Activism While Parenting

Good advice from a volunteer for Hillary Clinton’s campaign in Johnson County. Her tips brought back memories of being a precinct captain with a baby in 2003 and being a precinct captain with a toddler and preschooler in 2007. – promoted by desmoinesdem

My husband suggested I do a post about how we manage to be politically active while raising kids and working full time. We are one of a handful of families that we’re aware of who are active this caucus (I know there are more!). Yet often we hear other young parents cite being too busy as a reason not to be involved. If you’re interested in being more active, but not sure how to make it work, please read on.

First, I should say that as a general rule, we are not overcommitters when it comes to family activity. We know that we are probably an exception and not a rule in that regard, especially when it comes to middle/upper middle class families with the means to have kids involved in multiple activities. Most of my kids’ peers play soccer, flag football, or do gymnastics or swimming or ballet. If you’re a working parent AND you have kids in that much stuff? Forget it. I don’t know how you’d do it. Our kids have tumbling once a week on Saturdays. We have been semi-regular church-goers. Beyond that — it’s house cleaning, trying to make dinner that isn’t pizza.

If you want to be active politically, I’d say be ready to make some choices, or time activities so that you are less busy during election season. Maybe make a call that during presidential elections, you’ll cut back temporarily so you can be more active–or if state-level issues are priority, commit to time then. Remember that the Presidential election isn’t the only way to be involved; and at the same time, remember that it only happens every 4 years, so it isn’t a constant disruption. Buy some paper plates and hit up Costco. It’s temporary.

We see activism as a family activity — we attend events together, sometimes go to meetings together. It’s a choice we make; no judgment. This is an opportunity for us to model civic engagement, to share something we really like with each other and the girls, and to meet the occasional future president. There’s family reward.

Second, build your childcare karma. I can’t overemphasize this. We are typical Iowa City intellectual migrants: we came for grad school and stayed for the sweet corn. We don’t have family in the area at all. We rely on other families to trade off playdates and childcare so we can occasionally do a few hours of door knocking or go to meetings. We do use sitters sometimes, but we couldn’t afford to do it regularly. So, Saturdays usually mean having some kids over to our house so that on Sunday, we can send our kids over there. And post-caucus, we’ll be paying back some extra because the next few weeks we’ll be asking a lot more than usual. Childcare karma is real. You must invest in it. Fortunately, our kids are old enough that they usually play by themselves, and the worst hassle is dealing with little girl drama and cleaning up. Worth it!

Third, identify the time you do have. Volunteering doesn’t require huge chunks of time to make a difference. We can make calls from our house with “virtual” phone bank lists prepared by our organizer. We take turns being on parent duty and on phone duty and can usually get through a list before bedtime without major stress. Door knocking can be 2 hours on a weekend. With the exception of the ramp up to caucus this month, we haven’t spent more than 4 hours volunteering, and that only happened once. Often, we get a call asking us to pick up commit to caucus cards, which takes maybe a half an hour since it’s a quick stop at a few places around town. Our organizer is very flexible, and so are we. We are also ready to say no if we have to.

Fourth, find ways to make volunteering kid friendly for yourselves, even if the activity isn’t necessarily designed to be that way. Campaign offices have couches; most people are willing to have supervised kids hang out in the kitchen or basement during an event. We bring charged iPods, books, and lots of coloring materials. One of my personal goals is to make the family committments of activists visible so that accommodations become more integral to the campaign process. Yep, I have kids; yep, they’re coming with me. Fortunately, people tend to find my children enchanting, and they tend to save their most adorable behavior for captive audiences. The only time I regretted bringing my kids along was a door knocking session that completely failed. Lessons learned.

Fifth, stemming from point four, is to be an advocate for families in your area. Bringing my kids, talking about my kids, this connects with voters and people interested in engaging in the process more. Our presence honors their presence and makes space for more engagement. We don’t seek permission to make space for our kids; we just do it. We shape the campaign as much as it shapes us. We make it possible for people to do what they can. One thing I’m working on as a caucus chair is a list of area sitters available on caucus night. Little things like that bring in more families, bringing in more families means building more childcare karma, and the whole thing sort of builds towards what I’m hoping is a future of more family-friendly activism.

Overall, my argument is: opt in rather than opting out. Know your limits, carve out space, and connect with other families, and you can do more than ‘just’ caucus if you want to. And the payoff is rich at the personal, community, and party/national level.

If you’ve read this and are all fired up, volunteer sometime this month to get out the caucus!! If not, think about it for next time. There’s always a next time, and our kids aren’t tiny forever.

  • great tips

    Especially remembering that you do not have to commit large chunks of time to play a meaningful role as a volunteer.

    When my kids were very small, baby wearing was a good way to combine parenting and political activism. You can knock doors or help out at an event while wearing a baby or toddler; many of the soft structured carriers are really comfortable for keeping a child on your back. My kids also liked being up high so they could make eye contact with people.

    When my older son was in preschool, he liked coming with me in the car to deliver yard signs.

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