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“Children are the ways that the world begins again and again.” – June Jordan, The Creative Spirit and Children’s Literature (1977)
Our daughter, Sophia, doesn’t know exactly what she wants to do when she becomes an adult—we keep telling her that circus contortionists aren’t necessarily in high demand—and she doesn’t know if she wants to get married. But our 11-year-old is joyously clear about one thing: she wants to be a mother.
We think that underneath Sophia’s enthusiasm is her keen insight about the task of mothering.
For the past couple of years, she’s asked sobering questions about what she sees happening around her. Will my Muslim friends be able to get back into the U.S. if they leave the country? Will the kids I just met at camp shun me when they find out I have two moms? Will we enter into a nuclear war with another country?
She’s worried, and at times terrified, about what she hears on the news. But when Sophia talks about mothering, her mind pivots away from what exists now toward what’s possible. She imagines that, through mothering, she will have an opportunity to nurture hope and change. She wants to teach her child to respect all people. She wants to raise children who are curious about the world around them and who feel a connection to everyone in the human family, especially those struggling to find food or shelter or friends. She wants to create a home full of laughter and safety for her future child. She wants a better and more peaceful world.
Sophia’s musings remind us about our own commitment to revolutionary mothering: a parenting praxis through which we work to end white supremacy, patriarchy, homophobia, transphobia, and economic exploitation. We believe that the revolution we’re working to initiate in public spaces must begin at home. Our progressive politics must show up in the way we parent. Palestinian planner and activist Dana Erekat is right when she says,“Mothering is an act of defiance in the midst of colonization.”
Some mothers pay for living in defiance, evidenced by abysmal statistics related to poverty, immigration policies, and health care. Fifteen million children in the United States live below the poverty threshold. Contrary to the popular narrative of “fiscal conservatives” on the Religious Right, the majority of these children come from families where their parents are working. Unfortunately, when you’re trapped in low-wage work, it’s nearly impossible to rise above debilitating poverty. The “bootstrap mentality” is largely a myth. Moreover, many of these same mothers are behind even before their children are born, as evidenced by significant health care disparities that make both prenatal and postnatal periods medically costly and, in some cases, deadly. Recent threats of an increase in immigration-related regulations and criminalization will undoubtedly result in many children being stripped from undocumented parents who are desperate to find a new way of life in the United States for their families.
This Mother’s Day, in response to these social and political realities, people throughout the country are coming together for “40 Days of Moral Action” as part of the Poor People’s Campaign.* The principles of the Poor People’s Campaign call us to moral integrity in the face of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, and ecological devastation. We believe that lessons in moral integrity start at home, not only in our words to our children but also in how we embody our commitments to justice and mercy.
Sophia is being mothered by two Black, queer-identified ministers who work full-time in activist/movement spaces. To the unimaginative and close-minded, these identities are contradicting impossibilities. To us, this is our everyday reality: identities full of joy and possibility but also threatened by what our faith tradition calls “powers and principalities”; namely, the sins of racism, sexism, and homophobia, among others. Our very existence as parents, child, and family is an act of defiance.
The defiance begins with our existence, but it cannot end there. It’s not enough for us, as her parents, to do our own work and expect that Sophia will simply absorb the moral integrity of the household she lives in. As her parents, we’re charged with engaging her curiosity, her hopes, dreams, questions, and fears with deep listening and compassion. We’re also charged with providing age-appropriate answers or saying “I don’t know!” when a pat answer is inappropriate. What we cannot do is be revolutionaries except when we’re mothering.
Revolutionary mothers are necessary in movement spaces. We need revolutionaries to parent. And with that need comes responsibility; parents should not be fast-tracking themselves and their children to protests if they haven’t had honest and age-appropriate conversations about the very things that push us to protest.
Our daughter has forced us to clarify our politics in everyday conversations. She has questions and concerns. How we demonstrate our commitment to social change and answer her concerns is an extension of how we politically identify.
If we cannot live our politics in our parenting, we cannot live our politics at the ballot box or at the protest. On this Mother’s Day, in honor of the launch of the Poor People’s Campaign’s 40 Days of Moral Action, we are re-committing ourselves to revolutionary mothering. We believe that this ethic of love and justice has the capacity to change the world for Sophia and for future generations—including the children she herself may one day mother too.
*Full disclosure: The organizations we work for are both national partners of the Poor People’s Campaign.