Portland (AFP) – Bev Barnum never imagined what she was setting in motion when she posted a message online last week after coming across a video of federal officers in Portland, Oregon, pulling a protester into an unmarked car.
“It said something to the effect of, ‘I don’t know if you’ve ever protested before, but I haven’t,” the 35-year-old mother of two told AFP.
“‘I really think we need to do something… what if you knew 100 moms were behind you and they could make a difference?'” the message said.
Within hours, her inbox was overflowing with messages from mothers rallying behind the idea that led to the so-called Wall of Moms in the western US city rocked by protests for social justice.
Waving sunflowers and standing arm-in-arm to form a human barrier between police and protesters, the movement offered a way for middle-aged white women eager to show solidarity for Black Lives Matter protesters.
The women sport bike helmets and bright yellow T-shirts, some of which read “Summoned Mama.” The slogan refers to the dying call-out to his mother of George Floyd, an African American man whose death at the hands of police in May set off the protests in Oregon and nationwide.
“We’re here trying to do this for our children,” said Shawn Roberts, a black mother of two, who added that she was surprised and delighted at the same time by the turnout of white allies.
“People know that they can come into this group to get education, plus be a voice for the black community as a whole.”
Everything the Wall of Moms represents has tugged at heartstrings and resonated with people around the globe in a deeply personal way.
“Moms get things done,” Barnum said. “We wear so many hats and right now we’re wearing the hat of fierce protectors.”
She said after the movement took on a life of its own, she handed over the reins of the “hive” to three local mothers of color.
“From now on, the black moms are the queens and the rest of us are their workers,” she said. “If they say jump, we jump. If they say protest, we protest. If they say call your legislators, we do that. They’re in control now.”
– ‘I’m your mom now’ –
Jayla Lindseth, who has taken part in the demonstrations for the past eight weeks, said the presence of the mothers — some of them chanting “moms are here, feds stay clear” or “leave our kids alone” — has reinvigorated the protests.
“When the moms started coming, every day is big,” Lindseth, who is black, told AFP.
“A lot of them have hugged me and said, ‘I’m your mom now. I’m here for you,’ and it’s so empowering,” she added.
The impact of the women — whose initiative has spurred similar chapters in other cities including New York and Chicago — also did not go unnoticed among dads.
At the behest of Portland attorney Zach Duffly, many fathers have joined the nightly marches in recent days, oftentimes carrying leaf blowers.
“The reasons why it’s dangerous are the reasons why it’s important,” Duffly told AFP, referring to the tear gas, flashbangs and batons used by police. “It just felt like an increasing moral obligation despite the danger.”
With moms in yellow, Duffly chose orange, a color commonly marketed to men in products like tools and leaf blowers –- one of the things Duffly noticed used by Hong Kong protesters to disperse tear gas and included in the first call-out to dads.
However on Monday, his first day attending the protests along with dozens of other dads, Duffy said he had a run-in with federal agents who arrested him and charged him with disorderly conduct.
That hasn’t stopped other fathers from showing up to the nightly protests, revving up the leaf blowers and running to the front each time a gas canister is thrown by police.
“It’s a weird moment where dads get to shine,” said Scott Franklin. “This is a fascinating moment in history.
“We’ve had hundreds of years of this built up to right now… It’s kind of awesome to be part of fixing something that’s been so long coming.”