SAN FRANCISCO – When Assemblymember Tim Donnelly (R-Hesperia) sent volunteers to shopping centers on Black Friday seeking signatures to overturn the California Dream Act, he didn’t know the move would earn him the wrath of what is arguably the most powerful constituency in the state: mothers.
Donnelly offered his supporters the chance to compete in a gift card raffle if they turned in signatures to overturn AB 131, the new law that allows undocumented immigrant students to apply for publicly funded financial aid.
The action drew the ire of mother blogger Elisa Batista.
In a blog this week for the family organization MomsRising, Batista, 34, took on Donnelly – and the heated issue of immigration -- by debunking five myths about undocumented students.
“It touched a nerve,” says Batista, whose blog made the rounds on Twitter and Facebook.
Batista, who was named best Latino inspirational blogger at the Latinos in Social Media (LATISM) conference last month in Chicago, is part of a generation of mothers who are engaged in the public sphere from the privacy of their home computers, in what is sometimes called “naptime activism.”
“While you’re kids are napping, it’s very easy to do activism online,” explains Batista. “It’s a really good way to bring activism to mothers.”
Batista is co-founder of the progressive parenting site MotherTalkers, launched in November 2005. She also contributes to MomsRising and writes a Spanish-language column for the environmental blog Moms Clean Air Force. The daughter of a Puerto Rican mother and Cuban father, Batista grew up in Miami and now lives with her husband and two kids, an 8-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter, in Berkeley, Calif.
“There’s a notion that once women are mothers, they don’t care about politics. I’ve found the opposite to be true,” she says.
But the issue of immigration is one that many mother bloggers haven’t touched.
“We’re just starting to talk about the immigration issue,” she notes.
At first people didn’t respond.
Then several women wrote in, voicing concerns over undocumented immigrants. They wanted to know why immigrants today didn’t come here legally, like their grandparents did; or they claimed that undocumented immigrants didn’t pay taxes.
Batista quickly dispelled these myths: The current U.S. immigration system is not like your grandmother’s; backlogs today can span decades. All Californians pay sales tax; and undocumented immigrants using false Social Security numbers are paying into a system for benefits they will never receive.
She still gets a few comments from mothers who are skeptical.
But the biggest challenge in writing about immigration, says Batista, is not pushback from mothers; it’s apathy—the sense that immigration is not a women’s issue.
In fact, women make up a majority of all immigrants in the United States.
“There’s a personal story there, and it’s one every woman behind a computer can relate to,” says Batista. “We are all that mother. If you’re a mother and you knew there were greener pastures somewhere else, you’d get the hell out.”
MomsRising led a successful campaign in support of the DREAM Act by asking mothers to send in quotes and share their own stories.
Batista says her success in convincing mothers of the importance of equal rights for immigrants depends largely on the way she approaches moms on her site.
“You have to personalize it,” says Batista, “sharing who these undocumented immigrants are… in these uncertain times, you have to assure people that you are not taking away from them to push someone else up.”
Batista first started blogging for the now defunct Latino site Picosito.com.
Her background is in journalism – she has a degree in journalism from Boston University and wrote for Wired Magazine.
“Then I got pregnant, and I had my son,” she said. Her husband, Markos Moulitsas, founder of the blog Daily Kos, was “convinced that newspapers were not the future – the Internet was,” she recalls.
“My husband said, ‘This blogging stuff, I think that’s the future. Why don’t you start your own blog?’”
Batista started MotherTalkers with three friends. “Soon 10 readers became 100 readers,” she says. Today, the site gets about 10,000 unique visits a week, about three-quarters of which come from the Daily Kos. In 2009, MotherTalkers was voted a favorite mom blog by Ms. Magazine.
“It’s nothing like I thought it would be,” admits Batista. “I thought it would be a parenting magazine, and I would get advertising, a traditional media model.” Instead, she says, the site has become a community that may not be as lucrative as she originally envisioned – she makes her living doing contract work at nonprofits like MomsRising – but is fruitful in other ways.
“This is my village,” says Bastista. “I grew this community. These women are dear to me. We have a holiday exchange. We have meet-ups. It’s like a mom’s club.”
Mothers, in particular, have the potential to become key allies in the struggle for immigrant rights, adds Batista.
“Just because we’re moms,” she says, “I feel like we’re nicer and more welcoming to people.”
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