Where Does Social Activism Fit Into A Mom’s Priorities?

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Stories of peaceful protests turned violent through the use of pepper spray and police force have been on every newscast, turning the Occupy movement from an stance on economic stratification into a bigger argument about First Amendment rights. Pictures of an 84 year old woman with her face red and swollen from pepper spray have made for arresting images that cause the entire nation to question the overreach of authority found in many police forces. Then, there was the UC Davis video of an officer spraying peaceful student protesters with such nonchalance, he could have been watering flowers in a garden. Whether the 99% have changed the discourse in Washington, they’ve succeeded in making the entire country re-evaluate protests and if they can ever be considered “safe and nonviolent.”
Even my small Midwestern town has an Occupy encampment. We have about 20 tents set up in a park downtown,through the cold, rainy Indiana autumn. Sometimes they stand out on street corners with signs. Most often, I see them sitting quietly in the park. Without the  camping equipment, they would look like any number of Bible studies or book groups who might meet in the park. Without turning this into a political debate, I have to admit that I sympathize with this cause and the message that the Occupy movement is trying to get  across. I look at those tents and I wish that I could go out and support these people in their mission. I want to let them know that I appreciate what they’re doing.
So why don’t I? Well, I have a job to get to. I have very limited time off that I’m trying to save for my daughter’s pre-school holiday pageant. And why can’t I camp out to show my commitment to a cause that I believe in? Because I need to tuck my daughter in to bed tonight. In fact, the more I think about it, the less time and effort I put into social and political activism of any kind since I’ve had my daughter. So often, I feel like I have a personal responsibility to my family that needs to come before a larger cause. Whether that’s a valid excuse or not, I feel extremely guilty for letting my personal life get in the way of supporting my convictions and getting involved in causes I believe in.
I’m not talking about money here. Of course I can donate to movements, charities or political organizations that I find worthy. I know that donating is an important way to support a cause. But it’s also the easy way. It’s not so hard to give out my debit card information and feel content that I made a difference. It’s a lot more work to give up my time, which seems to be a much more precious resource than money. And now, it’s even more difficult to risk my safety, as these demonstrations have proven.
A pregnant Occupy protester in Seattle, Washington was hit in the stomach twice by police officers and sprayed with pepper spray. Shortly after this incident, she miscarried. It’s almost impossible to diagnose the exact cause of this tragedy, though the physical trauma and stress obviously couldn’t have helped this lady’s condition. Honestly, I was shocked when I read this news story. As I discussed it with a friend of mine, a mother of two, she said, “She shouldn’t have been there. That was irresponsible.” She had very little sympathy for this woman, who must be going through a tremendous amount of grief and misery. I tried to counter, “The Occupy demonstrations are supposed to be nonviolent. This isn’t really like rioting in the streets here.” But my friend could not be deterred, “She knew the risks when she went. Pregnancy is no time to get involved in political protests. It’s a time to put your baby’s needs first.”
I really wanted to disagree. I mean, political activism and motherhood should not be mutually exclusive and I’m a little sad to be living in a world where they might need to be. And it looks like this story from Seattle might be leading us in that direction. After reporting on this incident, Koa Beck asked our readers if they would attend a nonviolent protest while pregnant. An astonishing 56.7% answered that they would be too distrustful of the police and other protesters to stand up for a cause. Any cause.
For almost a year, marketers have been talking about “Power Moms.” Ladies who utilize social media to support products that they trust, women who show extreme brand loyalty and sponsorship. It’s the newest group of target consumers that advertisers are trying to reach. Can it really be true that moms can be organized to promote a brand of detergent or a weight loss program, but we’re too delicate or busy to get involved in volunteering in our communities or supporting political causes we believe in? What does this say about the state of protest and demonstrations in the US, that they are too volatile and dangerous for pregnant women to attend? I don’t have all the answers. But maybe instead of worrying about our Klout, moms should be putting our formidable brainpower and consumer collateral together to  address this very serious issue of motherhood and activism. Surely we can prove that moms can influence more than marketing campaigns. And we can make sure that nonviolent protests are safe for everyone to attend, no matter what cause they support.
Once we make political protests safe for everyone to attend, then we work on supporting each other in our antipathy and narrow-mindedness. I completely admit that I get too caught up in my own life. I get too focused on what I need to accomplish for my family tonight and miss out on activism that will help in the long run. If we can help make protests safer, we can also do our best to support each other as moms get more involved.
(Photo via SodaHead)