Parents Talk Back by Aisha Sultan

A MOMS Club Uprising

A collage of white women speaking out against racism has led to an uprising in an international moms’ organization. Nearly 40 chapters of the International MOMS Club have disbanded after the organization’s leadership clamped down on anti-discrimination messaging.

The unexpected controversy started with a simple homemade collage. A group of mothers in Southern California submitted a photo of themselves holding signs with their children that read: “We stand with all moms and pledge that racial discrimination will stop with our kids.”

It was modeled after other collages that had been posted on the Facebook page from chapters thanking essential workers and teachers, according to Jill Coene, former president of the Rancho Santa Margarita MOMS Club chapter. But their post was rejected for being “political” and violating the standards of the nonprofit.

Coene was incensed by the decision, which didn’t seem to hold water, since plenty of nonprofits offered much more direct statements supporting anti-racism efforts. The Girl Scouts organization said “Black Lives Matter.” MOPS International, a Christian moms’ group, posted an image on Juneteenth that said, “We celebrate today. But also stand against and lament the injustices that remain embedded in our society.” After the killing of George Floyd in police custody, the MOPS group had posted a photo that said: “All mothers were summoned when he called out for his mama.”

But the International MOMS Club, which was founded in 1983 by Mary James, has taken an entirely different approach. In response to questions, the organization defended the decision to reject the collage: “It was political because others outside the MOMS Club have made the issue political,” read the unsigned email. “Some members complained that the poster itself was racist.”

That sounded like gaslighting, and felt like a betrayal to moms who had volunteered for years to build their local chapters.

Sara Simpson, who founded the St. Louis-area West County chapter seven years ago, asked: “What political party is pro-racist? ... If you can’t even say ‘don’t be racist,’ then I don’t want to be on your team,” she said. “It’s such a weird hill to die on.”

She looked up the political contributions and Facebook posts of the board members and found a majority supported conservative political causes.

“It seems like they are taking a very strong political stance, while saying they are not,” she said. “It’s really disappointing, and not transparent at all.”

The Kirkwood, Missouri chapter voted unanimously to disband once they learned about the organization’s response.

“They shut down dialogue on it,” said former chapter president Emily Kadel, adding that “they are just not the right group for us.”

The organization appears to agree, stating in its email to a reporter: “(Our chapters) know that we’re looking out for them and their nonprofit status. If some members don’t understand this, then we aren’t a good match for them.”

It was an easy choice for about 70 moms in the St. Louis chapter. Former chapter president Megan O’Laughlin Nordheim said that their chapter didn’t find the original post at all political, and that no one debated the decision to disband.

“We’re out,” she said. Those who take issue with statements about ending racism “have a pretty big ethical divide from us.”

The International MOMS Club downplayed this widespread reaction.

“This is a normal time for weak chapters to disband because it’s our yearly change-over,” the statement said. “We’ve seen a small uptick from normal, but nothing unexpected.”

On Facebook, the group’s leadership has doubled down. The most recent statements advise chapters against talking to the media about the controversy, and say that even if one dissenting member wants to remain in the group, it remains an official chapter.

“Too bad you can’t post the f-word in the Post-Dispatch, because I have plenty of them to throw around,” said O’Laughlin Nordheim after she read the statement.

For many of the moms who have chosen to leave, the anger is tempered by a deep sadness. The club was the place they found mom friends, a sense of belonging and connection in the often-lonely parenting world.

Coene, of the chapter that ignited the firestorm, said she never expected this kind of reaction. She doesn’t consider herself a political activist, and said she’s been going through a grieving process since leaving the group.

“It was a huge part of my life,” she said. She’s been heartened by the support from other chapters.

“We know our collage looks like a bunch of white women, but what we’re saying is that systemic racism exists where we live, and we are pledging to help make that stop,” she said.

For these moms, it’s not about a collage: It’s about standing up for what’s right.