I was obsessed with my computer and social media long before Facebook happened. As a stay at home mom I needed the window to the world provided by messages boards. I belonged to one on Yahoo called AZMamas, a group for moms who were striving to raise our children in a gentle and thoughtful manner but talked about topics that ranged from best brand of cloth diaper to very non-kid friendly conversations about which batteries were best for hand-held battery-operated toys not meant for children This message board, our social media, played nearly as big a role in a huge victory for moms and babies as any person involved. There are more than a dozen versions of this story, but this is mine:
In the summer of 2005 I was checking in on AZMamas and read a post by Lisa Schedler about how a friend of hers was asked to stop nursing at a Chandler City Pool because someone reported they were uncomfortable with her nursing, even though she was actually fully covered for her comfort (she hadn’t worn a bathing suit with easy nursing access), and showing less than even the staff members of the pool. The last thing Lisa wrote was, “Anyone know the status on AZ getting some breastfeeding laws?”
The immediate response from other Mamas was to do a nurse in at the public pool, but then someone quickly suggested that a better idea would be going to an upcoming City Council Meeting. One mom, Michelle Hottya, reminded us about how if we could get support from a city it would be easier to make a state wide change. Several of us shot out emails to elected officials for Chandler City Council and also some of our state legislators. One of the first emails written to Chandler was by one of the smartest people I know, Christia Bridges-Jones, who can debate anyone on any topic and will never lose. I also put together an email for my state legislators and was in such a hurry that I spelled my own name wrong (which might not have been noticed but it was forwarded to a Legislative Chief of Staff and a friend of my husband who got a good laugh).
Most of us had never even met the woman who was asked not to breastfeed at the pool and we were all ready to go to battle with her. It took a day to find out that the mom, Amy Milliron was planning on speaking at the City Council Meeting and was put 3rd on the agenda. Many of us got busy clearing our schedule to go to this meeting. There was a Tucson business ran by Chandra Ruiz that sold pro-breastfeeding t-shirts, and although I didn’t know her personally, I emailed Chandra to see if she could make it to the meeting and possibly bring some of her shirts for people to wear to the meeting. Chandra couldn’t make it to the meeting, but we sparked her interest and she started working on getting the word out to her peeps in Tucson.
Within a few days of the original post, we were able to fill a Chandler City Council Meeting to standing room only with moms, dads, and children of all ages to show our support for Amy and her son Aiden who was only a few months old. The other group that was at the meeting was the media. Many of us were interviewed and others were filmed at the meeting actually nursing! I give one of the stations bonus points for not only showing babies nursing, but they filmed one of my toddlers nursing (they stopped just before what looked like she may be giving The Finger).
The members of the City Council moved Amy Milliron up on the agenda because there were so many of us, and maybe they wanted us to leave with all of our kids so they could go back to a quieter and more typical City Council Meeting. I still had never met Amy, but was impressed with her desire to get to the top and ask for clarification on the situation that had occurred at the city pool. She showed no signs of nervousness to address the Council and let them know what happened. There were others that stood up and spoke, including Amy’s mother.
Within the same week as the City Council Meeting, I received a call from an assistant to one of the state legislators I had emailed. Senator Ken Cheuvront wanted to know if a group of us moms could meet with him and a few other state legislators to discuss the issue. Ummm…yeah! I got back on AZMamas and let people know about the request to meet. Several of us got together and created a PowerPoint presentation, talking points, and a strategic plan. All while sitting in someone’s house with kids running around.
We showed up at the Capitol, covered tattoos, some hairy armpits, and any appearance of tree hugging or hippy living. We talked to some staff and legislators – both Democrats and Republicans (one was Senator Timothy Bee from Tucson whose mother had been a La Leche League Leader!). The meeting was a start, but we didn’t leave with anyone willing to sponsor a bill. One female legislator basically said that we needed to stay home until we were done nursing.
What I didn’t know at the time was that another of my legislators had already been working on drafting a bill and she had contacted Amy Milliron and was planning on meeting with her. And there was another local group that had been working with a legislator from Tucson on bill, but it never got very far.
Word spread about everything going on with posts on AZMamas, forums on Mothering.Com,
and the newly sprouted up message board that was dedicated specifically to the topic of breastfeeding advocacy, AZLactivists. We were so motivated and things were moving so quickly. We were actually reprimanded by the group that had been working for years on breastfeeding advocacy. We were told we were going to crash and burn by moving at the speed we were without any real planning. Things needed to be done slower for them to work. The reprimand came at a meeting many of us were attending, and I don’t think they knew we were there. The fun part was during introductions when I said my name and the speaker said, “Oh…so YOU are Karen Bayless Feldman!” My reputation had preceded me – perhaps because when I posted I may not have always taken myself too seriously, after all I tend to misspell my own name when I’m in a hurry or all riled up or it’s a Tuesday.
We all finally got to meet Amy when she invited us to join her at a meeting with the legislator she had been contacted by, Representative Kyrsten Sinema, and a staff attorney to help write a bill. It was a beautiful day. There was already a bill partly written and we were given the opportunity to add or change a few things. The attorney would look up what we wanted to see if it should work and pretty much everything we asked for was put in the bill, which was simply that a mother may breastfeed her child in any location, public or private, where the mother is otherwise authorized to be present, and that she would not be violating indecent exposure laws.
