The Chicago Childcare Collective (ChiChiCo) is a group of volunteers who support the participation of parents, especially mothers, in racial and economic justice work. The collective matches volunteers with community organizations across the city to have fun with kids while their parents participate in and lead organizing efforts to defend their rights and build a better Chicago.
Our work is grounded in anti-oppression politics. We believe that the people most directly affected by racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, and other forms of oppression should lead organizing efforts to combat those systems. When outsiders seek to ‘help’ marginalized communities, oppressive power dynamics are often reproduced. Still, there’s a place at the table for supporters. Doing childcare to support the political participation of people of color, poor and working class people, and trans people who are caregivers of young children is a model of allyship that allows us to meet a real need of grassroots organizations. We also recognize that the people most often excluded from political work due to childcare needs are mothers, and this analysis of gender-based oppression is an important part of our work.
Our work is also grounded in the belief that play has an important role in radical politics (as do laughter, dancing, and blowing bubbles!). Doing childcare allows us to bring joy to our work, a radical stance in activist communities that often de-value self-care and ignore the possibility that social justice struggles should also sustain and feed us. Our interactions with children are informed by anti-adultist principles. We treat young people as powerful human beings by engaging their fierce questions, respecting their bodies, and honoring their feelings.
It’s worth noting that while we situate our work within an allyship framework of organizing, our collective is not exclusively made up of people with relative privilege (white, heterosexual, class-privileged etc). We welcome members of all identities, and seek to make ChiChiCo an organization that is inclusive and accessible for all. We recognize that the ally model can be limiting by positioning us as ‘outsiders’ vis-à-vis the groups of parents we support. We would like to develop our relationships with the parents and caregivers in our partner organizations to move toward a more collaborative dynamic that envisions childcare as a mutual effort and shared political act. Come join us if you want to work with us on this process!
ChiChiCo was formed in 2007 by a group of five activists and friends. They spent a year planning and building relationships, and then began doing childcare in 2008. These ChiChiCo organizers had become aware of a need of many racial and economic justice focused organizations in Chicago – free childcare to make organizing and leadership accessible to mothers and other caretakers. There was very little infrastructure or resources needed to build ChiChiCo – just a network of volunteers and organizations, and some toys and games! It attracted allies with skills that are sometimes not identified as “political” (e.g. art, games and childcare), bringing people into social justice work who might not otherwise see a place for themselves.
Many of the first members of ChiChiCo identified as queer. This informed the political vision and positioning of ChiChiCo as well. Gender non-conforming volunteers had rich interactions with children that involved questioning gender categories and playing with social roles. Also, doing childcare opened up space for queer and trans people to engage with communities that have not always incorporated LGBTQ folks and build bridges with parents toward the recognition of each other’s full humanity. ChiChiCo has always provided space for volunteers to talk about any issues that come up for them when doing childcare. The hesitations of some queer volunteers that they wouldn’t be accepted by the children and parents were almost always dispelled by building connections based on mutual reliance and respect.