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Don't Leave Your Friends Behind
Concrete Ways to Support Families in Social Justice Movements and Communities
By Victoria Law, China Martens
PM PressCopyright © 2012 Victoria Law, China Martens, and the individual contributors
All rights reserved.
CHALLENGING THE STATUS QUO
We're tired of activists wondering where all the parents are when we're sitting at home with no money, no transportation, and no childcare ... We expect to struggle against the world; we don't expect to struggle in our own community. — Revolutionary Anarchist Mom and Baby League, "Allies, Who Aren't," Earth First! Journal (2003)
"Why should I care? I didn't choose to have children" is a common refrain among many individuals without children in social justice movements. This question ignores the connections linking all systems of oppression. When any one group disregards the needs of any other group, it perpetuates the inequities of the larger society. The myth of independence over interdependence is a capitalism-induced illusion. We all rely on each other and we all have different needs (which also change across our lifespan). How do we build the world we want to see if we refuse to recognize and support each other's access to meet basic needs?
When movements and communities fail to collectively support having children in their spaces and events, they perpetuate and reinforce the belief that families need to turn back to the dominant system — with all its privilege, lack of privilege, patriarchy, exploitation, inequality, and injustice — to take care of their needs. Many families struggle to build communities of resistance and to fight injustice while, at the same time, feeling that these same "communities" dismiss, devalue, or don't even consider their needs and the needs of their children.
How do we create new, non-hierarchical systems of support and mutual aid? How can we include people of all ages in our struggles for social justice? We can begin by listening to the stories and experiences of those on the front lines.
Audacious Enough Mama]
Yesterday, I took my baby to a meeting with staff members from the County to discuss the creation of an emergency housing access center for the growing number of families in downtown LA. With baby in my lap, I silently disagreed while feeling audacious and political just by taking my child into this "setting."
The space alone had me quiet. Everyone talked over each other during the heated fundamental "bigger picture" moments. Upper management titles were propped up around the fancy wooden table, an intimidating sight. In a conference room of professionals without children present, I remained silent.
My silence seeped in the fear of getting kicked out, or thrown an uncomfortable dirty look or a whisper, due to a small child on my lap. (For the record, if she screams for more than a few seconds, I leave any room.)
Being a mom in public with a toddler is trying, especially in places like meetings, trainings, conferences, and events. I am always worried about getting in the way of an anti-child person, getting a disgusted look, hearing a remark that will bother the hell out of me and have me thinking it through the next time. Making a trip to an un — family friendly setting is an act that requires a certain "I don't give a personality that, on occasion, I might have. Usually, though, leaving the house is an act reserved for child-friendly places.
I've been told that I'm too worried that my child will disrupt something and that I've allowed this to affect my presence, voice, and input. My five senses are always divided in staying attentive as a mother and as a productive member of a meeting/training/event. Staying on top of both is exhausting and keeps me nervous despite the fact that I've been taking my daughter into those strictly adult places for a year now. This level of caretaker worried-the-hell-out-of-inconveniencing-other-folks has largely preoccupied me to the point of constantly leaving a room. Even when I'm on the agenda in a meeting, I give priority to not inconveniencing childfree people. I've been called out for not taking risks by disagreeing, for not contributing, for not resisting to leave a room while fabniña relaxes a bit. I will often say something after a training: write my thoughts down to then share after a committee meeting, only to then be asked why I didn't share with the rest from the start.
My experiences have given me awareness of the very real power dynamics between individuals with and without children: awareness of the stigma associated with mothering, and the risks of oppression for caretakers with small children in public spaces.
In the meeting with the County professionals, folks talked about getting families (meaning mothers of color who have one to three children) out of homelessness, but not once broached the idea of creating affordable long-term housing; no one even mentioned the possibility that "the need-to-be-fixed-and-helped crowd" can and should remain in an invested community instead of being pushed out. Why do Work, Live and Play revitalization plans mean high-end lofts for young urban professionals without children who are able to pay $2,500 in rent while single women, men, and families that have been on "skid row" must resort to transitional shelters and emergency beds for months and years? Not once were these radical ideas considered by those who want to alleviate homelessness and affordable housing dilemmas. In that moment, I hated reform to the bone. I walked out of the room and dared someone to question children in public spaces, my "just let someone mess with me" attitude in development.
