In her July 25th New York Times article, “Mothers’ Power in U.S. Protests Echoes a Global Tradition,” Amanda Taub writes “History suggests that mothers’ power is most potent when they are able to wield their own respectability, and the protections it brings, as a political cudgel. But that is easiest for women who are already privileged: married, affluent, and members of the dominant racial or ethnic group…Mothers who are less privileged often struggle to claim that power, even though they are often the ones who most urgently need it.”
A week ago, the predominantly-white ‘Wall of Moms’ in Portland got a taste of the violence that women of color have long experienced in protest demonstrations. As Taub writes, “Ann Gregory, a lawyer and mother of two who joined the wall of moms in Portland on Sunday, said they had hoped to serve as a buffer between other demonstrators and law enforcement…“We realize that we’re a bunch of white women, and we do have privilege,” she said. “We were hoping to use that to protect the protesters…So on her first night at the protests, when federal officers fired tear gas and flash-bang grenades at the group of moms, “I couldn’t believe what was happening,” she said. “We weren’t being violent. We weren’t screaming expletives at them.”
The Wall of Moms demonstrations in Portland, which explicitly supports Black Lives Matter, should be welcomed by all Americans who care about racial justice. Taub writes, “However, when officers fire tear gas and projectiles at soccer moms holding sunflowers, as happened in Portland on Sunday night, even more observers — who may not previously have thought they could be at risk — see that as a fate that might befall anyone. And history suggests that could have profound political consequences.”
Countless thousands of women who are not mothers have taken part in nonviolent protest movements for racial justice, and they have made outstanding contributions in struggles against racism, going back to the early abolitionist movement. Indeed, every demographic group can play an important role in protesting against racially-motivated violence in law enforcement. But if they don’t increase their voter turnout on election day, their accomplishments will be limited.
There is something uniquely powerful in the optics of mothers organizing into a force for peaceful social change. There are ample precedents of women organized as mothers winning victories against oppressive forces, as Taub notes, including the “Las Madres de La Plaza de Mayo” (a.k.a. “Mothers of the Disappeared) protests in Buenos Aires, Argentina 1976-83 and the women who organized the ‘Black Sash’ in South Africa in the 1970s. Taub explains that “The Government has let Black Sash survive while closing down other anti-apartheid groups in part because white South African society has perched its women on pedestals,” The Times reported in 1988. “The police find it awkward to pack the paddy wagons with well-bred troublemakers who look like their mothers or sisters.”
There are legitimate concerns about the protests against police violence against African Americans turning violent and provoking political backlash. Violence and destruction of property are the media optics Trump seeks in his increasingly desperate divide-and-conquer strategy, and there has been too much of that already. But it’s likely that the demonstrations will continue for a while at least. Protest organizers in Portland and elsewhere must more effectively invoke disciplined nonviolence, as did MLK and his leadership team, to stop the violence and property destruction, regardless of who is perpetrating it.
Yet the spectacle of mothers being bullied by Trump’s mercenaries on national television, and in print and internet media will likely amplify his image as the most corrupt and divisive president in U.S. history. The Wall of Moms protest may yet have a positive effect on November 3rd voting.
Credit Portland’s Wall of Moms protest with taking a creative stand for racial justice. These women could have stayed home and watched Trump’s hired militia brutality on television. Instead, they traded complacency for a season of service on the front lines of nonviolent protest. May their courageous examples inspire concerned mothers in all states to join nonviolent protests for racial justice and equality — and turn out at the polls in record numbers.