Monday, December 8, 2008

Creating Child-friendly Anarchist Space: How to Support Parents & Children's Participation at Anarchist Gatherings

Suggestions and tips from various parents on the Anarchist Parenting List Serv:

from the Kidz Corner @ The Mid-Atlantic Radical Bookfair

Radical Childcare is a Radical Tactic:
By turning the system upside down, and learning how to work together to support everyone’s rights, we include the young in the change we want to see now.

1- Start planning for childcare at the beginning of the event planning and not at the last minute.
2- Children should be welcome around the event. Providing childcare doesn’t mean the children will be unwelcome other places and have to go there, it’s a resource and an option.
3- Space for childcare must be accessible and close to the main activities, the more visible the better!
4- Children and caretakers can use this space to play, chill out and meet others.
5- Prioritize the care of the young. Even if there aren’t many children this time, creating a space is a great practice for next time. No matter how many kids come, it’s important! Sometimes the room can be empty, then suddenly fill up.
6- Decorate with inspirational art, make the space attractive and friendly. We made a banner together, my daughter outlined words and kids and volunteers colored it in.
7- Don’t let people store other stuff in the kid’s space, it’s not safe. For instance free food was stored in the Kidz Corner, people coming in to get food didn’t look out for the kids underfoot and also dropped a container and glass fell near a baby's head and all over the ground.
8- ALSO, don’t have people who aren’t parents/caretakers/childcare volunteers or somehow connected to the Kids’ Space wander in and use it as a hang-out.
9- Ask local parents, groups, and those who might attend: How can you support them? Ask the children too! Get ideas from parents and kids, create dialogue with radical parents and radical community, pull in all the resources you can.
10- BUT – don’t ask the parents to do childcare (although parents' participation should still be welcome) Parents always have to do childcare, so there is nothing radical about that. This is a service to those whose children are old/comfortable enough to be left so the parents can go to a workshop, read, or participate without their attention divided and a chance for the child-free to participate with children.
11- Radical childcare also means respectful radical programming for the kids. The ideals of the larger event should be able to be used for the young on their own level.
12- Make it fun! Make it different levels of ways to be involved (for the child-free), from volunteering to just coming in and playing – the more energy the better.
13- Take care of the kids. Make sure each child is attended and the environment is safe.
14- Take care of the childcare volunteers. No one should ever be left alone or overburdened.
15- Get the word out! Super important! Every time the event is mentioned – whatever the kidz program (childcare, space, or events) should be mentioned too! Otherwise people will not know to bring their children. Knowing there is childcare can bring people who otherwise wouldn’t have attended.

Ideas in organizing

1. Interaction with the larger event is crucial. For example: volunteers were gathered, food was provided, space was found, security was aware of children and had talked about their concerns, etc. Working in coordination of the whole event makes the children’s program strong and not marginalized as only a (overburdened) parents concern.
2. Having a person to keep an eye on the room for the day creates consistency. The first year it was just me. The second year there were 2 of us, each taking a separate day. (I did a lot on my own as the person who knew the most since I was a parent but I would like to learn more the collective process.)
3. Create a scheduling volunteer sheet. Also a separate sign in sheet with name, age, parents contact, and any relevant thing you need to know. The second year we had a method of checking kid to parent by having matching key-chains. Both years it was hard, with everything going on, to keep track of checking kids in and out and I am interested in how others do it.
4. At least two childcare volunteers in room at all time – who have previously been screened, you signed up, you know who they are. Ideally both of them, but at least one of them must be experienced with childcare. I always try to pair up an experienced person with an inexperienced one.
5. Have a sign up sheet for extra volunteers. There is a lot of energy from folks that sign up the day of the event.
6. You don’t need to be experienced with kids in order to be a childcare volunteer. Having different levels of experiences provides a chance to learn skills and honestly it’s the young, and often inexperienced, that has the most energy!
7. If there are not enough childcare volunteers or if you don’t feel comfortable with providing childcare at least you can use this space for children and adults to gather, play, interact, and organize their own childcare swaps if they like.
8. Plan to have back up– people you can call for back up childcare and in case of an emergency. For Kidz Corner, I could call security if I had a problem (and who also knew CPR) plus I had numbers of back up parents and tablers who would come and help if I needed them
9. I heard that DC Radical Childcare Collective has a rule that always 2 volunteers take a child to the bathroom. That sounds like a professional good idea (for safety of child when dealing with strangers).
10. I could organize easier because my daughter was grown and this was more of a political issue to me then a personal issue of need. I think it's ideal for an organizer to be able to co-ordinate between radical parents (I called on my friends as I'd forgotten a lot of stuff about young children’s needs) where ever they are and the childfree radical community at meetings.
11. You grow as you go. The first year (that we had ever had childcare at an anarchist event in Baltimore, as far as I know, and I had ever planned such a thing) I talked to people a lot more about why and how – the second year was a fantastic experience with every community resource at my fingertips. Thank you Red Emma's!

