I love watching both my son and my daughter run like the wind as they dribble the soccer ball down the field. I love cheering on the sidelines, clothes layered against the rain. This doesn’t, however, make me a “soccer mom,” a term political commentators regularly use to define me – and tens of millions of other moms.
In a political context, the very idea of a soccer mom, conjures up an image of a woman standing off on the sidelines. That image – and that label – doesn’t characterize the political and civic involvement of modern moms. With new technologies at our disposal, we are now powerfully networked and politically active. We are “networked moms.”
Politicians take note: We are most definitely in the game – and changing it.
The landscape has changed since 1996 when the soccer mom moniker became prevalent. Women are now networked together in ways unimaginable just a decade ago. By the end of this year, more than 90 percent of moms with kids under age 18 in our nation are expected to be online. And more than 36 million women are now active in the blogosphere, either publishing or reading blogs.
To win a national election, politicians now need – and woo – the mom vote (both married and single moms). Eight in ten American women will become mothers by the time they’re 44 years old. Those moms are a powerful political force and a critical swing vote.
Many moms are struggling. With three-quarters of moms in the labor force – and nearly half serving as primary breadwinners, we have a 21st century workforce with family and economic policies from the 20th century.
Here’s what’s really going on with moms: One year of infant daycare now costs more than a year of public college in many states. Nearly a quarter of families with young children live in poverty. Nearly 80 percent of low-wage workers – and nearly 40 percent of private-sector workers – don’t have access to a single paid sick day. More than 177 other countries have some form of paid leave for new moms, but the US still doesn’t.
And not surprisingly, without such policies in place, having a baby is a leading cause of “poverty spells” in our nation. On top of this, women, particularly moms, still don’t get equal pay for equal work. What amounts to discrimination against moms is rampant.
We can do better. And politicians know that. They know women matter, but they’re courting our vote poorly.
Moms want candidates who listen, who speak to the issues that we face each day, and who work toward real solutions for real people. A poll recently conducted by Anzalone Liszt Research found 57 percent of women voters (including 75 percent of Hispanic women and 80 percent of black women, as well as 65 percent of women under 50) say they are more likely to support an elected official who supports paid sick days.
Yet moms have rarely heard their concerns explored meaningfully or specifically by presidential candidates, beyond general platitudes.
In fact, in the over a dozen debates for the Republican presidential nomination, moms heard little, if anything, about access to sick days, affordable childcare, family leave, and other high priority topics that parents deal with every day on Main Streets across our nation – topics that affect not just moms, but dads, families, businesses, and the larger economy.
Politicians ignore these issues at their peril.
Networked moms are powerful, and we’re everywhere. My experience as the co-founder and executive director/CEO of MomsRising, an online network of more than 1 million politically active moms, bears that out. Moms are blogging, they’re connecting on Facebook and Twitter, and they’re taking online action every day to support issues they believe in every day.
MomsRising has mobilized moms around paid sick days, environmental health issues, access to affordable childcare, fair pay, and access to health care. We’ve done it successfully because moms pack a powerful political punch, and our political power is growing.
Networks like ours are changing the political landscape.
Take, for example, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation’s announcement in late January that it would stop funding Planned Parenthood to conduct breast cancer screenings. There was such an Internet storm of protest from women and mothers that grew exponentially as friends told friends online, that the Komen Foundation was forced to reverse its decision within days.
Women care about health care, and they’re prepared to act to defend it.
President Obama and Mitt Romney know the importance and value of the “mom vote.” Much has been made of the gender gap in current polls, which show women favoring Mr. Obama over Romney. The importance of women’s and moms’ voices this election shows that we have arrived.
Modern moms aren’t soccer moms standing on the sidelines; we’re networked moms working on the front lines, especially online. We’re in the game and we’re playing to win.
Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner is co-founder and CEO of MomsRising, an online and on-the-ground organization of more than a million members working to mobilize grassroots action on the issues facing women, mothers, and families.