Whose City? KID(Z) CITY!

Whose City? KID(Z) CITY!

SINE: Early Saturday morning, St John's Church, also known as the 2640 Space, was beginning to hum with the sounds of the City From Below.  People bustled behind book tables, served up food and coffee, began contemplating neoliberalism and resistance; everywhere was hustle and buzz.  I didn’t know what the day would bring, and I didn’t know that Kid(z) City was actually going to be the best imaginable way to start it.



That morning, two kids were occupying Kid(z) City – Siu Loong and Pop.  Siu Loong’s mom, Vikki Law, author of Resistance Behind Bars, was participating in a panel about Prisons and Policing.  And Pop’s dad, Dayonan, a member of the United Workers, a worker-led worker’s economic justice and human rights movement in Baltimore. 


I spent the first few hours of Kid(z) City amongst the Zapatista bordados, Sheros coloring books, snacks and art supplies playing a pink guitar which was missing a string with Siu Loong.  Later, I drew this strange picture of a flying cat creature and asked Pop to give it a name.  He said with absolute matter-of-fact certainty, “His name is Butt Butt Booty Butt.”  It was perfect then that the first song I played for the radical singalong was Kimya Dawson’s song, Alphabutt.  We had so much fun singing about farts, we just played that song over and over!


Later, in the afternoon, I happened upon the Exploding Seed Time Machine story led by Tom Kertes of the United Workers.  The room was packed!  Donned with their one-of-a-kind time machine hats, the kids were making their trip with Harriet (Tubman) escaping the slave plantation.  Later on, I also hung out with Kid(z) City outside for the Genderful World! workshop with Owen, Abby and Jacob.  In a genderful world, boys can be ballerinos, we can paint pictures of our dreamselves, and we can wear whatever gendered clothing we damn well please! 


The importance of Kid(z) City to building an inclusive radical conference was paramount.  To me, exploring the City From Below meant exploring the ways in which marginalized city dwellers can be, not only a part, but in charge, of shaping their environment, their lives and their destinies.  Sure, having childcare at a conference is about convenience, compassion, and kindness.  But politically, its about allowing the space for caretakers, especially womyn, to be a part of the conference and to actually involve, not just preoccupy, children in the struggle for Radical-evolution.  It is power that allows us to choose which voices to hear, and which voices to silence.  Children are not only the future, they are the present too.  Their voices need to be heard, no matter how loud, weird sounding or disruptive they seem to be.  It was unbelievably rewarding to work towards creating a space for those voices to boom!


HARRIET: The day before the conference we cleaned and rearranged the space for childcare. The space was  in great need of some cheering up. Wind chimes, cloth hangings, posters, rugs, pillows, throw blankets and lamps were brought in to brighten and make the space more welcoming. We loaded the room’s only table with books, crayons, paper, markers, games, jump ropes, a frisbee, sewing supplies, paint (both for paper and faces) and other miscellaneous activity supplies. At the opening panel on Friday night, we claimed a part of the main room for KID(z) CITY. The task was to make a banner that would announce our city to visitors for the next two days. There were two people who just arrived from Toronto, they were about an hour early for the panel discussion, so we chatted and sewed together. Many people’s hands worked on our banner and made it the unique artwork that marked the entrance of KID(z) CITY.


There was a special brunch Sunday morning that was supposed to take place at Participation Park. Unfortunately, it was raining too hard to hold it there. The worm bin show-and-tell and seed bomb making were to take place inside at the rain location. There were no takers for these activities. So we held the activities back at the main location a few hours later, after the regular conference was back in session. It was a lot of fun and there was some wonderful enthusiasm about the worms and composting and about seed bombing the neighborhood.


Later we held a sidewalk exploration fairyland extravaganza that was delightful. The energy from this workshop did not end until all the children went home. In some cases the children protested their leaving and said they couldn’t wait to come back. All in all, it was a beautiful weekend!


I want to continue to think about access to spaces by parents and children. We should be thinking: how would our communities benefit or be different if these voices, that are so often missing in our conversations and our events, were heard? It’s not a favor that we're are providing as people without kids to those who do. It is our privilege, and it benefits us, too. Since the coordination of childcare tends to fall on the women of our society, women’s voices, mothers’ voices, but also father’s and others’ are missing from so many of the events I attend.


More and more I am noticing this absence, as well as my own ease in moving through my day not having to worry if spaces are unfriendly to children or how people will react to kids in my care. I think that as we seek a more just society using the principles of anarchism, feminism, racial justice and others we cannot leave out the voices of parents, aunties, uncles, grandparents, children and others. It will be difficult and it will require a lot of learning on my part (and maybe your part too), but it will be worth it.


CHINA: The Children’s programming (7 workshops, 2 of them all-ages) turned out exceedingly well, and was enjoyed by all! We integrated the themes of the bigger conference into our own programs. It was also a chance for all ages to mingle and work together to share care and support everyone’s needs. Said one local mother “I was impressed with how into it the children were and how into the children, the volunteers were.”


During the rainy Saturday we mostly stayed inside our basement headquarters. Jenny Sage’s “Pockets and Patches” class had children and adults gasping  “oh!” and “ahh!” as she showed how tennis shoes could become part of shirts and that pants could turn into skirts. “But no matter how wonderful something is,” I said as I dragged out our collection of boxes into the tiny stairwells outside for two restless “bored” youngsters to create their robot/spaceship box city within, “not everyone is going to want to do it.” Owen, another childcare provider, chimed in, “And that’s OK, right?”


When the sun came out on Sunday, we were glad to expand into the courtyard where our workshops took place in the glorious spring sunshine.


KID(z) CITY had constant Spanish to English translation throughout the weekend and one Spanish speaking girl, Lupita, who traveled from North Carolina with El Kilombo and her family.


We pushed the norms in other ways too. When a little boy tried to pull a pink ribbon off Owen’s head, saying that he shouldn’t wear it, Owen said that he liked to wear a pink ribbon and that boys can wear anything they like. This example soon led to the child deciding he would like to wear a pink ribbon on his head too. In such an environment, many different discussions came up and were explored in ways one doesn’t always see in other places.


We had some difficulties of course. For example, (although translation was widely cited as something many were impressed with and enjoyed) we had to scramble to find Spanish translators for each shift: sending someone upstairs to ask for a translator or patching together what we could from other bilingual volunteers, or the friends around us.  We also needed to be more organized in some ways. It would have helped to stress pre-registration, to have had a volunteer orientation, and to print out a set of guidelines for everyone. We’ve had a lot of discussions, on what worked and what we could improve for next time, which continued after the weekend was over.


In fact, organizing together contained so much excitement, inspiration, brainstorming new ideas and putting them into practice in ways that we haven’t seen before that we have decided not to stop. We have decided to keep meeting as a radical childcare collective. 


Like my co-presenter Elliot said, “Doing childcare is a chance to put your politics into practice.” At the end of the conference, two people said to me, “Next conference I go to, I am definitely going to volunteer to do childcare!” 


Contact: childcarefrombelow@gmail.com