In 1989, China Martens went to an international anarchist gathering in San Francisco with her one-year-old daughter and found, to her surprise, a childcare room. “That there was a safe place for me and my daughter to go, [that] we could talk to others instead of being left out, that they served peanut butter sandwiches and juice, and that they had a flyer saying how childcare is a radical activity everyone should support made a huge impression on me,” she says.
Today, Martens is a cofounder of Kidz City, a new childcare collective in Baltimore. Across the country, from Los Angeles to Austin to D.C., these collectives are emerging. Mainly made up of activists and those with a passion for children, groups have formed to ensure that parents and caregivers have a voice in social justice movements. Many of them incorporate workshops and political education in their work, and many support specific organizations—especially organizations led by women of color.
Simon Strikeback of the Chicago Childcare Collective (ChiChiCo) explains that many organizations “don’t have a lot of moms and other women in their leadership and ranks because they need to make sure their kids are taken care of. ChiChiCo offers childcare so those women (and other caretakers) can participate more fully in that organization’s work.” ChiChiCo works with Young Women’s Empowerment Project, Chicago Freedom School, and Centro Autonomo, among other groups.
The D.C. Childcare Collective has organized working groups that cover topics including strengthening relationships with parents, developing more responsive care to meet kids’ needs, learning more about political movements in D.C., and examining privilege. The Bay Area Childcare Collective has developed a radical coloring book “with words and images to help kids think critically about the world around them,” member Ari Clemenzi says.
Regeneración, in New York, supports low-income women and queer-of-color families; it works closely with Domestic Workers United, Families for Freedom, and Center for Immigrant Families, providing childcare at their events. The collective offers activities ranging from political plays to museum trips with kids and parents “so that moms and families can participate in movement-building work” and “to integrate kids into political/revolutionary movement work,” says member Radhika Singh. The group has worked hard to formulate its guiding values. It is attempting to reclaim the notion of “family” and see child rearing as a communal process. “We came up with our guiding principles in process with the moms we were close with,” Singh says.
Collaboration with parents and the organizations they work with is a key element of most of the cooperatives’ work. “We need to have greater support for childcare,” Martens says, and “not just put this on some overburdened childcare workers or volunteers. Divide up hours, spread out the work, pair up experienced with inexperienced, learn and share new skills. And if you truly just cannot work with kids, you don’t have to do childcare to support radical childcare. You could see if there is something you could do. Bring some organic apples. Make the flyer. There is a place for everyone.”
Excerpted from make/shift (Fall/Winter 2010/2011), a feisty magazine that celebrates contemporary feminist culture, identity, and action. www.makeshiftmag.com
This article first appeared in the January-February 2011 issue of Utne Reader.