By Kjerstin Johnson
A Q&A with Victoria Law and China Martens
Whether you organize at national conferences or around the kitchen table, you should pick up the new anthology Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind: Concrete Ways to Support Families in Social Justice Movements and Communities (PM Press). Seven years in the making, this book is full of tales, testimonies, and tips that caretakers will relate to and nonparents can learn from. Coeditors China Martens (pioneering mama zinester behind The Future Generation) and Victoria Law (who recently published her second edition of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women) were nice enough to take some time to share some starter’s tips below.
What is one barrier to making events family-inclusive?
Victoria Law: There’s a Western capitalist concept that parents are solely responsible for their children. Many feel that children don’t “belong” anywhere but in spaces specifically designated for children—amusement parks, toy stores, playgrounds, etc.
This is not how families are seen in other parts of the world. In Hong Kong (where my family is from), parents (and grandparents) take children with them everywhere. At the 2007 Zapatista Women’s Encuentro, children ran in and out of meetings, they were breastfed by their mothers, and some even addressed the hundreds of attendees about their realities. Those children aren’t shunted into corners, but are part of everyday life—including political work—and learn from being part of the world.
What do nonparents overlook when it comes to family-inclusive organizing?
China Martens: There isn’t any one-size-fits-all answer. That said, here are some points to remember: All issues are also parents’ and children’s issues. If you do not see parents and children around you, ask why. Planning for family inclusion needs to start at the beginning, not at the last minute. Remember to discuss childcare issues and possible solutions collectively.
What are some basic steps to make organizing family-inclusive?
VL: Talk with families—both caregivers and kids. Find out what they need to participate! Some need childcare, others need people to help with their children in the same room. Remember that not everyone’s needs are the same.
Make sure that the organizing spaces are safe and accessible for everyone. Caregivers should not have to worry about their children’s safety during meetings and events. If meetings are several hours long and no childcare or help with children is provided, it becomes impossible for caregivers to attend.
CM: Having food or help with homework allows parents with children in school to attend. If you have multiple points of entry and tasks with varying time commitment, people can join, lead, and stay involved in ways that work for themselves and their families.
What are three of your favorite activities to do with children?
CM: Breaking the ice by sharing an object I like, for example, a little plastic animal or art supplies. Meeting children where they are—even while holding an infant, you see the world in a different kind of way, you notice what they notice. Going for a walk: Once, when Victoria’s daughter was very young, she and I went for a walk and there were fireflies and we talked about our favorite movies, and it was in that moment that I realized she was my friend.
What do feminist conversations about parenthood often leave out?
CM: They frequently leave out parenting entirely! Or it has been a white, privileged women’s conversation between those who have economic privilege and multiple resources to support them in their parenting.
What’s the best thing about being a parent and an organizer/activist?
VL: I don’t know if there’s one best thing, so I’ll give an example: Last year, my 11-year-old daughter, whom I’ve dragged to prison-related meetings, conferences, and discussions for years, wrote about Dharun Ravi’s sentence for a class. While many of her classmates advocated that Ravi spend life in prison or be executed, my daughter offered an alternative that looks at trying to repair the harm he’s caused: For the rest of his life, he should have to volunteer with LGBTQ organizations and work with LGBTQ people. When children are included in social justice work, they can understand and explore possibilities of how to create a truly transformational, liberated world.