The Future Generation
The Future Generation
Baltimore is a hard city for kids. Issues of racism, classism, and sexism trickle down to the most vulnerable within each oppressed group. Some of the hardest hit are always the children and, by extension, those who care for them (usually mothers, female relatives, and/or female workers). Caretaking in this society is an underpaid or unpaid task; few even question the invisible workload or lack of value assigned to taking care of children’s needs. Adding insult to injury is that those who live under the most trying conditions are often judged the hardest. Parents are blamed for not raising their children better when they struggle, and fall, under a system never meant for their success. Meanwhile, more institutional energy is expended in controlling the youth and punishing symptoms than in examining and treating the root causes of problems. We need to nurture our youth—all of our children—with equality, respect, and the other values that we wish them to exhibit. Instead, a system of crushing inequality has many stuck in its gears, trapped inside homes and insufficient schools and jobs—or chewed up and spit out onto the streets, into a jail cell, or to an early death. While the blue-light cameras (admitted failures and a waste of money) monitor the streets in distressed neighborhoods – youth that organize in a coalition of peer groups employing an “each one teach one” strategy for math skills and artistic expression are refused adequate funding for their programs and schools. More monitoring devices will probably be purchased, as well as more jail cells built, while a new plan has administrators paid to go door to door to ask the 50 percent of children who drop out to return to school. Yet the mayor turns Peer to Peer away (1). Why not instead invest in the positive empowered youth groups who are lobbying, even waging hunger strikes, for knowledge-based jobs and quality education? In my experience, many of the adult radicals who do address, organize, and unite against the injustices of our society are not doing enough to include children and their caretakers in the process. The idea that if a child isn’t “yours” he or she is not your responsibility is the norm. For example, many radical conference organizers think of providing for the attendants’ food, housing, transportation, and safety needs without considering childcare. Or if they do, it’s at the last minute, putting it in an excluded, hard-to-get-to space, understaffing it with overburdened childcare workers, and filling it with mainstream resources (like books with Disney characters), without providing the same kind of thought in programming that inspires the rest of the event. This approach simply reflects the social norms that adults involved in radical movements are working so hard to break. Instead of leaving the responsibility of childcare primarily on women—with those who cannot afford it unable to attend—and only looking for answers within the nuclear family, we need to increase the notion of societal obligation within extended support systems. * * * When my daughter became old enough to attend kindergarten, I started to look towards more mainstream means of support even though I didn’t agree with them because the subculture I was a part of was not strong enough to raise its children. I asked a kid on my street what she thought of her school and she didn’t like it and told me, “My teacher hits me.” When I tried to make an appointment to see the local Baltimore public school, they would not allow a parent to review the classroom. Looking into alternatives, I found that Montessori was all White and that the private school, which was diverse like the city, and did good things, was expensive. I found that as an alternative parent, you have to pay for freedom and respect. Those who can pay will get those things for their children. They will get the space for their children to explore and find themselves, the space they themselves (as parents) need as well, to explore and seek out their own interests, be it creative or economic. This is not right. I left this city for Minneapolis – a city with better resources for alternative child-raising but one where I was still poor and living in one of the poorest sections of town. My daughter was a minority as a very light skinned half-Latina raised by a White single mother, living in an all African-American and Native American neighborhood. She was not accepted by the other kindergarten-aged boys who played outside (girls are mostly kept inside more) and was even punched in the belly for being White. We did not have enough to eat that winter; we lived on a diet consisting too much of just rice and beans - which has scarred my daughter to this day to associate rice and beans with feeling money/food insecurity. I have become aware of how class plays into my life: when I fear doctors, it is because they often have insulted and mistreated us when we were on government programs. Similarly a father of Black children in Baltimore cannot give them the same amount of respect and freedom to be themselves. They are in danger when they leave home in a way that White children are not. Black children are more likely to be shot as well as harmed by the police: even an 8-year-old this year was put in handcuffs for riding an illegal motorbike. All of these issues must be addressed. We are not all the same, with the same set of privileges and issues. I have noticed a very anti-child slant within the anarchist movement and other primarily White and moderately privileged radical movements. Many people “don’t like” children and don’t see why they have to be in their environment. This is because they are used to age and class segregated spaces, where they don’t have to be aware or responsible for others once they are done with the indignity of their own childhood. I have done workshops on this issue: how parents in the radical “scene” are left behind, why others should care, and how they can help us. Many folks who have attended our workshop have re-examined the way they previously viewed parent and children’s issues, and some have gone on to organize and propose radical childcare support at other gatherings. Recently, my collaborator Vikki Law, who lives in NYC, organized childcare at her speaking event on Women Prisoners’ Resistance at Bluestockings Bookstore. Remembering a humiliating event years earlier when she came to a slideshow with her toddler, she asked REGENERATION (a radical childcare collective) if they would come do childcare for the two participants who emailed ahead to ask for it. It worked out well and was the first time something like that had happened at that location. I believe we need our own radical childcare collective in Baltimore, with clear anti-oppression objectives. We need our own collective to continue these dialogues, build, and teach others – so that parents and caretakers are not left to bear this weight alone. It is the energy of the childfree I am most interested in. Parents and children need allies. As a radical parent I have less experience with organizing childcare than with parenting, but I did successfully organize Kids Corner at the past two Mid-Atlantic Radical Bookfairs (2006 and 2007). If we want to work on creating a better world we must work together towards building bridges and supporting everyone’s rights, including those of children and their caregivers. I hope to bring people together for a radical childcare conference in Baltimore that could result in a radical childcare collective of primarily child-free allies. This collective’s purpose would be to provide the concrete support that parents in the movement require to stay active and involved. Some parents may find that they have the ability to get involved in social change for the first time and with the right childcare infrastructure, their children would be involved, too. Radical youth and parents need allies and community support the same way all groups do. We cannot fight oppression alone. Supporting parents’ and children’s issues means investing in the future. “Lay plans for the accomplishment of the difficult before it becomes the difficult; make something big by starting with it small. Difficult things in the world must have their beginnings in the easy; big things must have their beginnings in the small.” – Tao Te Ching China Martens is the author of The Future Generation: a zine-book for subculture parents, kids, friends, & others published locally by Atomic Book Company. For more information she can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org 1. www.p2pyouthenterprises.org - Peer 2 Peer youth enterprises is a coalition of youth-run organizations engaged in peer–to-peer learning and mentoring and the pursuit of their right to compete in a knowledge-based economy.
China Martens is interested in radical working class/low income/no income/poor white anti-racist history. Martens is a co-editor of “Don’t Leave Leave Your Friends Behind: Concrete Ways to Support Families in Social Justice Movements and Communities” and currently collaborating with Alexis Pauline Gumbs and Mai’a Williams to create “This Bridge Called My Baby: Legacies of Radical Mothers.”