I've been wearing my circle A decoder ring for awhile now. I've moved on from living in tool sheds and selling my plasma for tofu and cheap beer. I've been both discouraged and frustrated over the years at the inability of north american anarchist movement to sustain itself beyond youth culture. I don't have anything at all against youth culture, don't get me wrong. But I get more gray hairs every day, I don't want to have the same political discussions I had when I was 20, and most 20 something radicals don't have a lot to say to me either. It seems that the intersection of my age and my politics makes me too weird.
This dynamic was magnified a lot when I had kids.
When reading, go ahead and replace "radical" with "anarchist". I don't remember why now, but for some reason I wanted to stick with "radical" when I wrote this. Honestly, in my experience, this phenomenon is for more applicable to anarchists specifically than radicals generally.
I have nothing against youth culture. Youth culture changed my life. But I think there are real problems for radicals and radicalism when there is no decent niche for us after our youth is over. We can either “sell out”, become progressives and join the local peace and justice center, or we can continue to participate in radical organizing and subculture, even as we feel less and less a part of it, and find ourselves subtly marginalized over time. We become the “weird old guy/woman” trying to get people younger and younger than us (as we get older and older) to talk to us, relate, whatever.
It’s pretty clear to me what has happened. Radicalism has become a ritualized rite-of-passage in US society, embraced unwittingly by many of its participants, rather than a thorough critique of and alternative to capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy, the nuclear family, misogyny, state coercion, homophobia, war, exploitation, joyless toil, and the theft and cheapening of our one, amazing, guaranteed life. In short, radicalism in the US has been supplanted by rebellion.
Rebellion is great. It’s liberating, exhilarating, and helps people reclaim and create their identities. Rebellion can form the nucleus of the great radicalizing experiences that so many radicals remember with great fondness, the thing that “pushed them over the edge”. Rebellion is the catalyst for radical change. But it is not itself inherently radical. Radicalism is much bigger.
Imagine for a moment how US radicalism would be different if it were expanded beyond the confines of rebellion. If radical subculture in the US had ample room for, and appreciation of not just the rebellion synonymous with youth, but also a complete radical vision of society that had room for babies, tots, kids, adolescents, adults, middle-agers, and the elderly, we would see some real changes.
Tomas speaks in his intro to this issue of wanting to organize a radical parenting conference. It’s my recent experience with that topic that really crystallized what I’m getting at in this essay, something that has been crawling around in the corners of my sleep-deprived, toddler-chasing, diaper-changing psyche for the last 14 months.
I don’t live in a radical hotbed; I live in the Midwest. Radical community here is small. Still, I recently found myself sitting around with several other radical parents in the area, trying to pull together a radical parenting conference. At first we were all excited. The idea was awesome. Radical parents crave meeting other radical parents. As a new radical parent, nothing beats finding another radical parent. Radical parents so often have the experience of having parent friends, whom we can talk about diapers and sleep and breastfeeding and chicken- pox and discipline with, but not politics. And we also have radical friends with whom we can talk about racism and patriarchy and crypto-fascism and capitalism and corporate power, and liberals, but who don’t give a good god-damn about vaccinations, insanely gendered kids clothes, how to approach naptime, or teaching and modeling alternatives to violence in human conflict. To find people who can go both places, and talk about the intersections of parenting and radicalism, radical parenting, and parenting as radical work, well that is a HUGE BONUS, the double isolation of parental alienation and political loneliness overcome all at once.
But, as much as we all agreed such a conference would be amazing and wonderful, it fizzled. I think as young parents, holding down jobs, school, and child rearing, we were a little short on time to really make it happen. Maybe we will get it up again, but I don’t know if we can do it alone, and, unfortunately, there wasn’t much in the way of interest or support from the larger radical community. I think we understood implicitly that radicals in the area who weren’t parents wouldn’t be too interested in helping out.
And that’s what I’m driving at. There is a lack of solidarity, yes, solidarity, with radical parents on the part of other radicals.
WTF? Full disclosure, we didn’t bend over backwards to cajole radicals who weren’t parents to come out. We didn’t beg and plead for their support in organizing and logistics. But I know the idea was discussed, in passing, with a decent segment of the radical community here, and I’m not aware of any radical non-parent saying, “Wow, I want to be involved in that”. I don’t think my city is worse than average in the US, in fact, it is probably somewhat better. Unless you live in a large, left-leaning metro area, this is probably par for the course.
And it’s deeper than simply a lack of excitement among non-parent radicals about the conference. Radical events in the US are rarely child-friendly. And there remains the ghost of the enviro-racist “radicals” who are “anti-breeding” for reasons of “overpopulation.” And, most annoying of all, non-parent radicals tend to be mediocre at interacting with kids and understanding the realities of parenting.
I can’t point fingers. I wasn’t too great about this before I reproduced. I did acknowledge and interact with kids in my radical community, I did at times act as an extra set of eyes, and try to set some decent examples of manhood, played with kids at events and provided some informal child care, briefly, at times, but I could have done a lot more.
SO WHAT!? Boo Hoo and wah wah, right? I mean, I might be right, but what are we gonna do? I think we need to reach out. I think we, as radicals and parents, need to start reclaiming our space within our radical communities.
I want to start pushing back harder when there isn’t space for kids, or when families aren’t taken into consideration at radical events. How is radicalism ever going to get anywhere if radicals can’t reproduce and feel fully welcomed at radical events and within the radical community? Social and political movements that don’t integrate family into their movements do not amount to much. Ever.
And I know that they aren’t going to do it themselves. White people rarely take it upon themselves to spend time examining their own racism; they usually have to be told to do it by persons of color. The same goes with men taking on their own sexism. While I’m not saying that the experience of radical parents is comparable to racism and sexism, some of the same dynamics hold. And while it shouldn’t be our job to teach childless radicals how to interact with kids and show solidarity with parents, I’m not holding my breath that they are going to break the barriers on their own initiative.
I think we can do this nicely. More flies with honey, right? Next time there is an anarchist “free skool” organized, I am going to offer a “how to hold a baby” workshop. Strange but true, many radicals are afraid of babies!! Beyond that, perhaps a teach-in on “creating space for lifelong radicalism” teach in, a “how to be supportive of radical families” workshop, and, to steal from Tomas in RD#2, a “Fathering the World” workshop. And maybe, just maybe, this kind of intra-community advocacy will get a little traction.
Pushing back, reclaiming our space, “parentalizing radicals” will have benefits to the movement as a whole, not just to us as parents. The fundamental problem with equating rebellion with radicalism, and thereby relegating radicalism to youth culture, is that it is simply unsustainable. By recreating the image of the radical community as one fully inclusive of families, we provide a meaningful option for lifelong radicalism, for meeting the needs of people throughout their entire lives. We also will sharpen our communication and interpersonal skills as a movement, and broaden and deepen our collective experience. This is good because it builds a stronger, sustainable radical culture, rather than a transient subculture.
So, maybe this essay doesn’t belong in Rad Dad. Preaching to the choir, right? But I think we, as radical dads, need to talk with each other, and our assorted co-parents, about this quandary that I know many of us feel and deal with all the time. We all know we’ve felt a little marginalized by our fellow radicals at times after becoming parents. Lets strategize for our own and our children’s inclusion in the movements we’ve worked hard to build. Lets take some of the energy we have for transforming the greater society and apply it to transforming our own house.