China Martens
china410(a)hotmail.com
P.O. Box 4803 Baltimore MD 21211

The Future Generation #88

    I read an essay called “Linking Movements, Linking Lives” by Cherry Galette and was amazed by her ability to link issues together as well as by her critique of systemic oppression. In “Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind,” the workshops on supporting women and children that Vikki Law and I have been giving this summer, one thing I keep saying is that supporting a woman’s right to have a child is as important as supporting a woman’s right to have an abortion; if one is truly pro-choice, there has to be a choice.
    Cherry quotes Loretta Ross  “Choices are for people who have them, and lots of people don’t.” She examines economic privilege and poverty while discussing the common ground between reproduction rights, queer liberation, trans liberation movements. She discusses the struggles of recipients of public benefits, immigrants, female bodied people of color, farm workers, people in recovery from substance abuse, incarcerated individuals, and others. You should check out her essay: http://tortillas-duras.blogspot.com
    I’ve been trying to make waves of my own: to address the anarchist community to see the systemic oppression of neglecting the needs of the radical parents, child-care givers, and children in their scene. I feel that most anarchists are eager to embrace community building; they don’t want to be just a scene of twenty-somethings in a movement that one grows up and leaves, but part of an ongoing culture of resistance. Yet if you look around, the presence of children and parents is very small; they are often pushed out because they are unsupported.
    Talking among other radical parents I see how much we have grown in our new roles; most of us weren’t very aware or good allies for radical parents before we had children of our own. A lot of childcare is a learned behavior, not something you immediately know how to do. But as we are segregated into unequal and often similar age based groups with unequal privilege in this country, most people’s exposure in watching/learning how to interact with the young in non-oppressive ways is minimal at best. I like to address the young and childfree rather than radical parents who have already researched these subjects; I feel those without kids have greater energy/potential to enlist as allies. That it’s more important to create support networks within the entire radical community then just try to create support networks with other parents whose main problem is being stressed/burnt out with childcare because of—ultimately—the lack of community support for non-oppression childcare
     This May, my collaborator and I took the train up to the Anarchist Bookfair in Montreal with our daughters, to sell zines and do our workshop. That was really an adventure! My daughter, Nadja (age 18) took over the zine table as she is a zinester of her own now and Vikki’s daughter Siu Loong (age 5) took part in the Kidz Program provided for the weekend. That was a big part of why we came: hearing about the great Kidz Program Invasion that happened last year, with exciting workshops for parents, children, and even a kids parade!
    The trip energized me when I returned to my city. I was inspired by what I saw in Canada and certainly didn’t take notes on how to provide childcare at events but before I realized it was deep in the organizing of my own Radical Kidz Corner for the Mid-Atlantic Radical Bookfair in Baltimore! I guess I was listening to my own talk about the importance of providing childcare; now that my arms were free and my daughter 18 - shouldn’t that audience include me?
    When I was attending a workshop in Montreal, after we had given ours, I heard a baby cry. Ok, here it is, I thought, the prime example of what we were talking about. A room full of people, a single mother, the baby cries and the mother will feel compelled to leave the meeting, missing out and alone in the hallway. How will we all handle it? The mother seemed very at ease, confident, she stood up to bounce the baby and listened more to the speaker. As the baby could not be settled, her friend came forward and offered to take the baby out to the hall so the mother could listen. I followed. (It was too crowded in there anyway) and spoke to her. Told her how great I thought she was, we had just been part of a workshop on the subject. I wound up holding Volia (her friend spoke little English but she wrote the baby’s name down for me and tried to interpret her names meaning, that it meant freedom and the will in Russian.) so she could go back and listen, and that was my little lesson. I forgot what it was like to hold a baby. How giving they are, just relax in your arms, it’s a strange feeling of ease. How heavy they get, and how they make you hot with their additional body heat! And I had no extra hand to get off my jacket, and couldn’t use the bathroom until I placed her back in caring arms. It made me appreciate how much work it is to simply hold an infant, and what a good thing it is to give a mum a break. And also, there was a special feeling, of getting to know a little person.
    Now that my daughter has grown, I’ve forgotten a lot about how to take care of small children. But I haven’t forgotten what it felt like to be actively mothering a young child. Raising a teenager was awful hard; I’m glad to gain some independence: the last thing I actually want is any more child responsibility! I suppose it’s the same thing when you leave your parent’s home, the last thing you want is to get pulled into domestic responsibility again, or back to that powerless place like when you were a child. But I generally help out with children around me because, like James Generic put it “It’s the right thing to do”. Then afterwards find I actually enjoy and learn from the experience, and create bonds. Its fun, not as hard as you think.
