Motherhood in Movement Spaces: The Material Reality of the Front Lines.

Most recently, an article published on Moyers For Democracy entitled Resistance For Real: The Moment Has Come by Jim Sleeper. In the piece, Sleeper says, “Portland’s #WallofMoms and its emulators have stood up. They’ve set an example that we’ll need to follow, not merely by “liking,” tweeting, and signing petitions or otherwise scribbling our thoughts and sentiments online, as I’m doing right now, but by engaging personally, at some risk to our bodies, in strategically coordinated civil disobedience.”

There has been a lot of discussions around the actions in Portland, Oregan brought on by President Trump’s and Attorney General William Barr’s flippant use of force in attempts to contain the uprisings that, despite the mainstream media’s decision it had ended, continued. Protestors and others have been snatched off of the streets and pulled into unmarked cars. Unidentifiable men in tactic gear have brutally beaten them. They have been tear-gassed, shot at, and victims of attempted vehicular manslaughter by other unidentifiable persons united with the federal government to suppress the people. 

Viral images of the chaos in Portland made mainstream media take a break from antagonizing China and engaging in more Russiagate antics to take advantage of the moment. Mainstream media has opportunistically ignored this use of force by countless other Presidents, including Obama, and made this about Trump and the countdown to the election. They also took this time to create narratives around the resistance efforts against state repression.  

Instantly articles discouraging the Portland protests as having “lost its way” were published, implying that whatever was happening was not the “good trouble” of yesteryear they have romanticized for decades. Yet in contrast to that, a subsection of “resisters” was highlighted—- The Wall of Moms. Images of these [white] mothers using plywood as shields to protect (I suppose) the protestors from the brutality they were facing, spread across the internet and were met with praise. 

“Finally, the mothers have joined the fight!”

When highlighting the Wall of Moms, one needs to sit with the language used when discussing these women. There should also be some unpacking of the implications in the rhetoric around their decision to act. One especially needs to sit with the question of why the imagery of mass movements de-centered from any actual politics gets prompted up always. 

The blatant insult is that mothers are “finally” stepping into resistance movements, which erases the historical and present reality that colonized mothers, because of their relationships to oppressive systems, have always been on the frontlines. Praise of the Wall of Moms is riddled in respectability (good trouble) and also highly racialized.  

We should ‘call out’ the not so subtle implications mainstream media and others are making about the Wall of Moms. We should also question the politics of this random band of women who have decided to join the fight finally. As it appears, the wall seems to be coming down do to unorganized leadership, alleged anti- Blackness, and individual aspirations that led a member to file for a 501(c)(3).

But we should also be acutely aware that in the midst of this all, there are long overdue and necessary conversations about what it looks like to be a Black mother resisting the state. To have those conversations, we’d need to address the uncomfortable realities that the front lines of resistance aren’t only Black women who are mothers, but poor working-class Black women who are mothers with hardly any support in the ways they show up.

It is peculiar that, while we can acknowledge in rebuttal that a significant amount of Black women in organizing are mothers, there is no considerable attention paid to the specific experiences of poor working-class Black mothers who resist the state. 

When one chooses to become an organizer/ community activist as a poor working-class Black mother, there are several hindrances. Aside from figuring out time and money management, loneliness is just as debilitating. The pressure of most likely being an essential household earner leaves poor working-class Black mothers with no time to connect with adult family members, friends, comrades, and even their children. Seldom do we see any real conversations on the psychological stress that results from the high demands of family and organizing coupled with isolation, which are the realities for most Black mothers on the front lines.

Poor working-class Black mothers are the first-hand account witnesses to the fallacy of capitalism and failed states. Poor working-class Black mothers don’t have the luxury of illusion. They see this world as it is and want better, if not for themselves, then for their children. 

These are the mothers on the front lines. 

The mothers taking their food stamps to feed the neighborhood, using their section 8 apartments as lodging for those who’ve come to find themselves displaced, these are the women on the frontlines. The mothers stretching their last dollars to put on events that bring joy to Black children, making space for those who have never felt embraced or cared for; these are the women on the frontlines. The mothers taking on the police not knowing if they would ever make it back home to their children for doing so are the women on the frontlines. And those Black women who are poor mothers, who are struggling for and with community, are the women hardly supported in their efforts.

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Erica Caines is a poet, writer and organizer in Baltimore and the DMV. She is an organizing committee member of the anti war coalition, the Black Alliance For Peace as well as an outreach member of the Black centered Ujima People’s Progress Party. Caines founded Liberation Through Reading in 2017 as a way to provide Black children with books that represent them and created the extension, a book club entitled Liberation Through Reading BC, to strengthen political education online and in our communities.