Ideas for stuff to do

1- nap space, snacks, craft space, active space
2- comfy chair for nursing mother
3- workshops for kids and workshops by kids – yoga, radical children’s story-time, singer played songs for kids, 8 year old taught button making to older people who enjoyed it a lot.
4- A Kidz Parade can be a great way for kids and larger event to interact - really fun! Kidz of all ages dressed up and marched around outside and in the bookfair to the cheers of vendors. Our parades tended to be rather surreal and spontaneous. “More Fun” was the first theme; “Book Monster” was the second years. Originally it was a kids idea, and I usually have little to do with this, (would feel scared to plan it) just help facilitate the experience, when there is enough kids and adults ready to bust out.
5- Dress up clothes, face paints, paper table to sit around and draw on
6- Keep the spirit of the larger event, whatever the parents can get out of it, the kids should be able to enjoy and pick up similar skills and so forth. A quality rad program for rad kids!

This last year at the Anarchist Bookfair in SF:

We saw a huge response to the availability of a "family Space" where people had a comfortable zone to operate on completely kid-freindly terms for a while with their own kids, they don't want to get rid of them, just to give them a fun/calm/easy-to-handle environment, this included a lot of friends of families and passersby stopping to "play" which was awesome. The need for an actual Drop off point was actually pretty low at the bookfair. At most events like this, you are mostly dealing with people who (thankfully) are used to having there kids do what they do, and not just because they have to, but because it's healthy and fun, and I think the whole point should be to work towards making all possible events operate this way so that there isn’t such a thing as a "family space" because that is all "space" really is and our surrounding community, whether we know them or not, should be able to help in the moment if its needed ( i.e. you are participating in a discussion group and you don't want to have to stop in the middle of every sentence to talk with your child about this/that, it's ok because everyone present is comfortable being around children aka "a village"). Obviously that doesn’t realistically apply to a lot of situations right now. Also, a larger need for a full on drop off point may exist in certain situations (think non-permit protests) more than others (anarchist bookfairs, camping trips, concerts).

Potential activities: some of what we've done at the SF anarchist bookfair in years past:

• decorate a t-shirt...we provided fabric markers and various sizes of reclaimed (thrifted) t-shirts
• beads, beads, beads
• playdough, with kitchen utensils for toys with it
• big paper on the walls with paints and/or markers
• big leggos for the littler kids
• -the folks who did the kids space this year had little tote bags to
decorate with fabric markers, and I think they were also decorating
little flower pots.

Politicized activities at other gatherings/conferences:

At the USSF, the Children’s Social Forum had:
• Video making workshop for older kids interviewing folks “why did you decide to come to the social forum” and editing it into a 15 minute video. See the video at:
• Kids contribute sentences to make the Children’s Bill of Rights
• Play with clay, make houses and learn about gentrification
• 9-11 year olds planned and presented a presentation to the adults

At the 2008 AMC, the Kids' Track had:

• block printing
• street art (learning to cut a stencil and safely spraypaint it)
• writing letters as a form of political activism

From (the zine) Moving Towards a Family Friendly Radical Movement

One thing I've seen work well is creating a log/sign in
sheet where parents can sign the kids in and write down all pertinent info
and special needs, I've seen this include the category of -good ways to calm
down a specific child- or -things that comfort them-. Very useful. If
something specific and notable happens, like a tummyache or a fall or
something, it can be documented in the log. That helps with the volunteer
change-overs and keeping new people up to speed with things that have been
going on, etc.

Also, sometimes there is a need for a one on one person for really small
children or special needs so it helps if that is a possibility for parents
to be able to set up on the front end.

And the last thing is, if this is a conference or something where workshops
are offered, always ask presenters if they want to do something for the kids
as well, like a mini workshop. It rarely occurs to people and lots of times
people that like children are happy to do a thing for kids as an extra.

And--please don't make childcare an afterthought. It's better not to offer
it if the childcare is going to fall through, be unsafe, or suck.

from the Allied Media conference - Revolutionary Parenting Caucus.

Here are two of the suggestions we came up with about making an event be child-friendly:

1.At the start of an event, let the audience know that kids and kid noise is both okay and welcome.

2. Think about how the conference/event is helping parents/kids/families get to them. Remember that if we're flying, bussing, taking the train, etc., we're often paying for more than one seat (in addition to taking time off work, having to pay for TWO-(or more than two) meals instead of one at each mealtime, etc). How are the organizers working to make the event accessible for lower-income parents/families? (two mothers realized that they couldn't come to the AMC because they just couldn't afford the cost of travel. Both lived in places where it wasn't really feasible to get a ride from someone already going or hop on a group bus

And some more ideas (from individual parents):

1. Organize games for kids to play together (non-competitive) or art supplies and a space specifically for the kids. We want children of radical parents to become friends with each other and parents to be able to talk to other adults. For actions, have all the kids write "Baby Bloc" or "Kid Bloc" on their signs.
2. It is really helpful for organizers to direct parents with strollers to a safe space before a planned arrest situation. We experienced this once- we had marched through Kent with the Portage Peace group and as we approached the bridge, an awesome organizer pointed all the parents with strollers off the road and onto the sidewalk because they were going to block the bridge and risk arrest to do it.
3. Tell smokers if they have to smoke around kids to at least point their firesticks toward themselves instead of sticking them out at kids' eye level.
4. Honor kids somewhere in your readings if it is at possible to do so. Show kids some positive attention, by introducing them, hugging them, playing with them, giving parents a break now and then.
5. Keep toddler-chasers company... If you see a parent doing nothing at an event but chasing a toddler around, it probably means the parent planned on participating more in the event but cannot. Parenting can be pretty lonely especially when you're around people you can't talk to.