I have also attended other, more grassroots community housing rights events. These groups are mostly Salvadorian, Mexican, Guatemalan, Honduran, and include one or two families from South America. There are children at these meetings, yes, and quite a number of them. Both of these groups are working towards housing equity and tenant rights. Most of the folks that come out to the events, convivios (get-togethers), and leadership development meetings are women, specifically women of color, who are mothers. They take their children everywhere.
There are also the older folk and the non-parents who dislike having the children around. At the first meeting I attended, there was a critique about the children being noisy, annoying, rambunctious, wild, making it hard to concentrate; one or two folks were pissed. Now, part of the problem was that they didn't want children around at all. The other problem was that women who were active weren't paying attention to their children. Not once was someone willing to sit with the children with colors, paints, paper, etc., in another room because of the gendered and low value of that work.
Even more women and children were present at the second event I attended. The children were in a room with a woman who was playing, coloring, painting, drawing, and reading with them. The "women's work" that appeared to have low value in the last group was valued in this situation. Since the childcare responsibilities of the group were recognized and rotated, these women are able to be the fiercest active leaders in a community fighting gentrification. They have not dropped off the radar because they are mothers. They organize themselves to adapt to the phases of mothering young children.
The victories that I have seen at a grassroots, working class level, from the bus riders' union and garment workers to major land and job agreements, have been from mothers and folks who aren't against mothers or children. Mothers are a proven force in grassroots victory in our communities at home and abroad. They are essential to any movement that is trying to create change in the name of justice.
I feel that it is time I begin advocating my own work-in- progress, publicly confident, mama-with-child-on-her-hip presence in my "activism" work — work that I do with very "progressive" feminist women who have the means to leave their children at home or women who are not mothers at all. I need to start calling out the societal age-ism towards children when I see it and when it is directed home. It is time for the unapologetic "I don't need your permission to have my child present on my lap or hip, or crawling/running around" thought to gain strength. It is time for me to proudly parent in public as I facilitate, disagree, and give input in heated discussions, even while fabniña arches her back, pushes her legs in the air, and screeches in protest to be released and run out of the room from the eyes and ears of the children-less crowd.
Fathering the World]
Of all the pictures of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, one mesmerized and overwhelmed me, seeming to contain all that I wanted to believe about fathers — no, not just fathers, but men in our lives. The picture transcended the racist media spin; it eased the pain of the decimated street scenes and moments of panic. One man. One child, a child not his. The man was wading through water, holding the child as if this was the most important thing he could do, as though not just the child's life but his own life depended on their safe arrival. He asked no questions about whose child it was; there was no need to ascertain ownership or ask permission. There were no pathetic excuses about needing to wait and see, to assess things, like we kept hearing from "men in charge." He knew: I help this child and I help myself. I help all of us get by. There was such humanity in his arms, in the determination in his eyes. It spoke to me as the epitome of "fathering," of caring for not just about our immediate family but about all our relations. I stared, reminded of how much of an impact we can have on the children in our lives, how easy it is to overlook, to forget, to deprioritize others as we take care of our own.
A few weeks ago, I heard a story about a young boy who has been in my life for years now, a boy whose own father has not been around, a father whom I cannot find a way to forgive nor understand his willingness to abandon, like something disposable, his offspring. Well, this boy was with his mother, and was looking into one of those mirrors that elongates and distorts its reflection. He stared at himself, made a muscle, and said, "Look, it's almost as big as Tom's." When I heard how he compared his reflection to me, I again realized, as with the picture, how fathering is something all men do, whether we want to or not, whether we are prepared for it or not. So it is incumbent upon us to think through who we are and how we affect others, especially the children in our lives. And this is true, whether we are parents or not. Around the same time, I had an argument about this with a male non-parent who said it's not his responsibility to know how to be around kids. He believes this because of the silence around parenting, around the public's perceptions of children being seen not heard, of good behavior equaling good kids, of ownership ("If it ain't my kid, why should I care?"). I have friends who take diversity training courses to be prepared to work with people of color, enroll in permaculture classes for the coming demise of civilization, but seem unconcerned about working with parents or kids, outreaching to parents or kids, or creating ways to make actions, spaces, conferences parent- and child-friendly. This silence and inaction is a failure. It's unforgivable.
I feel that we men are particularly at fault. There is a silence among men about fathering. I experience this as I talk with men about fathering; they are excited yet scared, nervous about making mistakes. Most are dying to parent in ways that many of us weren't fathered. But there are very few role models, and the society we live in disempowers men to break from the prescribed role of the male parent, the role that supports patriarchy, capitalism, hierarchy, and authoritarianism. Unfortunately, many women collude in this process of disempowering male experiences of parenting. Women, it seems, are often cast in roles to speak about parenting because somehow they are better with kids, more sensitive, more nurturing, because they are women while men can only speak about being proud, being happy and supportive. Or, even worse, they can address only issues of discipline. It has been very difficult to get men to commit to writing something about their ideas, their approach, their fears or experiences of parenting. They feel shamed, silenced, or not knowledgeable enough.
