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Kids in Movements

I’m a vocal proponent of creating intergenerational movements. But, I confess, I haven’t always been. This topic didn’t become significant to me until I was in my mid-twenties and spending regular time at a San Francisco anarchist collective house that included a child. Rahula Janowski, the mother of that child and a longtime activist, was one of the first people to talk with me about intergenerationality and radical politics. In a 2007 article for Left Turn, she laid out her argument very persuasively:

Although outright hostility towards parents and children in radical left spaces is uncommon, there is an undercurrent of hostility or at least ambivalence about parents and children in many radical movements in the U.S. Meanwhile, the radical left in the U.S. is small, fractured, and struggling, and our communities of resistance are largely racially segregated, mono-generational, and unsustainable. One important way to build the strength of our communities of resistance, and through that build the strength of our movements for radical social change, is to develop multi-generational movement cultures that embrace and support parents, all kinds of families, and folks of all ages.

We still have a ways to go before we have radical political cultures in which most people stick around as they grow older and, particularly, as they have children. In activist scenes especially, people tend to “age out” by their thirties, if not earlier. And sustaining space for people to participate in movements in the later years of their lives remains a challenge in many radical contexts (and deserves much more discussion, I believe). But lately I’ve been excited to encounter more and more people who are serious about including kids and families in movements.

I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the most influential advocates for intergenerational movements (including Victoria Law, China Martens, Cynthia Oka, and others) are generally mothers. They bring sharp perspectives about the ways in which many radical initiatives – mostly unthinkingly, sometimes not – exclude children and the adults responsible for them. As well, they highlight the benefits of welcoming families in movement efforts, including more intentionality around caregiving activities, deepened relationship-building, new opportunities for organizing, more play and creativity, and greater participation and leadership from the women and gender non-conforming people who overwhelmingly tend to care for children.

To learn more from these kinds of perspectives, I recommend reading Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind edited by Victoria Law and China Martens and listening to this interview with the Halifax Motherhood Collective. Alexis Pauline Gumbs, China Martens, and Mai’a Williams have also just published a collection called Revolutionary Mothering and are currently touring. On the more abstract end, I suggest exploring materialist feminist work on social reproduction.

Some of the most tangible efforts to take up intergenerational movement-building in North America are city-based radical childcare collectives, many of which loosely coordinate through the Intergalactic Conspiracy of Childcare Collectives (check the website for links to specific collectives as well as resources). Closely collaborating with grassroots organizations, these collectives provide childcare for parents involved in political activities while developing broader kid-friendly movement culture. And sometimes these collectives organize kid-oriented spaces at larger radical gatherings, such as the annual Allied Media Conference in Detroit.

For firsthand reflections on childcare collective activities, I recommend this interview with a member of the Montreal Childcare Collective. For a practical guide to organizing kid-oriented spaces at activist events, see this resource manual that China Martens compiled. And for a quick run-down of basic ways to create intergenerational movements, check out these tips from Victoria Law.

The collaborative thinking of New York City’s Regeneración Childcare Collective has especially influenced how I approach intergenerational movement-building. As they powerfully write in their vision statement:

When movements provide people of all ages a way to participate in their own liberation – from the very young to the very old – they are capable of fantastic things. Intergenerational movements sustain themselves through periods of intense repression and regenerate over time. They develop profound collective memory, which allows each generation to learn from the experiences of those that came before. They offer more than a scene, which one dips into and out of on a whim, or a phase, which one ultimately abandons for more serious responsibilities. Intergenerational movements create cultures of resistance that people use to understand themselves, their communities, and collective action in the world throughout their entire lives.

How do you think about and practice intergenerational movement-building? What models have you learned from?


  1. Amelia April 11, 2016

    another reason to involve kids in movement building is because they are geniuses who are not bound by the social norms/expectations as much as adults and are therefore able to think of creative ideas for resistance.

  2. Chris April 11, 2016

    That’s an excellent point, Amelia! It reminds me of another great part of the vision statement from Regeneración:

    “Kids teach us that movement is a process–not a program–and that this process is playful, imaginative and creative, not just serious and rational. In turn, we teach kids that their play is a powerful tool they can and should cultivate throughout their lives, with serious implications for the world we inhabit. Interactions with kids produce another kind of politics, one that recognizes play as a crucial ingredient of any movement, and demolishes the walls that sequester it in childhood or bar it from our adult lives.”

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