DOWNTOWN — Believing that people tend to behave better if a mother-figure is around, a Rogers Park mom is recruiting other moms across the city to create a “wall of moms” to help prevent clashes between protesters and police.
“I have found that when I start using the mom voice, it really works,” said group creator Katje Sabin. “It’s a universal thing. When a mom voice appears, you think a little bit about what you’re doing. People are a little less likely to behave badly if they know mom is watching.”
Inspired by a group of women called Wall of Moms in Portland that inserted themselves between protesters and federal agents, Sabin said she decided to start a similar Chicago group after failing to find one to join.
“I was looking for a group like this,” Sabin said. “I thought there was one in Chicago and don’t know why there wasn’t but that’s why I started this one.”
Sabin, who is 57 and the mother of three adult children and a 15-year-old, said the Wall of Moms Chicago’s goal is to help keep peaceful protesters safe. Like the group in Portland, they will wear white or yellow shirts to be visible, along with bicycle helmets with the word “mom” written prominently on them.Their mission is to help at existing events, not to form their own protests, Sabin said. And she’s quite aware of the power of the images of moms standing up to armed federal agents.
“It’s really going to be about optics. Even Fox News watchers, if they see these fully armed, battle-ready storm troopers gassing moms in yoga pants, that is not going to play well even in the reddest states,” Sabin said. She added, “This is what we’ve been reduced to. Sending the moms. The undefended, unarmed moms, standing there linking arms trying to protect these kids that are trying to be heard.”
And although more than 3,000 people have joined the group in 36 hours, Sabin said they only need a few to show up at events to make an impact. Those who cannot make it can help in other ways such as organizing online.
“Even if only 30 people show up, that’s still good for visuals. It’s going to be up to each individual to determine,” Sabin said. “Technology helps too, being able to contact your representative instantly is amazing and makes a difference.”
Although Sabin said she has attended many different protests over the years, she feels the atmosphere now is more precarious than ever for a lot of people. She also is aware that as a white woman, she has privilege that others do not and wants to use it to amplify the voices of those who have been ignored for too long.
“The Black, indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) have every right to be heard, especially after all these centuries of being crushed and ignored and killed,” Sabin said. “We’re finally getting some traction and the current administration is trying to shut them up and that is not right. That’s where the moms come in, we’re like uh-uh, no, you need to listen and hear what these guys have to say…As a white woman, I get to use my platform to elevate the voices of other people.”
Beverly resident Amanda Price, who is white, agreed with Sabin, saying that she joined the group out of concern for her two foster children that come from different backgrounds than herself.
“My Black Lives Matter lawn sign and occasional protesting weren’t cutting it. I believe that changing the systematic oppression of people of color needs to be done by white people,” Price said.
Monica Wilczak, another Beverly resident who joined the group, said when she heard about the group in Portland, she thought of her daughter.
“I couldn’t go with her to the first Women’s March in Chicago when she was 11, but let her go with fellow Girl Scout moms because I knew they would protect her like their own,” Wilczak said.
The group is called Wall of “Moms,” but Sabin said one doesn’t have to be a biological mother, or even a woman to join.
“Mothering is more a verb. Think of it as care and nurturing,” Sabin said. “That’s the mom thing and yes, it’s more associated with the feminine in our culture but I’m not interested in being a gatekeeper. If we need to create a wall and protect people who are more vulnerable and targets of rage, then anybody who wants to stand next to me and help hold me up, I’m going to help hold them up.”
Sabin also said the group is non-violent, and supporting protests instead of initiating them.
“We got a lot of posts the first night about people wanting to set up protests and do defense classes and tell people what type of things they need to carry to fight back, but we are not interested in fighting. I see us more as a wall that bullies will have to knock through.”
She said that one advantage the Chicago group has is that the group in Portland paved the way without a playbook and created a lot of leads to follow.
“I feel like we are at an advantage because we do have our sisters in Portland who have already gone through this and they know a little bit about what works and what doesn’t work,” Sabin said. “So, we are looking at those videos. We are reading what they’ve written. We at least have a chance to organize a little bit.”
Another resource Wall of Moms Chicago is tapping into is the people who joined their group, many of whom, like Livi Alexander of Wilmette, have a lot of experience with protests. Alexander offered the group members training classes on how to create a human shield wall to help combat tear gas and marching techniques. The response was overwhelming, with more than 300 agreeing to attend.
“I kind of put it out there to see who would be interested and all of a sudden it’s grown to something huge. Providing protection is something I’ve always wanted to organize and since the secret police are coming to Chicago we need to be prepared for that,” Alexander said.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot Tuesday said federal agents coming to Chicago won’t be targeting protesters, but the moms group will be prepared if something changes.
Sabin also said her group has been reaching out to other groups of women, specifically Black women, who have been organizing to protect people for far longer than the group in Portland for guidance.
“We want to connect with them because they’ve been at the forefront of this fight trying to protect kids. They are putting their bodies between guns and gangs and their kids. And they’ve been doing that for years, so we want to listen to them and talk to them and ask, what can we do to help?,” Saban said.
“They’ve been doing it. We can’t just show up and do the white savior thing, you know, ‘Here we are, it’s all good now, they aren’t going to hit white women.’ Yeah, they are going to hit white women and they aren’t going to care. But we do have privilege due to our skin color and we need to make sure we’re using it in a way to amplify the voices that aren’t being heard,” Sabin said.
One of the groups Sabin is connecting with is Mothers Against Senseless Killings, aka MASK. The founder of MASK, Tamar Manasseh, said what Wall of Moms Chicago is doing is “terrific” and helpful.
“I’m going to look for any way I possibly can to help them and figure out what we can accomplish working together,” Manasseh said.
She added that the white privilege Sabin mentioned can be a great asset in the struggle for equality.
“There’s nothing wrong with having white privilege. There’s something wrong with not using that privilege for good and to speak up for people who don’t have the same privilege that you do. So, I think anytime people who are more privileged than others use their powers for good, I think that’s an amazing thing.”
While Sabin, like several of the members of Wall of Moms in Portland, may share white privilege, it did not insulate them from being tear-gassed last week in that city — and it’s something Sabin said she’s aware can happen in Chicago.
“It’s definitely a concern, I don’t know how much of a concern it will be,” Sabin said. “There is discussion on what to carry, what to wear, to prevent it. Goggles to protect your eyes, certainly masks to keep you from catching the coronavirus.”
As for the segment of people who may want to fight with authorities, Sabin said that’s always going to be an issue with any highly charged issue, but she hopes to provide an avenue for those people to be heard.
“You’re always going to have high energy, high emotions and tension and people are going to snap,” Sabin said. “What I found is that happens when people aren’t heard. When they feel like they don’t have any other recourse. So, not to excuse that behavior, but to try to create an atmosphere where those people are heard. Where their voices and their message does get amplified.”
Wall of Mothers Chicago is in its infancy and still figuring out things as it goes along in an unprecedented time. Sabin said they do not profess to have all the answers but that they are doing their best.
“What if someone called us to come to the Columbus statue last weekend? I don’t know if we would have made that situation worse or better,” Sabin said. “My goal obviously is to make things better but I just don’t know, we are trying to figure it out as we go along.”
Sabin also added that they do not want to take the focus away from the protesters.
“Some organizers might not even want us. They might think that having the cameras pointed towards us might dilute or negate their own messages. I could see that. If they don’t want that, we aren’t going to show up and plant ourselves in front of them just to get the optics. We want to be helpful, not hurtful.”
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