Burning Moms use humor to push for education changes in California
By Pamela Martineau
Jun. 28, 2009
They think of themselves as street-theater activists who are willing to get in the face of the powers-that-be to bring equity to the state's school funding system.
So between driving kids to soccer practice and helping with homework, these moms are hooking up online to organize their next rally or blogging about what bill in the Legislature might bring transparency to education finance.
At the Capitol last week, a loosely formed coalition called the Burning Moms staged its second annual rally at the state Capitol to protest school funding cuts.
Instead of marching with placards and chanting slogans, the Burning Moms and their kids built sculptures out of trash and danced to rewritten rock tunes performed by a band called the Angry, Tired Teachers.
Their goal is to make political activism fun and irreverent, while shining a spotlight on a public school system in crisis.
The name Burning Moms is a riff on the annual nonconformist celebration Burning Man.
"We see ourselves as somewhat edgier than the PTA," said Burning Mom Deb McCurdy, who drove to Sacramento from Pasadena with her two kids for the rally. "We're willing to take somewhat more of a risk to demonstrate our passion."
Burning Moms co-founder, stand-up comic and author Sandra Tsing Loh, 47, of San Francisco, likens the grass-roots movement to a "string of terrorist cells."
The Burning Moms (who also include a few dads) will blog online about an issue then decide to show up to protest or help a group organize...
"It's informal and cell-like," said Loh, who also hosts a talk show on National Public Radio on various topics. A few years ago, Loh developed a comedic monologue and later wrote a book called Mom on Fire about her efforts to find a decent public school for her kindergarten-age daughter in San Francisco.
That effort morphed into the Burning Moms, as more mothers contacted her saying they were experiencing similar frustrations with public schools. Now, the moms regularly chat on their Facebook page or on the site askamagnetyenta.wordpress .com about where to find the best magnet schools or to complain about state and national education policies...
Burning Moms rallied at first lady Maria Shriver's conference on women in November to protest its lack of discussion of public education...
California's beleaguered public education system is a crisis they believe threatens the future of their kids and therefore engenders their oft-referenced "burning" rage. (Watch their video on www.theburningmoms.org.)
They say they applaud (and some still belong to) the well-meaning PTA and other booster groups whose members bake cookies and organize fundraisers to raise money for their kids' public schools. But Burning Moms believe they need to start working to better all kids' schools, not just the ones that are fortunate enough to have active booster clubs. It's an equity issue, they say...