As the school year starts, we are thinking about kids and their caregivers. None of us currently parent any children, though we all have kids in our lives who we love and consider friends and comrades. In the Punch Up Collective, as a general practice, we aim to organize our work in such a way that kids and the adults who sustain them are included in our activities. We do this by budgeting money to hire someone who can host kid activities during events we put on, scheduling social gatherings during the day instead of at dinner time, making space in protests and marches that can be more kid-friendly, and generally trying to make sure that children are an ordinary part of our political lives. We believe that this approach makes our political spaces more sustainable, inter-generational, and joyful.
At the beginning of the pandemic, we were glad to see some public recognition that parents and kids were bearing the brunt of changes and restrictions, and a general acknowledgement that parents were often not okay. All these months later, parents are still not okay, and yet there doesn’t seem to be that same recognition or a sense of urgency. Ruling institutions and popular narratives frame the pandemic-related challenges associated with kids (for instance, childcare and education) as if these are problems only for parents in individual households. In reality, these are collective, society-wide problems affecting the daily and nightly lives of millions of people. Indeed, the socially-produced response to the pandemic is creating a crisis of care for kids – a crisis that is interconnected with the political, economic, and ecological crises that we are currently experiencing.
Now, perhaps more than ever, is a time to act in solidarity with children. Why do we say this? For starters, kids are also people. Our political orientation to the pandemic should start with those who ruling institutions render most vulnerable and disposable. This includes elderly folks, folks with disabilities, people living in poverty, racialized people, drug users, migrants, and children. We affirm and fight for a world in which productivity is not the measure of someone’s worth, and kids are one important node in that web of resisting capitalist relations of value.
Kids are people who have been made structurally vulnerable by the ways in which we have organized society. They are profoundly affected by the decisions that adults make, and yet have very little power to affect those decisions. In the context of COVID closures and changes, the restrictions on their lives impact their capacities to practice their own agency and self-making; other people decide for them what they’ll do, when they’ll do it, and what access they’ll have to people outside their home or bubble. This is always true, and we’re not saying that solidarity with kids means letting them do whatever they want all the time. But we should take seriously how COVID disproportionately affects young people.
All kids are struggling right now, but their well-being is unevenly distributed. Kids of rich and middle-class people have relative space and capacity to find a path through this pandemic; kids in foster care or living in poverty have many fewer resources. Kids who are forced to live with abusive adults have fewer ways to find support outside the home. Kids with suppressed immune systems and disabled kids whose normal supports aren’t available have less-expansive lives than they deserve. Solidarity with kids thus means fighting for the well-being of all kids, with a particular focus on those who are targeted and deprived by current social arrangements.
Solidarity with kids also means paying attention to the people who nurture children, including parents and other caregivers, childcare workers, and education workers. As the pandemic has dramatically illuminated, caregiving is often seen as “women’s work” – overwhelmingly unpaid or underpaid, and undervalued in non-monetary ways as well. Fighting for the well-being of children, as a society-wide concern, necessarily involves fighting for the well-being of the adults around them.
So, what does solidarity like this look like in practice? We can start by listening to those who are most affected and most at risk: teachers, parents, children, early childhood educators, educational assistants, school custodians, bus drivers, etc. We can especially attend to the people who are collectively organizing around the issues that affect children and their caregivers – education worker unions as well as youth and parent groups fighting against police presence in schools, chronic underfunding of the education system, and neighbourhood gentrification. Parents and caregivers who are committed to public schools and those who are building campaigns for universally accessible childcare deserve our support.
The great thing about acting in solidarity is that we start from wherever we are, look to see what points of connection we have with others who are fighting for a better world, and connect in with their work. This means that we don’t have a list of what will count as good solidarity activities for anyone reading this to take up. But we can say that we’ll all be fighting against some shared enemies: anyone cutting public education infrastructure, anyone prioritizing hiring cops over teachers, and anyone forcing people to make impossible decisions between the health and safety of kids and their ability to pay rent.
As kids return to virtual and in-person classes, back to school doesn’t mean back to normal. This is an important moment for us to listen to children and their caregivers, elevate their voices, and fight alongside them for safe, equitable, and well-resourced infrastructure of care. As with everything, our collective well-being depends on what we’re prepared to struggle for, together.