Rep. Sinema has always been a very intelligent person and that also meant she knew that a bill with her name on it, or most likely the name of any Democrat legislator, would not pass in our Republican dominated legislature. Rep. Sinema helped us find two sponsors for the bill that were both Republicans, Senator Timothy Bee and Representative Jonathan Paton. It was a brilliant move. Rep. Sinema help was nearly all done from behind the scenes because it would give us a better chance. Rep. Sinema introduced us to Chad Campbell who taught a class on Citizen Lobbying, and she helped us organize a picnic on the Capitol Lawn. Representative Kyrsten Sinema is now Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema. She is still smart and amazing and getting it done in Washington DC!
From our Citizen Lobbying class we learned that one way to convince state legislators to vote a certain way is the process of giving public comment, and the only way to be able to give public comment was through a system that required signing in at a computer at the Capitol and we wanted to get as many people as possible signed up. That’s why we had a picnic. We put word out on all the different message boards, asked people to spread the word, and we fed families and legislators apple pie (get it, our theme was Moms & Apple Pie!). Plenty of moms and dads signed up and we had some great pie! We were ready again with talking points for talking to media and I was appointed to make sure that everyone was being respectful because we didn’t want the event to turn into a protest. We also wanted to prove that breastfeeding could happen in front of our state capitol and not be all that scandalous. For whatever reason it was decided that I could best handle any situations where someone might actually be showing breasts while breastfeeding. Funny thing was there were more butt cracks showing from low rise jeans when moms were sitting on the grass than breasts showing during any nursing that went on.
By this time we had a planning group of 12 of us: Amy Milliron, Christia Bridges-Jones, Karen Mayo-Shanahan, Lisa Schedler, Chandra Ruiz, Michelle Hottya, Ruth Roazen, Sharon Baartmans, Sommer Bradford, Gretchen Kies, Merrie Rheingans, me, and 12 of us that were doing most of the planning, but we had so many other moms that were helping out. We couldn’t have done what we did without being able to reach out to other moms for babysitting, coming to picnics, writing letters to their legislators, making official public comments, and so much more. I’ve mentioned a few people who were part of the 12 (we never could come up with a name for ourselves – The Dirty Dozen seemed like a bad idea).
In February 2006 we had to prepare for a hearing with The Government Reform and Government Finance Accountability Committee that would be discussing House Bill 2376. It was our third time hiding tats and other signs of tree hugging lifestyles to go down to the Capitol. A few of us were prepared to speak at the committee meeting that was hearing the bill. One thing that wasn’t expected was that a legislator tried to add something on to our bill that would make having sex with animals illegal (there had been a recent situation that involved a farm animal in Mesa). The two speakers were Amy Milliron and Christia Bridges-Jones, and they were prepared for most of the questions – including one legislator wanting to know if we would then end up with 40-something year old men claiming to be breastfeeding if they were caught making out in a car. And luckily the added beastiality part was taken out (although we didn’t want it included we also knew that having it would probably make legislators afraid to vote no).
The bill passed through the committee and where some bills still die a quick death. Ours went on to the House Floor and it where all but two House Members voted yes (I think one of the no votes was the female legislator that thought we should stay home until our babies weaned). Then the bill went on to pass unanimously in the State Senate. The final step was to wait for Governor Janet Napolitano to either sign the bill, ignore the bill (which has the same affect as signing, but not nearly as cool), or veto the bill. Gov. Napolitano signed the bill and by that fall we had a law that would protect women like Amy who just wanted to feed her baby when he needed to eat.
We were all warned in the beginning that it can take years for a good bill to pass. We were cautioned not to get too excited because it could take some time. We were scolded for rushing things. And in one year we were able to get the word out to enough moms (and dads) to get a bill passed. I can only imagine how much larger it would have been if FaceBook or Twitter had been around. Now our little AZMamas, which is nearly defunct, seems so small compared to the number of people the new shiny forms of social media could have reached, but we did it.
The actual law:
Breastfeeding children in public or private locations.
A mother may breastfeed her child in any location, public or private, where the mother is otherwise authorized to be present.
(Act 2006-526, p. 1222, §1.)
13-1402. Indecent exposure; exception; classification
A. A person commits indecent exposure if he or she exposes his or her genitals or anus or she exposes the areola or nipple of her breast or breasts and another person is present, and the defendant is reckless about whether the other person, as a reasonable person, would be offended or alarmed by the act.
B. Indecent exposure does not include an act of breast-feeding by a mother.
The original post that started it all:
I’m just frustrated and venting here. Today a friend told me that recently she was at a Chandler pool and was asked to go to the bathroom because someone reported they were uncomfortable with her nursing. She was off to the side in a shaded area and was being discreet. The one thing that really upset her was that there was more skin being exposed by the people in the pool and working there.
Fortunately she knows a reporter and has called them, hopefully they will run something on this.
I’m just so mad at the person who complained whoever they are. And I’m super mad at the fact she was asked to take her baby to the bathroom to be fed.
All day it’s been on my mind. I’ll update if I learn anything new. Anyone know the status on AZ getting some breastfeeding laws?
Written By: Karen Bayless Feldman
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