Someone You Should Know | Parenting | Work/Life Balance | Issues

Someone You Should Know: MomsRising Founder and Political Activist Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner

A Q&A with Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner about starting MomsRising, key policies currently affecting families, her thoughts about the presidential election and more

Photo credit: Will Austin

Back in 2008, Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner was in ParentMap’s first cohort of Superheroes. We honored her as the “the crusader” for launching MomsRising in order to raise awareness around the extreme invisibility of mothers in America. MomsRising was born as a grassroots movement and has grown from 150,000 members to more than 1 million today. This on-the-ground, hashtag-happy coalition is working to achieve economic security for all moms, women, and families in the United States. MomsRising advocates for paid family leave, earned sick days, affordable child care, and for an end to the wage and hiring discrimination that penalizes so many mothers.

In 2006, you founded MomsRising with a handful of moms and now have more than 1 million members. For political change, don’t we need more dad involvement?

MomsRising is for moms and for anyone who has ever had a mom. So anyone who has an actual belly button can be involved. We see an increasing focus on working families. The reason why we are focused on moms and why we are called MomsRising is because, right now, moms are experiencing the most discrimination. Being a mom is a huge predictor of wage and hiring discrimination in our country. Public policies that we support don’t only raise moms, they raise women, they raise dads, they raise working families. But moms are often the most impacted.

Could you highlight key policies affecting families that our readers should pay particular attention to this legislative session? 

We are expecting to see paid sick days billed for the entire state. We are also expecting to see the Equal Opportunity for Fair Pay Act go in again. We should see a pregnancy nondiscrimination bill and family leave. There is a lot of what moms care about on the agenda for the legislators and that’s good news: It means legislators are paying attention and they are [bringing forward] the bills that matter most to families. 

What is the connection between the pervasive sexism in our culture and policies that penalize or fail to support women and children? 

There is a definite connection between pervasive sexism in our culture and our lack of women’s economic security and empowerment policies. It starts with the fact that we have yet to achieve full equality. Fewer than 20 percent of all people in Congress are women, and so a lot of the people who are literally holding the reins of power in our country don’t really understand what is going on with women. Because of that, we are behind the rest of the world when it comes to policies relating to paid family leave, fair pay, sick days, child care and more. 

Expand on the good and the bad of social media when it comes to political activism.

I have to say that I think the good outweighs the bad. One of the things that is so exciting is that women have been largely missing from the leadership of traditional media outlets. In fact, right now, fewer than 20 percent of media executives are women, so what that means is that the issues that impact us daily, the issues that we put as priorities are often overlooked. Social media allows us to go completely around that; it allows us to actually drive traditional media. It allows us to make our own media, and it allows each of us to be our own news outlets in amazing ways.

MomsRising was born the same year that Twitter was born, in 2006, and so we have really grown up together. We are working on a very important policy with the Department of Labor on overtime regulations. We are raising the threshold that qualifies you for overtime pay. We did a tweet chat for an hour on this overtime regulation change, which would help over 20 million people. In that one hour we had over 120 million Twitter impressions. We had [President] Barack Obama tweeting as himself, along with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

Overtime regulations wouldn’t traditionally get covered in the news. But that’s something that matters to 20 million people, most of whom are women and moms. Going backward, right now the threshold [at] which you don’t earn overtime is about $24,000 a year. We’ve been frozen there for decades. We had one MomsRising member that worked at a doughnut store, and she was made supervisor and then because of the title change, she no longer qualified for overtime. She had to work more hours with less pay. Basically, she was working for free because she had her title changed. With this regulation change, anybody making under about $50,000 a year will qualify for overtime pay, regardless of what their title change is.

Together we can solve these issues. So there really is a coming together and an understanding that we have moved from a manufacturing economy to a consumer economy, and in a consumer economy, women have unprecedented power.

How do we best capture and export the power moms have as consumers and advocates?

We make about three-quarters of consumer spending decisions. Women are 50 percent of the labor force, and for the first time in history, three-quarters of them are moms. Forty percent of all primary breadwinners are moms. When we look at this changed labor force, we look at the change in our country, we look at the change in our economy, and we see that our public policies across a wide area, from gun safety to paid family leave to fair pay, are way behind. It is through that acknowledgment and understanding that when this many people are experiencing the same problem, at the same time, we have structural issues that we can address and fix together so that we boost our families and our economy. We all need to have a strong movement like MomRising so society and people’s lives move forward.

Can you share your thoughts about the presidential election? 

This upcoming presidential election is an exciting one! Starting with the opening statements of the first Democratic presidential debate, there has been a focus on working families and their economic security policies. Every single Democratic candidate is now supporting paid family leave, and even some Republicans are jumping on board, like Marco Rubio. We see that a tipping point is happening, and it’s just at those tipping points where you have to pump up the volume and amp up the pressure!

Should the myriad voices and organizations try to work more collaboratively in order to have great political impacts? For instance, the number of advocacy groups working in support of gun safety seems to have grown tremendously over the past few years, and I wonder whether more organizations and voices may dilute the passion and power if they were more unified.

Well, we find that when we bring people together on one issue, they are often educated and engaged on other issues. The issues we work on are quite linked together. The mainstream news media doesn’t link them together, but as working people, as men, and as moms and dads, we know that the issues are linked together so it’s not uncommon for somebody to come in, for example, on gun safety, like in North Carolina. Our North Carolina MomsRising members just had a huge victory on gun safety, where there aren’t a lot of victories happening right now. And then they turned around and started working on other issues, like the North Carolina budget and on child care funding and on other issue areas. So people came together on one issue and then realized that, hey, we have a crisis in America. A quarter of our young families are living in poverty. Women, especially moms, are experiencing extreme wage hits right now, and together we can solve these issues. So there really is a coming together and an understanding that we have moved from a manufacturing economy to a consumer economy, and in a consumer economy, women have unprecedented power.

What do you want everyone to be thinking about in January 2016? 

First of all, everyone should check their voter registration status. Make sure you are registered to vote. Second of all, be sure that you’re engaged in the campaigns at the city, state, county and federal levels. Oftentimes all of the attention gets put on the presidential candidates, but it is also very important to make sure that we have excellent candidates locally and that we are voting for them. Vote for people who mirror your priorities. Third of all, January is the time when the Washington State Legislature is starting up, and there are going to be a lot of spectacular proposals moving forward. That’s another area where your voice matters, your story matters, your experience matters. When you raise your voice for policies that reflect your values, you can make a huge difference.

Is there a way to break through the intensity and dysfunction of the extreme partisan politics that currently has our government at a standstill?

These policies — family economic and security policies, policies that boost our families and boost our economy — are being shown, through multiple studies, to have such positive economic impacts and not just to be the right thing to do, but to be the smart thing to do economically. We are seeing an increased wave of bipartisan support. We are seeing that wave and pulling data to support these policies with regular voters. So, at the regular voter level, there is zero partisan divide.

We are also seeing these policies start to pass in red and blue states alike, and we are seeing these policies break through the partisan divide and the U.S. Congress, too. For example, there was just a vote, a nonbinding budget amendment vote, on paid sick days, and it would have passed the U.S. Senate; enough Republicans voted for it that it would have passed. It was nonbinding, but it definitely would have passed. Similarly, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was voted on in the U.S. Senate with a nonbinding vote, and it went through unanimously. So the partisan divides are breaking down. The studies have been out about the impact on our families, on our economy, and they are so good that we are seeing politicians across the board start to catch up to where the American public has been for a long time. 

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