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By Leif Haven
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"Despite all the rhetoric about being family-friendly, we have structured a society that is decidedly unfriendly," Sen. Obama said. "What's missing now is a movement. What's missing now is an organization. That's why MomsRising is so important."
Added Sen. Kennedy: "We can't wait to get busy on your agenda."
Blades certainly has a history of being in the right place at the right time. She and her husband, Wes Boyd, founded a software company called Berkeley Systems in the early 1990s, which became famous for the After Dark screen saver a collection of visual options that included shiny silver toasters winging their way through the black night.
They sold the company for $13.8 million in 1997, which gave them free time to hang out and read the newspaper. Unfortunately, it was stocked with stories about President Bill Clinton's impending impeachment. Frustrated and bored, Blades and Boyd wrote a petition inviting Congress to "censure and move on," and e-mailed it to fewer than 100 friends and family members. Within a week, 100,000 people had signed on, and a new model for grass-roots political action had been launched.
MoveOn.org gave pissed-off, marginalized liberals a voice, and coaxed busy professionals into political action through baby steps it's easy to sign an online petition, it doesn't take much time to phone a senator, and it's pretty painless to make an online contribution of $45 (the average amount in the last election cycle). The group reacts swiftly to events, and can raise thousands of dollars or fill a petition at the drop of an e-mail. It now boasts 3.2 million members 1 of every 100 Americans belongs to MoveOn.
MoveOn's finest moment may have come in the midterm elections last month. The organization raised $27 million during the two-year election cycle, and its members phone-banked and house-partied until they dropped. In one telling example, MoveOn members made more than 500,000 phone calls to Virginia voters, urging them to dump Republican George Allen, the senator accused of using racist slurs. His Democratic opponent, Jim Webb, won by 9,329 votes, suggesting that those phone calls and house parties may have played a role in pushing the race to the left.
The woman with all this power in Washington, D.C., lives in a modest house in Berkeley with her husband, their two children (ages 10 and 17), and a fluffy old dog. Blades is a slim, active woman with brown hair just starting to gray. She drives a hybrid Prius, and prefers to be interviewed in Tilden Park in the Berkeley hills, where she can unspool her thoughts while striding vigorously through the forest. The idea that became MomsRising, she explains, started with a nice award in 2003.
"I got an award from Ms.magazine, and thought, 'Cool!'" Blades says in her typical forward-rushing diction, referring to her designation as one of 2003's "Women of the Year." "But I quickly found out that feminism is not cool these days." When she mentioned the award to younger women, she learned that many now reject the label "feminist," assuming that it applies only to man-hating, lipstick-loathing militants.
Coincidentally, soon after she received the award, she got a manuscript in the mail one of many that authors send in hopes of gaining attention from MoveOn. This one was Rowe-Finkbeiner's first book, The F-Word: Feminism in Jeopardy. Blades started reading with curiosity, and encountered a startling statistic in the introduction: According to a Columbia University economist, the wage gap between childless women and mothers is now greater than the wage gap between women and men.
The figures suggested to Blades that the problems faced by working moms may be feminism's next frontier. For every dollar that a man earns today, a childless woman earns 90 cents not perfect equality, but close while mothers earn 73 cents, on average, and single moms earn 60 cents. These numbers represent disparities in hourly wages, so part-time work schedules and unpaid leaves don't skew the statistics.
"That was my 'a-ha' moment," Blades says. "I started thinking, 'As an organizer, why didn't I know about this? And why aren't people up in arms? And why aren't we organizing around this issue?'"
After nine years with MoveOn, Blades naturally looks for big issues and big demographic groups that she can haul into the political process. When she realized that 82 percent of all women become mothers by the age of 44, she realized she could tap into a base that makes MoveOn's constituency look minor-league. "That's the fact that made me go, 'Wait a minute this is the issue that crosses political lines, socioeconomic lines. We all have mothers!'"
While MomsRising will help women who have experienced job discrimination, its largest demographic is likely to be working mothers who haven't been blatantly wronged, but still feel like something isn't right. Like Darya Mead.
Mead's boxy house in the Excelsior is prim and neat from the outside, full of funky charm and family chaos on the inside. It's an hour before her two sons' bedtime, and, having just finished a rousing game of Candyland, they're now shimmying into pajamas. Mead, a warm woman in her 30s with an open smile and a vintage aesthetic, marshals the boys cheerfully through the ritual, and gets them settled in front of a DVD. Then she walks into the boys' tiny bedroom, sits on the floor, and lets the frustration flood out of her.