How do we integrate kids and adults & what are our expectations in how to interact with each other as a community?

**As someone whose kid is not often without a parent, I find great comfort in
knowing that when I leave him in a childcare zone the people there will call
me at the drop of a hat. That makes me more free to get involved - not
worrying about whether my kid is wanting me. I think that it would be great
if, in situations where kids are dropped off, there are a couple of extra
cell phones or 2-way radios for parents who don't have cell phones as well
as a very bold policy about calling parents upon first request or other
expressed need of the child.

I also really like spaces where kids and adults are integrated rather than
just having drop-off, but sometimes that doesn't work or isn't appropriate
(whatever that means!).

* * *
Personally, what i would love to see more than babysitting or anything
else is a discussion or hand-out, some kind of statement on community
standards relating to children. i realize that could be complicated to
get consensus on depending on process, but it would be cool.

the thing that stresses me out the most about taking my baby places is
having to worry about whether other people (adults) are willing to deal
with their own comfort issues. i am always responsible for my kid's
safety and needs, unless someone else agrees to take care of them for a
while, but i wish i could let him roam free and explore without having to
stop him from touching other people or their stuff. i am fine with other
people not wanting to be touched by him, but i wish i could assume that if
it wasn't fine they would deal with it themselves or at least ask me to
deal with it without treating me like i had done something wrong. i would
like this in all public settings, but at least in radical settings that
are not exclusively adult it would be really nice.

i would also like to know what people's expectations are in regard to
noise. i take my little one out of lectures and meetings if he is being
so loud that it's really disrupting what is happening, but it's hard not
to be concerned if he just shrieks loudly occasionally -- i would like to
know whether organizers or people in attendance are concerned about that
sort of thing or not.

i had another idea, too...providing something like activity packages,
snacks or a toy library that people could pick things up from to to help
support kids who would be going around to different activities with their
parents could be cool.

* * *

I wish adults could handle themselves around kids. I don't mean play with or hang out with my
son, but hold their own boundaries, communicate what's going on for
them, and let me know. It seems one of the places where I have to
hold other people's boundaries. And that feels gross to me. If I
touched someone and it wasn't ok, I'd expect them to speak up and be
direct or stop me before it happened - if I were giving a hug for
example. And I want people to do that with kids, even if it's more
challenging for them - it's their boundary.

Now my son's 10, he's a pretty good judge of who's going to be ok,
but adults behave in unexpected ways and that is confusing and

Part of that is because we are a very inclusive community and so we
get a really wide variety of people.

My opinion is that what's really needed is networks of people we
trust banding together and consistency around that. For example,
people willing to step up: it would be great if folks would step up
for kid care regularly so that they can form bonds with the kids and
the kids can feel safe with them. That way we open the circles of
trust and support in real, grounded ways.

It would be great if parent-allies who are not parents formed bonds
with children to help us hold space at events. For example there are
adults that I know that will step up and work with my son if
something happens to/with him when he's out of my sight. I can trust
them to help him and speak up if he's been confronted or done
something where other adults or kids are around as well as to step in
if he, say, nearly steps in poison oak.

I'd love to have a term stronger than "ally" for people who don't
just care, but are willing to step up - allies are people who
identify, I want people who are willing to act. Maybe making buttons
for them to wear at events so that kids know who to go to if
something's up, but their Adult on Duty (parents, guardians,
overseers) are not in immediate eye sight. And that would build
trust. It would be even more awesome if the kids could give out the
buttons so that it was clear that they trusted the adults in question.

What I hear myself asking for is acknowledged commitment from my
peers to support me and my family in ways that I can hear.
Reasonable, yes. Do-able? I don't know.

End Note: Mutual Aid/Mutual Respect

Parents: Parents and Children can be a high needs group of folks, be careful not to burn out your allies. Be responsible and on time with picking up your children when you say you will or call.

Allies: Be aware that radical parents often make progressive alternative parenting choices outside the mainstream which make them more vulnerable to criticism from society, family members, as well as the predominately child-free radical movement.

THANK YOU Steph and Britt /CrimethInc! (They asked for advice on how to support & include parents and children at the CrimethInc convergence) AND thank you to everyone else who wants to know as well!

1 comment:

bint alshamsa said...

You know, I think it might be easier to recruit folks to engage in child-care during events if it's possible for them to receive recordings or transcripts of what occurred while they were volunteering with the children. I don't know if that's feasible in most settings but maybe it's something worth considering.