WASHINGTON - Amy Tiemann was a neuroscientist, then a high-school teacher, next a mother.
The constraints of that third job inspired the Chapel Hill, N.C., woman to carve out time to reconnect with her own passions and put them into action. Now she is one of the leaders of a group of "naptime activists" who hope to make a difference in the presidential election and universal issues facing families.
Tiemann is on the executive board of MomsRising.org, an online organization of about 140,000 people trying to fit social activism in at times when they're not earning a paycheck, caring for a child or tending to a household.
"We are reaching out to women who have an impulse to make a difference, but are so busy and overwhelmed that we have to reach them where they are," says Tiemann, author of the book "Mojo Mom: Nurturing Yourself While Raising a Family."
"The Internet is key because it allows us to work together across geography and across time," she said. "New moms in particular are so busy, and if you have one hour, even if it's at 1 a.m., you can find an action item to do right then."
Participants can sign a petition calling for an end to toxic toys, send an e-mail encouraging lawmakers to support health insurance for children, or decorate a onesie (those one-piece baby garments) with a legislative slogan that will later be strung across the front of a state capitol. (They call that the "Power of ONEsies.")
Fair-wage bill is one target
A current MomsRising effort is to lobby senators on fair wage legislation. The bill, the subject of a congressional hearing later this month, seeks to reverse the results of a Supreme Court ruling that fair pay discrimination claims must be made within 180 days of the salaries being set.
"We will have MomsRising members around the country showing up at their senators' offices," said the group's co-founder, Joan Blades of Berkeley, Calif. "It's a real reminder that they've got constituents, real people, that are counting on them to make this legislation pass."
The group counts among its successes a multipartner effort in Washington state to get paid family leave signed into law last year.
Blades knows about the power of online political activism. She also co-created MoveOn.org, the group that bubbled up after the Clinton impeachment and later turned its grass-roots power against the war in Iraq. The major difference, said Blades, is that MoveOn deals with front-page issues, while MomsRising tackles everyday issues such as maternity and paternity leave, flexible work schedules, health care for children and childcare.
In the presidential campaign, the group with other partners has asked candidates to pledge policies that address those agenda items.
"We can't just give it lip service," said Blades, co-author of the book "Motherhood Manifesto."
"When people realize that we're undermining our future because we aren't taking care of our kids -- because our policies are such that we are not making it possible for parents to do what they need to do -- right, left or center [politically], we don't like that."
Christine Williams, a government professor who studies the Internet and politics at Bentley College in Massachusetts, said women have shown an ability to mobilize over universal issues. Consider the Million Mom March, the Mother's Day 2000 rally in Washington that drew 750,000 people protesting the lack of gun laws.
An 'untapped well'
Laura Woliver, a professor of political science and women's studies at the University of South Carolina, says women remain an "untapped well."
"MomsRising will be amazing because they can feel the impact of things like unpaid maternity leave, inadequate day care, problems with access to health care," Woliver said. "These are the moms who go to the pharmacy and have to pay $50 or $60 for amoxicillin for their babies' ear infection."
Women have been recognized as an influential political force in past elections, and the first presidential campaign with a serious female contender, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., is no exception.
"'Soccer moms' was the political world's attempt to characterize who we are and what we care about," said Tiemann, the Chapel Hill mom. "With 'naptime activists,' we're actually telling them. Instead of a label being put around us by someone else, we're saying this is who we are and what we care about and we aren't going to sit on the sidelines."
Tiemann is active politically in more mainstream ways. She and her husband, Michael, a software executive, have helped raise money for former Democratic Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, for example.
But she also promotes "party kits" for becoming a "naptime activist" on her website, mojomom.com.
"Women are great networkers," Tiemann said. "What I found is we want to get together anyway. It's great to have something meaningful you can do together."