The Childcare Collective and Social Movement
If our children despise us, our movement will end.
I’ve been volunteering with the Childcare Collective for the past five months and every so often my phone rings or I get an e-mail saying, ‘here are some childcare opportunities…’ It’s kind of like being a spy, “Your mission, should you choose to accept it…” I never know quite what to expect when I do a childcare gig, but I always look forward to that rewarding feeling I know will be there when I’m done. But, I’ve started to realize that there’s a lot more going on than free, volunteer based childcare. I’m starting to understand the bigger picture. I’ve been doing childcare in some form on and off for the past six years. When I moved to the Bay Area I hoped to keep doing so; that’s when I found the Childcare Collective. I thought, ‘Great, here’s a chance to keep working with kids.’ I didn’t think about the political aspect or how it might serve a social movement, which comes solely from the people. I just wanted to work with kids because I’ve always found it rewarding and fulfilling. But now, well, now I go to marches or rallies or events, and I see kids that I’ve worked with through the Collective. I say hi to them and they know my name. It feels like community; like I’m helping to build something strong.
In 2002, a group of folks, working in San Francisco with the Women’s Collective of the San Francisco Day Labor Program, was inspired by the importance of quality childcare and the obvious lack thereof. Using the original model of the School of Unity and Liberation (SOUL)–a training program for aspiring organizers and activists–they came together to form the Childcare Collective in the Bay Area. The vision was to provide free, conscientious, and stable childcare to those who need it the most. But who exactly is that? The obvious answer is, of course, parents. But in today’s oppressive regime, there are so many parents who need childcare but simply can’t afford it. While I firmly believe that children grow and flourish the best within a community of involved participants, it would be wonderful if every parent could personally provide for all of their children’s needs—from food, to education, to emotional support. It’s an ideal world where parents are allowed to raise their children with the utmost attention and care as opposed to being forced out of the home to run the gauntlet of commercialism. If a parent can provide unquestionable, immutable support to their children throughout their lives, they would have done their job as parents and they would have done it well. But, like I said, this is not the society we live in.
‘Family values’ is propaganda that gets thrown around a lot, but the truth of the matter is that capitalism (and the patriarchy, sexism, racism, and other oppressions that help to keep it running) puts no value in the family. We’ve moved that which is considered valuable out of the homes and the family and into the cockles of commerce. If money is not involved, it’s not worth your time. This is ideology, but practically speaking, the capitalist system has created this completely abstract thing that must be obtained before you can acquire the basic necessities of life. There’s little room to value the family when we have to spend well over forty hours a week chasing capital to support only the mere basics of what a family needs.
I grew up bouncing from one institution to another. Both my parents worked and so when I wasn’t in day care I was in school and when I wasn’t in school, I was in after-school care. Needless to say, like most children these days, I spent more time within childcare environments than I did within the home. Thus, the people who cared for me were as important of an influence in my formative years as the people who birthed me and shared my blood.
Though I have to say, there was no cohesion; there was no unifying ideology behind these various childcare providers that let me know there was meaning to what was going on. Don’t get me wrong, I learned so much from the individuals who took on the challenging and inspiring task of caring for children, things I wouldn’t have learned at home or from my family. I gained different perspectives and unfamiliar knowledge. If I had been left solely to my parents’ devices, I would probably be wearing a suit everyday and working in a small box, staring at a computer screen. But, what they were never able to give me was that all too important sense of continuity and belonging. That enriching sense of community.
I can’t imagine what life for a single, non-white, low income, non-english speaking mother is like in this country. And I certainly don’t want to presume. But I do know that life for any parent is tumultuous and difficult. My parents, as the children of immigrants, wanted nothing more than to give me and my sister a better world then they had in which to grow up. And I think this mentality is true of most parents, it’s why my grandparents immigrated to the states and why my parents worked non-stop at jobs they hated, and why I write articles for papers like Slingshot. I want my children to live in a better world than I do. But who has the time to fight for these improvements to the world? Go to work, take the kids to daycare and school, work overtime, maybe even a second job, pick the kids up, get them dinner, don’t forget to help them with their homework, and on and on? It’s already hard for parents to see their kids as much as they should, who wants to take more time away from them to go to meetings that may or may not help to improve the world we’re leaving behind for them. This is where the Child Care Collective steps up.
