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Radical Mamas 

Thursday, Jul 17 2003
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A VARIETY PACK OF ALTERNA-MOMS bounced onto the stage. Young and not so young, black and white, tie-dyed and purple-haired, they lined up in two rows and began their chant:

Our babies like to walk,
Our babies like to crawl,
Our babies like to breastfeed,
and that’s not all!

These were the Hip Mama Radical Cheerleaders performing in faux drill-team fashion. Their pom-poms? Clenched fists.

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Our babies go to protests,
Our babies change the world,
Our babies rewrite what it is
to be a boy or a girl.

One of the cheerleader moms, a butch dyke with a buzzcut and pendulous, braless breasts, seemed to float off the ground on spirit alone. On the word “girl,” she and the squad spun around and mimed yanking down their pants, mooning the world. Welcome to the 2003 Mama Gathering, an event to celebrate the radical, freethinking, politically active mommy. Moms from as far away as Saskatchewan and Upland descended on the LAX Radisson for a weekend of workshops, potluck dinners and readings.

Tired of feeling like the freaks in the Mommy and Me groups, Dorie Lanni, a local mom who took up the gauntlet thrown down by the last (and first) Mama Gathering 2001 in Portland, Oregon, and a group of like-minded volunteer mamas, sought to create a forum for mothers who, as Lanni put it, “chucked the crap parenting books and found or carved out alternatives when they realized that the advice coming from the most available sources sucks, and their families didn’t look like that anyway.”

With sessions that included anti-racist parenting, creative activism, alternative family health, sustainable living and erotic writing, the vibe was one of simmering rage mixed with bitter resentment toward all things corporate and/or institutional. Caucasian moms shared their anguish over their “white-skin privilege” and sought out ways to empower their own racially mixed children. Humanistic educators espoused the virtues of a child-led curriculum. Anarchist moms expressed frustration with bringing their children to un-family-friendly political protests and vowed to create actions with child care. A brainstorming session in “creative activism” yielded ideas such as silk-screening political logos for babies’ onesies, making politically correct coloring books for kids, and using corporations’ own postage-paid envelopes to mail bricks back to the companies. Toward the end of the session, Inga Muscio, author of Cunt, shouted out, “Chicken!” Huh? We all looked to her for clarity. “Rotting chicken really stinks. Go to Wal-Mart and hide little pieces of chicken all over the store.”

Chicken was definitely nowhere to be found at the Mama Gathering — it was a vegan event. Radisson hotel policy prohibits serving brought-in lunches, so everyone sneaked up to the fifth floor at noon for an under-the-radar bag lunch. We ate our hummus-veggie sandwiches and drank our Soy-Ums on the sly, slipping handfuls of Pirate’s Booty to our kids. Everywhere women were breastfeeding and babies slept in slings. In the pool, mamas swirled their naked, uncircumcised tots around in the water, cooing to them over their tongue studs.

Satisfied that we had not only eaten a healthy lunch but had also fucked with corporate policy, we returned to the conference rooms for one last session. In “Feminism and Popular Media,” Kathe Kollwitz of the Guerrilla Girls; Lisa Jervis, editor of Bitch magazine; and Kristin Hersh, lead singer of Throwing Muses and mama of five, gave tips on how to question and subvert the status quo in art and advertising. Hersh shared a story in which she was asked to do a photo shoot for Spin magazine wearing nothing but a pair of rhinestone panties. She walked out of the shoot, thus ending her association with Warner Records.

The event wound up with a party at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Culver City, where Ariel Gore read from her new book. We were entertained by our own children, who were given free access to the stage and musical instruments to jam with. One raven-haired 5-year-old boy strapped on a junior-sized electric guitar and plugged into a tiny amp, letting loose with a searing, atonal guitar solo. All the mamas swooned. Vending tables were set up to sell a variety of wares from menstrual sponges to organic baby clothes and doula, or birth support, services. Ayun Halliday was there selling copies of her zine, The East Village Inky, with her daughter Inky at her side. We shopped, we talked, we swapped Web addresses, we dined on black beans and rice. And then we watched the Radical Cheerleaders bring it on home:

Our babies are our futures,
and our future’s looking brighter,
’Cause each baby makes a woman a Mama and a fighter!

—Erika Schickel

Field of Dreams

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