WASHINGTON — Amy Tiemann was a neuroscientist, then a high school teacher, next a mother.
The constraints of that third job inspired the Chapel Hill, N.C., woman to carve out time to reconnect with her passions and put them into action. Now she's one of the leaders of a group of "naptime activists" who hope to make a difference in the presidential election and universal issues facing families.
Tiemann is on the executive board of MomsRising.org, an online organization of about 140,000 people trying to fit in social activism when they're not earning paychecks, caring for children or tending to households.
"We are reaching out to women who have an impulse to make a difference but are so busy and overwhelmed that we have to reach them where they are," said Tiemann, the author of the book "Mojo Mom: Nurturing Yourself While Raising a Family."
"The Internet is key because it allows us to work together across geography and across time," she said. "New moms in particular are so busy, and if you have one hour, even if it's at 1 a.m., you can find an action item to do right then."
Participants can sign a petition calling for an end to toxic toys, send an e-mail encouraging lawmakers to support health insurance for children or decorate a onesie (those one-piece baby garments) with a legislative slogan that will later be strung across the front of a state capitol. (They call that the "Power of ONEsies.")
A current MomsRising effort is to lobby senators on fair wage legislation. The bill, the subject of a congressional hearing later this month, seeks to reverse the results of a Supreme Court ruling that fair pay discrimination claims must be made within 180 days of the salaries being set.
"We will have MomsRising members around the country showing up at their senators' offices," said the group's co-founder, Joan Blades of Berkeley, Calif. "It's a real reminder that they've got constituents, real people, that are counting on them to make this legislation pass."
The group counts among its successes a multi-partner effort in Washington state to get paid family leave signed into law last year.
Blades knows about the power of online political activism. She co-created MoveOn.org, the liberal group that bubbled up after the Clinton impeachment and later turned its grass-roots power against the war in Iraq. The major difference, said Blades, is that MoveOn deals with front-page issues, while MomsRising tackles everyday issues such as maternity and paternity leave, flexible work schedules, health care for children and child care.
In the presidential campaign, the group, along with other partners, has asked candidates to pledge policies that address those agenda items.
"We can't just give it lip service," said Blades, co-author of the book "Motherhood Manifesto."
"When people realize that we're undermining our future because we aren't taking care of our kids — because our policies are such that we are not making it possible for parents to do what they need to do — right, left or center (politically), we don't like that."
Christine Williams, a government professor who studies the Internet and politics at Bentley College in Massachusetts, said women have shown an ability to mobilize over universal issues. Consider the Million Mom March, the Mother's Day 2000 rally in Washington that drew 750,000 people protesting the lack of gun laws.
Laura Woliver, a professor of political science and women's studies at the University of South Carolina, said women remain an "untapped well."
"MomsRising will be amazing because they can feel the impact of things like unpaid maternity leave, inadequate daycare, problems with access to health care," Woliver said. "These are the moms who go to the pharmacy and have to pay $50 or $60 for amoxicillin for their babies' ear infection."
Women have been recognized as an influential political force in past elections, and the first presidential campaign with a serious female contender, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., is no exception.
"'Soccer moms' was the political world's attempt to characterize who we are and what we care about," Tiemann said. "With 'naptime activists,' we're actually telling them. Instead of a label being put around us by someone else, we're saying this is who we are and what we care about, and we aren't going to sit on the sidelines."