by Mandy Olivam
originally published in the Spring 2017 Round Table
I am a white, middle-class mother of two young children in Louisville, KY. Our city is one of the most racially segregated in the U.S. It is home to thousands of neighbors who are resettled refugees. It is a relatively progressive hub in a very blue state, but nevertheless represents a diverse blend of rural and urban culture and social concerns. It is where I was born and raised. And now, it is where my husband and I are raising our children.
In the initial throws of early parenthood, I found it harder than ever to show up in the ways I once was able for social change efforts. Meeting the ever-present needs of an infant and a toddler amid seemingly infinite clamoring justice needs felt overwhelming and defeating. It felt like I was turning away from a world of suffering when I was turning toward my children…or like I was neglecting the precious task of tending to my family when I made time for other work.
The central question I am asking myself these days is twofold: How can my family sustain ourselves for the long-haul work for justice while manifesting what we hope to create here and now? And how can the work we are doing every day help to promote the flourishing of other families near and far, as well as our own?
Luckily, I found other families wrestling with the same concerns. At a local natural parenting store and activity center, Mama’s Hip, I met a community of people who also wanted to directly address national and local crises for families – slashed healthcare, threats to immigrants, hate-mongering toward Muslims, and a rhetoric of hate that harms us all. We wanted to create a safe space where all families are welcome. We wanted to set an authentic example for our children. We wanted to do work that fulfills our personal calls and actuates justice. We wanted multicultural parenting spaces. And, as the needs only continued to grow more and more urgent, we did not want to waste time deliberating and despairing. We wanted to do something…together.
So, this past year, we began to create something that has never existed in Louisville. We are transitioning Mama’s Hip from a for-profit sole proprietorship to a cooperative business owned by all of us: Mama’s Hip Family Cooperative.
MHFC is working to become a place that runs on cooperation, not capital. Some families in our cooperative live in material comfort; some of us are barely scraping by. Each one of us carries both needs and gifts. But the fact is that, in a world where patriarchal, white supremacist, classist, and ableist systems and structures are very much alive around and within us, people often only know how to respond to one another from a place of competition instead of in a way that strives to benefit all. In this dynamic, especially the most marginalized and vulnerable families suffer most. The families at MHFC have a willingness to respond radically by finding new ways to meet one another’s needs, starting with just showing up and playing, working, and learning together…cooperatively.
Cooperators. That’s what I want to teach my children to be in these times. Not money-makers, providers, breadwinners, or producers. Those are roles, not qualities. I don’t want them to be for-profit, but I don’t necessarily want them to be non-profit, either. I want them to thrive while doing what enables others’ thriving. I want them to be sustained and supported while doing what is sustainable for everyone. I want them to see what intersectionality, anti-racism, and multiculturalism look like. I want them to taste, if only in moments, the true freedom of collective liberation. Especially in our volatile national and global climate, this is the vision of justice I want my children to see in action. It is a hope for their future. It is a way to learn how to resist oppressive systems and persist as people of integrity.
Since giving birth to my sons, I have uncovered a deeper awareness that all children are my children. At MHFC, because we each hold this awareness, everyone strives to care for each other so that no one is left to shoulder burdens all alone. We also collectively honor that our children may be the greatest teachers in resistance and persistence. Their fresh perspectives and keen questions awaken possibility. Their young self-awareness and eager assertions enliven our willingness to say “No” and to stand up for what is right. Each person is both a teacher and a student. Parents and their children are co-creators of our community and vital participants in justice efforts. Even in our struggles and imperfections, we reflect the rich human capacity to be more collectively than alone. The bounds of our cooperation are only as limited as our imaginations.
“The days are long but the years are short” is a common adage spoken of the child-rearing, but it feels true about these times in which we live. It can be hard to believe that our small, daily efforts for liberation amount to much. Year after year, we fight the same fight. Decades of work can be swept away with a pen stroke of legislation; likewise, progress sometimes takes a seemingly miraculous quantum leap forward. Distress and celebration ebb and flow. Being a mother to my two sons offers me a daily practice to be intentional and patient, both with my actions toward my children and with myself. Parenting in community helps to hold me accountable for my actions and enables me to catch glimpses of the world my children can inherit. Holding the truth that this work is work for justice feels revolutionary.
What will allow us to persist? Creative spaces where we can meet one another’s needs, celebrate the essential good of life, and set a practical example for our children of what the world can be. Collective resistance that leaves no one behind. Intersectional awareness that makes us kinder to everyone. Corners of the world where ordinary people are practicing radical willingness to do something new. Places where children are laughing and learning and leading the way. Places where our children, and their parents, can flourish. Places where people can taste, if only in moments, the true freedom of collective liberation. Cooperation. Community.
To learn more about the Mama’s Hip Family Cooperative and to join, just click here. We’d love to have you!