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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Fall Great Plains Anarchist Network Caucus from a Parenting Perspective (2006)

I’m writing this piece because I rarely hear how anarchist conferences or gatherings (that don’t include militant direct action or some sort of protest activity) go after they happen. There’s always a good deal of media before an event to get people there, but little is written afterwards. I’ve had even more trouble finding people’s perspectives on how childcare, personal bonding or networking went. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that protest action is sexier than who played with the kids. Similarly, certain activities are seen as more important and thus more glorified and covered than others; activities which oftentimes fall into traditional gender roles.
So, here is a reportback from an anarchist gathering that did not include any illegal activity nor any public protest, at least while I was there.
GPAN (Great Plains Anarchist Network) is a networking tool for anarchists in the Great Plains. The contingent I was a part of had never been to a GPAN function and we hadn’t really ever worked with other Great Plains anarchists for that matter. So, we tried to go into things with little to no expectations. My partner and I brought our 3 year old with some reservations but from the description of the schedule it sounded like activities were being planned for kids and that childcare would be provided.
Just the fact that announcements promoting the caucus stated that there was childcare made this gathering a possibility for us. Usually if we can’t find any information regarding kids we just chalk it up to yet another thing that just isn’t doable for us right now. So, if you are planning an event and feel like it’s important to have parents there it’s very important to mention that childcare will be available.
If you don’t know any families that are coming or don’t anticipate their attendance, you can still post something such as: “For questions regarding childcare call this number.” Maybe no one will take you up on it, but it’s a good habit to develop. Hopefully this relatively young movement will see more parents and families in the coming years that will take you up on this offer.
Once you have put the childcare offer out there (like the SD Radicals did) I think it is very important that whoever is working on this get in touch with any families coming. I prefer a phone call, but everyone’s different. Some kind of direct contact is important.
Families and kids are so diverse that simply designating people to be “childcare” will probably lead to some problems. We all have a whole spectrum of needs, interests, abilities, etc. The childcare needed for an infant is much different from that of a toddler or 5 yr old for example. Even with kids at similar ages the care given can vary. For example, is the kid vegetarian? What are their interests? Painting? Tag? Banging on pots and pans? The better you know the kids the better you can plan childcare that best suits their unique qualities. This is one thing that did not really happen. I talked to organizers via email but they didn’t have very clear ideas of what was going to happen as far as kids were concerned. We also never talked directly with the person in charge of childcare, who also ultimately didn’t come to the conference. We’ll get to that later though.
When we got to the conference we were all amazed at how warm and welcoming people were. We knew a grand total of two people before the conference but the GPANdas we didn’t know were very nice and very down to earth. They played with Obsidian and acknowledged him when he spoke to them, which is huge. People who respect kids get my respect in return. It was great. The organizers were the same- very warm and outgoing. This is more than I can say about most other anarchist functions I have attended.
The original idea for the caucus was to camp out, but a freak rainstorm ruined those plans. We moved camp inside to an old church turned arts/community space.
It worked out pretty well in the end. The kids camp did not end up happening and that is of course understandable, though I am suspicious of what was actually planned for that because in its place came basically nothing in the way of childcare. My understanding is that the person in charge of providing childcare totally flaked and didn’t even show up to the caucus. I will say that some of the organizers were very kind and concerned with the situation and of course it’s hard to adjust to someone just totally dropping out, but in the end more could have been done. Like usual, it ended up being us, the parents, finding people to watch Obsidian.
This really isn’t a huge problem, in fact we’re used to it, but it is frustrating when we come in with expectations that childcare will be taken care of at least to an extent and then it isn’t.
Childcare ended up being us putting out general requests to caucus goers for help before the beginning of each workshop or event planned.
This is what we usually do when there isn’t childcare at an event. Also like usual, it ends up being a handful of wonderful people taking on childcare for the majority of the event. In this case it was primarily three people that stepped up- two women and one man. To those three- you are incredible and true allies, understanding the meaning of the often spoken words of “solidarity” and “mutual aid.” Between those three and a bit of help amongst a few others, Whitney and I rotated being with Obsidian ourselves, which is also usually the reality of things. This can be a bit stressful and it gets old trying to get people to do things. Now, this always brings up misinterpretations of us as parents.
“Don’t you want to spend time with your child?” Some might think.
Of course we do. But we don’t have to drive 10 hours to spend time with him; we can do that at home. When we go to a conference we go there with the intention of doing what the conference was intended for: building friendships, sharing skills, developing strategy, etc. We usually do end up spending a good amount of time outside of workshops and meetings to be with our kid, just because we miss him and he misses us but we do want to be able to attend things as well. Also, we don’t expect people to take care of us completely, we always want to help out with childcare ourselves and make accommodations to other families.
So, back to the conference- Though ad hoc and improvised the whole time, it ended up working out ok. People did step up (albeit only a handful) and hang out with Obsidian for a pretty good amount of the caucus. We were able to go to most of the things we wanted to go to; however, but as was mentioned earlier the help we got was from the same people, mostly women. This is something I have seen at every gathering I’ve been to. To the men that watched Obsidian- you fucking rock. Men spending time with children is one of the best ways of challenging patriarchy, both within yourself and in the child. When Obsidian plays with almost all women and sees the men off having their meeting he learns that men are not nurturing and that their role in kids’ lives is as a distant disciplinarian as well as the one who makes all the decisions.
So, the lesson here is that if you plan childcare, actually plan it.
At least put up a big piece of paper with time slots for people to sign up for. When people sign up, notice who is volunteering. Encourage men, singles, others who generally do not help with childcare to try it out. (side note: of course, some people just aren’t comfortable in this role and I respect that and don’t want someone watching my kid who is going to be resentful of it. At the same time if you are uncomfortable around the kiddos, that’s probably something you should be examining and figuring out why that’s the case.)
Despite talks of other families coming, Obsidian was the only kid. For that reason we don’t expect some grand, elaborate kids’ agenda, but we do think that things could have been planned more. Organizers also could have helped by bringing art supplies, books or other activities for him. I think all of us but Obsidian were sick of duck, duck, goose by the end of the weekend. If there had been other activities for him besides the few we brought along (we would have brought more but we were told that it would be taken care of) he could have had more personal play time, offering breaks to the few doing childcare.
So, in the end, the kindness and generosity of the people at the caucus made our time there a really positive one and we’ll definitely be making it to the next caucus if at all possible. . The anarchist parenting workshop was the best attended one Whitney has ever lead. Along with many people coming, there was also a good representation of people from different background regarding kids and parenting. Usually it’s just a handful of parents that come to these workshops. Along with other parents there were also single people, roommates and close friends of parents and also people who recognize that they are uncomfortable around children and wanted to start the process of changing that. Everyone who attended was thoughtful and genuinely interested in the topic. It was very inspiring to see so many people truly reaching out to us and other parents and kids. Also, I know that the organizers worked very hard to make the event a successful one and I think they did, but there were definite flaws as far as the inclusion of families is concerned. I do appreciate the effort people made and the dedicated few that played with Obsidian and helped us out. These things don’t necessarily come naturally to non-parents and so that’s why I am writing this. It comes from a place of love and a belief that within GPAN we are working with people who care about these issues. I think this is maybe more important than anything- that people there really wanted to know what to do to make the caucus more inclusive. I’m hoping this essay is one way of holding up my end of that commitment. Thank you to everyone who helped in one way or another and to everyone that made us feel included. May anarchist events continue to improve and grow to bring in people of varying privileges and backgrounds.
Love and solidarity,
Clayton, Whitney and Obsidian

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