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Publish Date: 5/8/2005

Isabel Cousins, a member of Mothers Acting Up, uses the top of a car to get her high enough to put on homemade stilts outside Diana Caile’s Boulder home Thursday.Times-Call/Joshua Buck

Mothers’ group works to benefit children

BOULDER — This moms’ group is for children. What moms’ group isn’t?

But the conversation is about more than baby bottles and diapers.

It’s about the humanitarian crisis in Sudan.

It’s about AIDS treatment, prevention and education.

It’s about Colorado’s government leaders, legislative bills, and voting by ballot and dollar to institute change on the local level to the international level.

For children. All children.

Mothers Acting Up is a grassroots political body founded by four Boulder women in 2001 to raise awareness of issues that affect children — such as war, poverty, education and the environment — and to provide an activism outlet for mothers.

The group will hold its fourth annual parade with its signature shtick of “moms on stilts” today in Boulder.

MAU has spread its message of “mothers and others, on stilts and off, who exercise protective care over someone smaller” outside of Colorado, with parades in Albuquerque, N.M.; the Bronx, N.Y.; Madison, Wis.; and even Jerusalem.

“It was our common connection of motherhood that brought us to activism,” said co-founder Beth Osnes, a part-time theater instructor at the University of Colorado and a 40-year-old mother of three. “It was being a mother that made it intolerable to remain inactive.”

The organization started after two women met with a state senator who, despite being a fan of Head Start, said he could not vote for a bill to boost its funding because a tax cut was just passed.

The mothers thought his answer might be different if they were a hundred instead of a pair.

“Who is the most natural lobbying group for children? It’s mothers, and they do it all day without getting paid,” Osnes said.

The group embraces the “right hand, left hand” philosophy of activism, she said.

“Direct action, in the form of volunteering at your local food bank, women’s shelter, starting a play group for at-risk mothers and systematic justice, nationally and statewide, go hand in hand. It takes both to create lasting change.”

But MAU, run by mothers, understands that mothers are busy people, Osnes said. So the group’s Web site, www.mothersactingup.org, compiles research on legislation, corporate and government finances, and international issues so moms can get informed, get active and get back to being Mom.

“The fact is, we can do this while we nurture, with breastfeeding and burping and play groups. This is not a militant mom group thing,” said Isabel Cousins, a 28-year-old mother of two who worked as a para-educator before her maternity leave. “It lets people take action where they can, from homes, school or workplace.”

MAU has taken up causes from asking local businesses to provide recycling receptacles to urging sweet shops to also sell organic chocolate, as well as writing Colorado politicians about pending legislation that would increase funding for programs like Head Start.

“It’s a wonderful way to change things,” said Marlies West, a 72-year-old grandmother of three and UNICEF card chairwoman.

“When we mobilize our political strength, we’re speaking for every child, not just a few of them,” West said. “If we do nothing else, that in itself is a marvelous covenant.”

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