Moms with a goal: unseat Bush

March 30, 2004|By Susan Reimer

I ARRIVED to report on a town meeting in the town where I live, and I realized I knew just about every woman in the room.

Our kids were the common thread.

One woman had taught gymnastics when my children were toddlers. Another mother and I worked swim meets together. I car-pooled with another. Jessie played basketball with the child of another. I worked a book fair with another.

I had met most of these women through my children and, as it turned out, the ones I didn't recognize were friends of friends of my children's friends.

But, whether they had shared play dates in the distant past or not, their children were the reason all these mothers gathered Sunday night at the Stanton Center in Annapolis.

They are Mothers Opposing Bush. MOB. They think this president has not been good for their families, or for anybody else's, and they are working for his defeat in November.

"We are not political animals. Most of us have never worked on a campaign," MOB president Ginger Woolridge is saying while the crowd of more than 100 listens to Democratic Congressman Pete Stark of California speak.

"But this was a no-brainer for me on so many levels.

"This president came into office promoting family. But what is a family without a job, without education that works, without health care?"

These women have plenty to do. I know, because I am doing the same things. But they decided they couldn't wake up in November without having demanded of the president, "Where is the compassion in your compassionate conservatism?"

Tom Seibert, former ambassador to Sweden under President Clinton, Democratic fund-raiser and an Annapolis resident, stands to one side and introduces himself at this event as "Debbie's husband." His wife is one of the founders of the group.

"Most mothers have so many priorities in their lives, they don't have time to get into politics," he says. "But this was spontaneous, and that's what makes it different.

"These women felt a pressing need to focus on this president, who is so isolated, I mean, 11 press conferences in three years, and demand that he engage them on issues that relate to the well-being of children."

Stark is at the podium preaching to the choir, as it were. He said he was "puzzled but fascinated" by this grassroots campaign, which began in an Annapolis living room in December. There are now "sister" chapters in more than a half-dozen cities.

"We've seen it done with fund-raising," Stark said, referring to the Web success of the Howard Dean campaign. (Dean staffer Terry Lierman is a member of the MOB board of directors.)

"But you have done it on substantive political issues."

MOB's goal is to organize women, register women, get women out to vote for the Democratic presidential candidate. But men and disaffected Republicans are welcome, too. And they get lots of applause when they stand to speak at this meeting. (It is typical of mothers, I think, that they would try to make everyone feel welcome.)

MOB leaders say the group will stay away from hot-button issues like abortion rights and gun control, which have their own activists. And their social agenda is broad and inoffensive: jobs for parents and quality child care for their kids. Health care for the whole family and schools that work. And an environment that will be safe for the next generation.

And, of course, the war in Iraq.

I look around the room. I have one more thing in common with the mothers I recognize. We have sons. Almost all of them have Selective Service numbers. The war may have been the triggering issue for MOB. Woolridge calls our unilateral invasion, "The kind of bad sandbox behavior we tried to teach our kids about."

Iris Anthony, a mother of four boys, recalls sitting at the dinner table in her Arnold home, listening to Bush declare victory in Iraq and knowing with dreaded certainty that his declaration did not mean soldiers were coming home anytime soon.

"I looked around the table at my satin-cheeked boys - I mean, not one of them shaves yet - and saying I was damned if I was going to send any of them to Iraq.

"I think I actually cursed.

"Anyway, Theo, the 13-year- old says, `Well, Mom. What are you going to do about it?'"

Anthony called 20 friends and told each one to call 20 friends and they gathered in her living room during the height of holiday preparations - the best evidence of their seriousness, she says.

"We decided we weren't going to be just a bunch of women whining on the phone to each other. If ever there was a year for mothers to act, this was it. The issues for mothers are so clear."

I know what you are thinking. These women are my friends and we all think alike or we never would have let our kids hang out together. But it isn't that simple.

Once a woman has a child, all children become her children, and she casts her net of compassion and empathy far and wide to embrace them.

"We are a diverse group," says Woolridge, a stay-at-home mom who voted Republican in 1988. "But we have a common heart."

The fathers of our children may become more conservative, and perhaps more Republican, as they seek to protect the stake in the community they established in the name of family. But the mothers often become less so.

Mothers pray for all families to prosper and all children to succeed. The president does himself no good if he refuses to address the dismay of this constituency.

Say what you will about the NASCAR dads, it is the moms, NASCAR or otherwise, who hold down jobs, run households, shepherd children everywhere and still find time to pull together a spring auction for a thousand, sew all the costumes for the school play and deliver 500 boxes of Girl Scout cookies.

When these women add "unseat the incumbent president" to their list of things to do, that president has a problem.

To learn more about Mothers Opposing Bush, visit their Web site at www.MOBorg.net.

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