This must end. The diversity of fathering is multitude, while the prescribed role remains largely singular.
What can we learn from a gay father about discussing sexuality with our daughters? I want to hear it. What can a working class father share with us about fighting patriarchy in the household while still having to struggle with a nine-to-five job? We need to hear it. How does a white father discuss race with his white son or his biracial daughter? Every single one of us can benefit from hearing that story.
For the last few months, I have been going to zine fairs and trying to get the word out about Rad Dad. I am puzzled by the responses when I say it's a zine on fathering, on how men impact the world and the children around them. Most people smile and say, "I ain't a dad" or "I don't know anyone who is." When I ask if there are children in their lives or if they are uncles or if they are thinking about being a parent, most just smile and say something like, "Well, I'll deal with that later. Those things don't relate to me now."
Tell that to the man who picked up the child, held her close to his chest and waded out in the waters that were destroying the very place he lived. How we relate to our own children, how we connect with the kids and teenagers on our blocks and in our communities is analogous to how we envision a better world, a more compassionate, loving, creative world. If we curtail that relationship, as we are doing, we will continue to live our lives surrounded by levees that cannot hold.
We're Here ... We're Queer ... and That's Not All]
My name is Rei. I live in Australia with my little queer poly tribe, and we do our best to provide radical parenting and education for our kids Medea (7) and Theo (8). The condensed version of our story is that we try to parent and educate them in a way that is sex- and body-positive and allows them as much supported autonomy as possible while encouraging them to challenge hetero/gender normativity and giving them the tools to critically evaluate all the -isms and norms and rules they encounter. We are making it up as we go along and there has been, and will be, much trial and error. But that is ultimately what we aim for.
There are many intersections within my tribe ... I'm a biracial genderqueer sex worker and student. One of my partners is a high femme pâtissière and the other is a beautiful butch painter and musician. One of the kids' dads is a bisexual circus teacher, and his boyfriend is a queer social worker and performer. Our extended network of chosen kin is just as multifaceted. I tell you all this not because we are poster children for diversity, but because we aren't. Families that transgress what is commonly accepted as normativity are everywhere. But they are just out of sight, marginalized, ignored. Neo-liberal, supposedly non-homophobic, attempts at acceptance do occasionally surface. I read in the paper yesterday that "evidence is mounting (that) children from same-sex parents are academically as capable as children of heterosexual couples." There is not enough room in this essay to fully explore everything that is wrong with this headline; suffice to say that it illustrates how far we have to go. That article is as close as my family comes to being acknowledged in mainstream media and, still, they aren't even talking about us. Maybe in the future when the term "Gender Diverse Co-Parents" comes into vogue, we will have the absurd right to be judged based on our children's grades along with gay and lesbian parents.
I cite the above example because it highlights the pressure on queer parents to provide evidence that their lives and choices are valid and not damaging. Not only our children's grades, but their identities, physical appearance, demeanour, knowledge-base, and life experiences would be evaluated harshly by the majority were the spotlight turned on us. No matter that they are healthy, happy, and remarkably self-aware; no matter that they reap huge rewards from being a part of an extended network of adults who love and support them. Many people still believe gay and lesbian parenting to be inherently harmful and deviant. What then of the family and system of parental ethics I have described? Can't you just hear the cry Children at Risk! In deference to this constant discourse of "risk" and children, we use slogans of the "Same but Different" ilk. We're Just Like You! the same sex marriage campaigners insist, as though queer relationships are acceptable only as long as they are homogenised versions of the straight social paradigm. Oh, and the kid's grades stay up. Where does that leave us and the many others like us?
Excerpted from Don't Leave Your Friends Behind by Victoria Law, China Martens. Copyright © 2012 Victoria Law, China Martens, and the individual contributors. Excerpted by permission of PM Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Challenging the Status Quo
Audacious Enough Mama Fabiola Sandoval 9
Fathering the World Tomas Moniz 12
We're here ... We're Queer ... and that's not all Rei 15
Doing it Together: An Interview with Diana Block on Childcare, Movement Support, and Parenting Underground Victoria Law 18
Chapter 2 Building Blocks
The Red Crayon Jessica Trimbath 29
La Casita is ours! A Conversation with Children in Struggle Rozalinda Borcila 34
New Kids on the Block Ramsey Beyer 45
Lactivists do it Better: What Radical Parents' Allies can Learn from La Leche League International Mariah Boone 49
The Unfinished Universe Darran White Tilghman 53
Chapter 3 What's Gender, Race, and Class got to do with it?
