to refuse workers’ requests, but research shows that very few actually do. And workers have the right to appeal the denials.

Of course, not everyone would be pleased if we had such protective measures for our workforce. Presenting all sides of the issue, Warner points out a feminist concern that it is women who tend to take advantage of such flexible work policies, thus compromising their position in the home and society.

“We know that family-friendly policies encourage work force participation,“ says Professor Gornick, who has extensively studied family policy on both sides of the Atlantic. “But do they lower the glass ceiling or make it thicker? That’s the million-euro question.“

Perhaps it is time to stop calling workplace flexibility a “woman’s“ or “mother’s“ issue, and instead label it a “worker’s“ issue. We need to take the stigma out of not making work our lives in this country so that men feel more comfortable taking part-time work as well. And, of course, it must be paid and with benefits — hopefully, with government help in the form of universal healthcare.

Whenever I hear this issue framed as solely a “mother’s issue,“ I cringe. I think of my dad who is caring for my mother, his mother and his aunt right now — all three had surgery at once — and had to take time off work. He was venting to me recently how he had to take his vacation to care for them because he could not afford an unpaid leave of absence. It makes me wish I lived closer to help him, although I am overwhelmed with running a business and taking care of two small children. Also, it makes me furious when these issues are framed as some kind of mommy war, and not one of many problems facing our workforce today.

Okay, that’s my vent for the day. On a much more chill topic: This past weekend, Markos, Amy’s husband Will, the kids and I saw the latest Disney Pixar movie Ratatouille.

I was thinking of all that I had to do this week and almost didn’t go. But boy am I glad I went. I found myself laughing out loud and entertained the whole time. We went to a 10:15 a.m. showing, so the theater was full of chatty kids like Ari and Jude. I felt no qualms about sitting with the baby in the theater, although she was quiet and even watching the movie with us!

As always, the animation by Pixar was amazing. And the plot was entertaining for an adult. The kids were a little bored, which is why they were talking a lot, because the humor was a little beyond their comprehension.

Anyways, I needed the downtime. I am glad I went.

What are you up to, MotherTalkers? What else is in the news?


MotherTalkers Caucus

Yes ladies, it’s that time of year. The MotherTalkers Caucus at YearlyKos is just around the corner!

This year’s caucus will be held at the McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago next Thursday, August 2, at 4:30 p.m. I hope to see as many of you there!

As always, I am looking for ways to improve on our caucus. Last year, I simply had a “meet and greet” — a very casual meeting, in which everyone in the room introduced themselves. I am wondering if we should elevate the discussion to include more structure and work towards a goal? We do have an upcoming presidential election.

Then again, we are already politically involved women. Perhaps a fun activity like a game? What are your thoughts? What would you like to see at the MotherTalkers Caucus?

Drop your suggestions here. If you are a shy lurker, feel free to e-mail me at elisa at mothertalkers dot com. Thanks in advance for your suggestions!