If there aren’t babies and grandmas, it’s not my revolution.

7 May

Intergenerational movements for social justice are crucial. They are not optional.  This is something I believe to my very core.

Becoming a parent has opened my eyes to the many ways we self-destruct by pushing elders, children, and parents out of our actions, meetings, and events. I know communities can do better, and I have seen many communities–particularly in indigenous immigrant and low-income communities of color–set the example.

Below are my observations for steps we can all take to make our communities, organizations, and collective spaces more open to comrades of all ages.

Slow down. “Activist pace” alienates a lot of folks, not limited to parents, children, and elders. The kind of change most of us are talking about is going to take a very long time, even if we organize late at night and through the weekends. Slowing down is good for everyone, and it allows people balancing school, work, childcare, after school activities, fun time, health issues, medical appointments, and self care to participate in more than just the periphery.

In the street medic community, we use the saying, “Go slow to go smooth, go smooth to go fast.” For the broader activist community, I think this can be, “Go slow to be inclusive, be inclusive to go fast.” The more perspectives and people we have working for our liberation the faster we will win.

Lighten up. Kids are going to make noises and interrupt. Elders may not have the same vocabulary or way of participating in meetings. There is only one thing to do about this: Learn to work with it. Spend time with people outside of your age group, and do it often. Learning to communicate across generations is an invaluable skill.

Diversify how you think of leadership and talent. What ways are people invited to contribute to projects and community? How does that exclude people? Most models of leadership are based on dominant identities (white, male, cis, hetero, able-bodied, wealthy, etc). They are also typically based on adults around the age of 30.

While children in particular may not be able to fill the roles of a “typical” leader, they have a lot to contribute. For example, the Unicorn can diffuse a tense meeting faster than any ethical communication trained facilitator. Another child I have worked with was able to create the best street theater concepts around.

Elders are not only leaders, they are leaders with a heck of a lot of context and experience. They know how to tackle many of the tasks we get stuck on with half the technology.

See these skills and value these leaders, too.

Look out for everyone. Different age groups have different needs. They are usually pretty easy to meet, but require a little forethought and planning.

Think about basic needs

  1. Things to eat and drink (not just coffee and donuts)
  2. Private spaces for nursing/pumping/diaper changes (folks might choose to not use them, but sometimes it is hard to do these things in a room full of people even if you don’t care if others see what you are doing).
  3. Bathrooms that are accessible
  4. Private spaces to attend to medical and personal needs
  5. Select spaces with places to sit

Plan activities accordingly

  1. Have activities for children that are fun and relevant to the cause. I want my baby to grow up in the struggle, not sitting in the next room coloring Barbies.
  2. Make quiet spaces if things run long so that kiddos can unwind or take naps
  3. Take breaks for snacks, bathroom, and personal time with regularity. Encourage people to take time when they need it.
  4. If activities involve lots of moving, make options for people that cannot do so, like having break out groups come to them, or allowing people to participate from chairs.

Make a supportive environment (i.e. no mean mugging someone with a crying baby, call out ageist “they are just old” type comments, etc). Welcome the elders and youth.

Make sure you have a space that is physically safe, comfortable, and as accessible as possible for folks of many ages and abilities. Above all, be clear about what you are offering for accessibility and accommodations. Let folks know how accessible, safe, and comfortable the space is. Be honest about things that might be concerns. That way parents, children, and elders alike are able to decide if this space is right for them.

Create shared space whenever possible. There are definitely moments when events are not ideal for children. Very long meetings and certain direct actions are good examples. However, the goal should be for these times to be in the minority. Families should decide if the space is right for them, and hosts should provide clear information so that they can make their own choices. Be clear about events that are likely to be unsafe (physically or emotionally) or understimulating (let’s be real, activism is pretty boring sometimes) so that folks can make their choices.

If things truly are not a great space for children, childcare should be provided onsite. Childcare means a dedicated and safe space with enjoyable activities. The Bay Area Childcare Collective has helpful links to create great childcare offerings.

I didn’t entirely appreciate this until I had a child, but when we make events that are not friendly for all ages, we make people choose between family and activism. The more often we make families decide between spending time together or going to activist functions, the more often we alienate families.

Ask questions. If nothing else, ask the people around you (and the people that should be around you but are not) what they need and want to see. Then take that feedback and do something with it.

I’d love to hear other suggestions from parents, elders, kiddos, and organizers.

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