In their mission statement the Childcare Collective says firmly and with admirable conviction: “We are committed to providing grassroots organizations and movements composed of and led by immigrant women, low-income women, and women of color with trained, competent, patient and politicized childcare providers for one-time events or ongoing meetings.” The idea is simple: prioritize the leadership of the oppressed and the underrepresented. Support them in building movements that only they can lead by offering up one of the most basic necessities that would otherwise keep them from their all too important community building and organizing.
Here’s how it works: An organization like POWER (People Organized to Win Employment Rights) or the Women’s Collective or Critical Resistance (an anti-prison organization)—groups that deal with, are led by, and are comprised of immigrant women, low-income women and women of color–has regular meetings and/or events. These organizations usually have an Event Coordinator who contacts the Childcare Collective’s Core Committee. “The Core” as it is affectionately called, is a group within the collective that takes on the administrative responsibilities of fund-raising, recruiting, scheduling, etc.. To be on the Core one must first be a volunteer and complete the orientation as well as several training programs and, of course, have done repeated childcare for the collective. With some time and communication, a relationship is fostered between the Event Coordinator of an organization and the Core of the collective until the collective has a viable understanding of the organization’s childcare needs. The Core then contacts, usually via e-mail and phone banking, their volunteer childcare providers to fill the needs of the organization. The volunteers then sign up as they are available and show up to the meeting and/or event with bright faces and warm intentions, and…Voila! You’ve got free, quality childcare.
The mission statement also reads, “We see childcare as a political act…In order for any movement to succeed, its ideas must be passed on from generation to generation. The Childcare Collective works to make sure that children are enjoying themselves and are informed about the work that the parents are doing. We hope to help children situate themselves as valuable and important members of a community and a movement.” Whoa, imagine that! A bunch of politicized volunteers helping to build multi-generational communities and movements. And I’ve really started to see it. I see inspiring, organized women of color doing important work and I get to interact with their strong and independent children. And I wonder what these children will get out of our interactions. I dream about them taking up their parents’ struggles or their own and moving forward. And I’m grateful that I played a role, however small, in their and the movement’s development. There have been times when one of the kids I’m working with will start to feel a little antsy, they’ll say, “When’s my mom gonna come? I want to go home.” And even though these words are always a little painful for a childcare provider to hear, I cherish the opportunity to say, “I know you want to go home, but your mom is helping to make all of our lives a little bit better, it takes time. Here let’s play a game.”
There’s a lot of work to be done but the Childcare Collective is up to the challenge. They are trying to establish a stronger presence in the East Bay. They have recently started to help out with the Mandela Arts Center and Critical Resistance—both in Oakland. However, new and dedicated volunteers are a must! To become a Collective member, a volunteer must agree to:
-perform childcare at least once each month
-keep the Collective supplied with your current contact information
-return ALL phone calls to the Collective
-attend one orientation
-attend quarterly volunteer in-services and trainings
But the first and most important step is to contact the Collective. If you are interested in volunteering or your organization is in need of childcare, please call the Childcare Collective at 415.541.5039 or e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org
“The Childcare Collective hopes to play a part in building a movement that recognizes and prioritizes the voices and political agendas of women and mothers, especially women of color, low-income women, and immigrants. The needs of parents have traditionally not been recognized and parents’ access to quality childcare is sporadic at best.” The important thing to remember is that the Childcare Collective is not the movement. For the most part, the collective is comprised of younger educated people who come from some form of privilege. The beauty of it, though, is that these people have found a place for themselves and their talents in people of color led movements. But it’s important not to idealize the position of the Childcare Collective. They realize that these movements belong to the women of color who are leading them. We’re just here to watch the kids.