This Poem Is in Honor of Mothers Tiny a.k.a. Lisa Gray-Garcia 61
Is Everyone at the Table? An Interview with Noemi Martinez, Fabiola Sandoval, and Maegan "la Mamita Mala" Ortiz-Three Single Mother of Color Media Markers Victoria Law China Martens 62
How to Build a Community that Involves Single Parents Noemi Martinez 67
Mami vs. Mommy, Mami'hood vs. Motherhood: What do Mami Movements Need? Maegan 'la Mamita Mala" Ortiz 69
Support can be Conditional When you're Trans or Queer: An Interview Katie Kaput Jennifer Fichter Victoria Law 72
Performing Allyship: Notes from a Queer Migrant Parent a de la maza pérez tamayo 79
On Fear and Commitments Mustafa Shukur 82
Chapter 4 Collective Action
A Message from Mamas of Color Rising and Young Women United: Mother's Day, 2010 91
Reclaim the Commons Maxina Ventura 94
Experiencing Critical Resistance 10 (CR10) Through the Children's Program Kate Shapiro 97
Whose City? KIDZ City! Sine Hwang Jensen Harriet Moon Smith China Martens 101
Homeflueness Tiny a.k.a. Lisa Gray-Garcia 105
Mothers Among Us: The Prison Birth Project Marianne Bullock 108
Organizing within an Anarcha-Feminist Childrearing Collective Crap 111
An Open Letter to Movement Men David Gilbert 116
Men Running Childcare London Pro-Feminist Men's Group 117
Continuing the Struggle: Lessons Learned from Mothers and Children in Zapatista Communities Victoria Law 119
Chapter 5 Lists, Lessons, and Concrete Tips for Supporting Children and Caregivers
Tips on How to Support your Friend During Pregnancy Jessica Hoffmann 129
Taking Care of your Friends Postpartum Clayton Dewey 131
Babyproofing for Punks Clayton Dewey 133
Supporting your Friend who Lost their Newborn Infant Mikaela Shafer 136
Concrete Things you can do to Support Parents and Children in your Scene: Suggestions Brainstormed at La Rivoltal, an Anarcha-Feminist Conference in Boston, 2006 137
Lessons from Planning Radical Childcare China Martens 139
Radical Childcare Collective Start-up Notes Amariah Love 144
Wizards Around the Rainbow Encian Pastel the Bay Area Childcare Collective 152
Activities for Children Rahula Janowski China Martens Victoria Law 162
Creating Family Space Jason Gonzales, Revolutionary Parenting Caucus, and a-parenting Listserv 164
Don't Forget Familiez on the Rez! Mari Villauna 166
Concrete Ways to Support Parents and Children Fighting White Supremacy from a Pan-Afrikan Perspective Monalisa Lennon Diallo a.k.a. Oluko Lumumba Agnes Johnson Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie 167
Holistic First Aid for all Ages Traci Picard 169
Chapter 6 Different Approaches
Taking Community-Building Seriously Heather Jackson 177
Equal Access: community Childcare for Special Needs Jennifer Silverman 180
How do we Integrated Kids and Adults? What are our Expectations about Integrating with Each Other as a Community? (snippets from a discussion on the a-parenting listserv) Laura Gyre Simon Knaphus Briana Cavanaugh 184
Call to Destiny A. S. Givens 187
Supporting Unschooling Families Sasha Luci 193
Ways to Support Single Mothers mama raccoon 196
At my Church, we call it "Radical Hospitality" Coleen Murphy 198
Chapter 7 Don't Leave Anyone Behind
Accessibility Stacey Milbern 205
Don't Leave your Mental Health Behind Lindsey Campbell 208
Parental Caregiving and Loss: Ideas for Caregivers and their Allies Kathleen McIntyre Cynthia Ann Schemmer 211
Un Corazón separado por una frontera/A Heart Separated by a border Ingrid DeLeon Carina Lomeli Poor Magazine 218
Through all the Transitions: A Duet on Caregiving, Family, and Community Jessica Mills Amanda Rich 221
Contribute Biographies 226