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An Interview with the Bay Area Childcare Collective

Michelle Gerster and Josh Connor
Date Published: 
April 01, 2007

Left Turn recently interviewed Michelle Gerster and Josh Connor from the Bay Area Childcare Collective to find out more about their work.

LT: How did the Childcare Collective start and why do you focus on childcare?

The Bay Area Childcare Collective started in 2002 after two organizations—the Women’s Collective of the San Francisco Day Labor Program and People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER)—identified that providing childcare for their meetings was a much-needed way for activists from outside of their bases to support their organizing efforts. Many of the original members of the Childcare Collective had gone through the Challenging White Supremacy Workshop (CWS) and were looking for ways to plug into racial justice solidarity work.

We see childcare as a political act. The founders of the Childcare Collective were also inspired by the vision of “Sisters at the Center”—the idea, developed by the School of Unity and Liberation (SOUL), that working class women of color need to be at the center our movements, in terms of analysis, issues, and leadership. The Childcare Collective aims to support this vision by providing childcare so that working class women of color and immigrants could continue building movements that only they can lead. The simple act of providing childcare allows individuals to be involved in organizing and community building without facing the restraints of finding reliable and affordable childcare.

LT: Describe what you do and how you do it. What is your model for organizing?

Our mission statement says: “We are committed to providing grassroots organizations and movements composed of and led by immigrant women, low-income women, and women of color with trained, competent, patient, and politicized childcare providers for one-time events or ongoing meetings.” The Childcare Collective consists of the Core Committee and volunteers who provide childcare when they are available. The “Core” is a group within the collective that takes on the administrative responsibilities of fund-raising, recruiting, scheduling, and representing the collective in addition to providing childcare themselves. A major role of core members is to develop accountable relationships between the organizations who seek childcare and the Childcare Collective.

Here is how we work. An organization—like the Women’s Collective, or Just Cause Oakland—has regular meetings and events. These organizations contact the Childcare Collective’s Core Committee by phone or email. The Core then contacts the volunteer members through an email list and phone banking to fill the needs of the organization. The volunteers then sign up as they are available and show up to the meeting and/or event ready to provide revolutionary childcare, perhaps through a game of tag or a mural project.

LT: What are some of the successes of your organizing?

We have continuously worked with several organizations since the Childcare Collective was formed in 2002. Over the years, we have developed strong relationships with children whose parents have continued to be involved in those organizations. We have provided several trainings to help our volunteers feel more confident and comfortable providing childcare and to learn new games to play with the children. In the five years since the Childcare Collective was founded, folks have contacted us from across the continent who are interested in starting childcare collectives in their cities. We’ve heard from Seattle, Portland, Madison, and Montreal, among others.

LT: What are some challenges in the work of the collective?

One of the biggest challenges is recruiting and retaining volunteers. It’s common for volunteer-based organizations to struggle with turnover and we’re no different. We have to be constantly looking for new volunteers in order to continue fulfilling our commitments to the organizations we work with. Having said that, we also have volunteers who have been with us for the whole five years since the collective was founded. Those long-term members are the backbone of the collective. We would encourage anyone in the Bay Area who is interested to contact us. If you’re not in the area, look for a local childcare collective, or start one yourself!

LT: How have you dealt with race in the collective?

The Childcare Collective has been a multi-racial, but predominately white, organization. The collective was specifically formed as a solidarity organization, so most (but not all) of the volunteers come from different backgrounds than the members of the organizations that we work with. Childcare has become a very focused way for racially and economically privileged folks to support the work of grassroots organizations led by low-income people of color. The collective has also provided an organized structure for volunteers to remain accountable to the organizations that they are working with. For the first couple years, most of our volunteers came out of the Challenging White Supremacy (CWS) workshop, so they had a formal setting to deal with racial justice issues as they were joining the collective. Now that the CWS workshop has ended, the core members of the collective are challenged to provide more training of our own.

LT: What inspires you in your work?

The best things about doing childcare have been watching the kids grow up over the last five years and building relationships with the family members and the organizations they are involved with. Other inspiring moments include having a conversation with a 7-year old about what it means to negotiate with a boss, while the kid’s parent was in a negotiation training and organizing childcare for a large event with over 300 people and 20-30 kids.

LT: What organizations have you worked with?

The Women’s Collective of the San Francisco Day Labor Program, People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER), Just Cause Oakland, St. Peter’s Housing Committee, the Mission Anti-displacement Coalition (MAC), Families in SROs Collaborative, the Yuri Kochiyama Leadership Institute, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Free Battered Women, Critical Resistance, Raparation Records, and the School of Unity and Liberation (SOUL).

To get in touch with the Bay Area Childcare Collective email sfchildcarecollective[at]riseup[dot]net or call 510.653.1891.