“My husband and I don’t want a reporter at our residence, for confidentiality purposes,” Christi Becker says when I ask if I can set up an interview with her and her friends, so we agree to a neutral meeting place, the St. Cloud, Minnesota, public library. I’m on the first leg of what will stretch into a many-month journey to understand the new restlessness of conservative women. It’s a cold October afternoon in 2010, and a hard rain pounds the sheet glass windows of the second-floor conference room where we’ve gathered, snacks in hand, a jumble of purses and cell phones on a table in the back. From here we can see Lake George and its surrounding park, the place where this previously apolitical group of moms attended their first Tea Party Patriots rally—which so stirred them up that they soon signed up for a 23-hour bus ride to Washington, D.C., in November 2009, to protest the health care bill.
Becker, a trim woman in a miniskirt and high-heel boots, pops a baby carrot in her mouth and leans forward as she describes the moment of her political awakening. “I realized it wasn’t organizations organizing the buses” going to D.C., she says. “It was two moms. At the time, I was totally broke. But I just felt so strongly about it.” The trip from Minnesota cost $200, so Becker, a freelance artist, asked her parents to “sponsor” her, which they did. “My husband thought I was crazy,” she says.
Tracy O’Connor, another recently converted activist, also went to the D.C. protest, after learning about it on a conservative website called As a Mom. “It was Friday night, and I’m like, ‘We need to get in the car right now and get down there!’ ” O’Connor says. Her political awakening occurred around the time Barack Obama became president, which is when she started visiting As a Mom. Founded by Lori Parker, a Texas mother of four, the members-only site dubs itself “a sisterhood of mommy patriots” and says it aims to “mobilize principled mothers” and “stand up for our nation’s Constitution.” It became a hit after Parker made an appearance on the Glenn Beck program in 2009 and the clip went viral on -YouTube; the site has since become a gathering place for women who want to air their grievances about government. “I felt the things that made this country great were being systematically crushed, and I just felt helpless,” says O’Connor, whose son served in Iraq. “I had these views for so long, but I felt alone. People agreed with me, but they weren’t passionate about it like I was.”
“Nobody was talking about it,” says Becker.
“Nobody was doing anything,” says Berni Doll, Becker’s mother.
Conversations with other women on As a Mom made O’Connor feel part of an instant community. “I was like, ‘Yeah! That’s how I feel, too!’ ” she says. Suddenly she couldn’t sit at home anymore. “Conservative women, we didn’t get up and start moving around until we felt like, ‘This is it . . .’ when you feel like your kids’ future is threatened.” Besides opposing the health care bill, O’Connor blames Obama for the country’s economic troubles. She has become politically active as a way of protecting her children, and she says her 23-year-old son, who is back from the war, feels the same. “He brings up stuff that I didn’t know,” she says. “He plans on voting this year for the first time.”
Becker is equally critical of Obama. “The health care bill is not a health care bill. It’s a big tax bill,” she says. She has always been conservative but got more involved after one of her daughter’s teachers showed his eighth-grade class Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth without letting them know that some scientists dispute the message of the film. “He wanted to know why I was asking all these questions,” she says. “Well, I’m her parent. I want to know what you’re telling her in class!”
“All this is part of worrying about what world we’re going to have for our children,” Doll says. “I have a great-granddaughter in this city.”