    I first went to one of the Mid-Atlantic Radical Bookfair planning meetings to inquire, as a representative of parenting and children’s needs, how Kidz Corner was coming along. I told them that childcare is a really important thing, politically speaking. That I understood it was difficult to organize—I myself knew nothing of it and am not the activist organizer type—but that it is as important to plan as these other human needs like food and housing, and they should look into it for next year. This year, at least, it was agreed that we would have a child friendly space, for parents to use, and perhaps spontaneously come up with some mutual aid childcare.
    At the second meeting, I told them that I would like to take charge of Kidz Corner; my goal was to enlist childcare for the whole event; I wasn’t sure if I could achieve that, but that this would be a start for next year. (They originally said they had wanted to support children’s issues, but were too busy, didn’t know how to, and didn’t have anyone to take charge of it.) Talking with the organizers I had realized how adept I was for this task. And I, like how many organizers start, I am sure, realized if I didn’t do it, it wouldn’t happen. There had never been organized childcare at any radical bookfair or anarchist gathering in Baltimore before. Now that I don’t have a child biting on my ankle, I find I can be very effective as an allie. I have a new cool perspective on things now that I’m not as personally involved and can understand more what it’s like to be childfree. (I’m a “bachelor mom” - a term I coined for myself last year when my daughter started going out into the world, leaving me with a strangely empty nest).
    I can go to every meeting I choose, not worried about bedtime and little ones’ needs and listen without interruption while representing parents and children’s needs. As I address the non child experienced concerns (but parents can’t leave their children, what about the liability? what if kids run down the hallway? How do we talk to them?) I find myself learning all along the way—like how I learned to be more respectful in a bilingual culture—how my actions affect others and what it takes to organize an event. It felt good to be involved with others, I found skills in myself I hadn’t known I had, as my resources widened.
    And you know what? Kidz Corner was a massive success! I started organizing insanely late (a month before the event) but managed to coordinate over 20 hours of childcare over the course of three days for approximately 25 kids with 20 plus volunteers doing childcare and with activities for children (well the button making workshop was for all ages but taught by a nine year old). I created a really welcoming visible space that was well used and we even had our own children’s parade! I had many conversations on subjects dear to my heart, with many people who were new to these thoughts and found themselves pulled into the project. I took advantage of the resources, good will, and ripeness of the cause of children’s rights and radical parenting and created a space these efforts could come together, to provide support for the parents and children attending the event and towards all-ages community building. The experiment, to pull from the energy of the childfree (who predominantly made up the childcare volunteers) - was a massive success. Parents, attendees and organizers thanked me.
    The time has come to write an essay about how I did it and lessons learned, but I find myself not knowing exactly how I did it except that I did it with a massive outpouring of energy, time, and love, on my part. How to recreate that? Basically I drew on the energy of the bookfair and the organizer’s resources. They picked out the space, gave me the room, sent people my way, and let me bounce my ideas off them at the weekly bookfair-planning meeting. (Which also made me available to contribute child-friendly feedback on little details of planning, all along the way. I don’t think a parent of a younger child could have been involved as deeply as I was, in that way.) Also, I constantly called upon my parent-in-the-trenches friends—to answer questions and for advice in how to proceed. They came to lead workshops, bring their children, and contribute resources to the room as well. Others showed up on the spot, children and volunteers, and participated beautifully. I do really feel I was an ambassador between worlds and talked to anyone, enlisted anyone I could, to my project.  Technically I have a lot to learn. I want to do this again next year, but not alone and to start planning from the beginning. The one thing I have proved, I feel, is that childcare needs to be embedded in the planning of the event—not isolated as a parent’s concern. I don’t want to do all the work myself on this issue, but show how we can lighten the burden by sharing it.
    It feels really good to be trying to do something in an arena where people actually care, not for money, not a compromise for the ways we are forced to live sometimes because life isn’t always a big choice but a matter of mere survival; but to talk about ideals. I know I am not the only one. Vikki and I are going to be editing a Radical Parents Allies Book, which started as a project by parents of the anarchist parenting list serv. We are gathering resources and stories this summer: What are practical ways allies can support parents and children in your scene? (Please get in touch)
    So, I’ve learned how to be an ally: caring about other people’s concerns so they care about mine, learning the ways I can be oppressive to others and working on that as I communicate my knowledge, being patient for as I teach, I also learn. - China - P.O. Box 4803, Baltimore MD 21211 - china410@hotmail.com