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Multigenerational Justice

It is Sunday afternoon. My daughter and I are at home. I am on my (borrowed) laptop in the kitchen, revising chapter forwards for Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind, an anthology on how to support parents and children in social justice movements that I am co-editing with the amazing “grandma of mama zines” China Martens. Garlic bubbles away into broth on the stove, filling the kitchen with warmth (and a very savory fragrance).

In the other room, my 11-year-old daughter is on her dad’s computer and on the phone at the same time. She is on a conference call/computer chat with the folks planning childcare to talk about the Big Kids’ track for this year’s Allied Media Conference. I am, thankfully, not part of the efforts to coordinate either the Kids’ Track or the Big Kids’ Track, but I do wonder how the conversation is going. I can hear my daughter’s fingers strike the keyboard as she enters her ideas into their group chatbox, but I hear her voice much less often.

While puzzling over how to succinctly sum up the gist of each chapter, fittingly on how movements and communities and individuals have supported the children and caregivers in their midst, my thoughts drift back to the event I attended last night: Angela Davis’s talk about prison abolition and a conversation between her and Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was allowed to call in to the event for an all-too-short fifteen minutes.Both talked about the case of Trayvon Martin, the role of racism and how media paints Black and Brown young men as immediate “criminals,” and then, finally, what to do about George Zimmerman if we don’t believe in the prison system. But what sticks with me about the event is not what was said during the course of the evening, but the interaction I had with a 20-month old and her mother near the bathrooms towards the end of the evening.

I had dashed off to the bathroom during the last part of the Q&A session. As I emerged from the bathroom, I encountered a grinning toddler and her mother. They were standing in the walkway between the main space and the bathrooms. I stooped to say hello to the grinning girl; she babbled at me in 20-month-old talk and flashed me a smile that showed off her four top teeth. We stood like that for a while, me prattling to her about how wonderful she was to allow her mother to sit through this event and her responding with her own words and thoughts, most of which I found hard to decipher. In between, I assured her mother that it does get easier (usually) as the child gets older. I told her that I’d also taken my daughter to talks when she was small; eleven years later, she complains that prisons are the most boring thing in the world, but she asks questions and challenges ways of thinking that escape most adults. “The questions that Angela Davis brought up about what justice for Trayvon Martin would look like without relying on policing and prisons is a question that my daughter’s been challenging me with for over a month,” I said.  Having grown up in and around discussions of prisons, prisoner support and prison abolition (and having learned the word “obsolete” from reading it off the cover of Angela Davis’s Are Prisons Obsolete?), she sees the gaps that remain to be bridged between the rhetoric of a world without prisons and the reality of the world as it is right now, a world in which justice equals incarceration for George Zimmerman.

As I go through our chapter forwards with my digital red pen, I realize that what I feel is awe and amazement. Yes, I am in awe of what an amazing, strong girl-child I’ve raised. By being part of movements and communities that have welcomed her, that have included her in their discussions and activities, that have tried their best to answer her questions (an especial thank you to the radical librarians in our lives!), she’s grown into a ‘tween who can imagine — and help plan — the space she and her friends, as young women who have ideas and interests of their own, will inhabit over the course of a weekend.

And it reminds me, again, of how true Subcomandante Marcos’s words were in his Sixth Declaration of the Selva Lacandona:

But it is not just the Zapatista villages that have grown — the EZLN has also grown. Because what has happened during this time is that new generations have renewed our entire organization. They have added new strength. The comandantes and comandantaswho were in their maturity at the beginning of the uprising in 1994 now have the wisdom they gained in the war and in the twelve years of dialogue with thousands of men and women from throughout the world. The members of the CCRI, the Zapatista political-organizational leadership, is now counseling and directing the new ones who are entering our struggle, as well as those who are holding leadership positions. For some time now the “committees” (which is what we call them) have been preparing an entire new generation ofcomandantes and comandantas who, following a period of instruction and testing, are beginning to learn the work of organizational leadership and to discharge their duties. And it also so happens that our insurgents, insurgentas, militants, local and regionalresponsables, as well as support bases, who were youngsters at the beginning of the uprising, are now mature men and women, combat veterans and natural leaders in their units and communities. And those who were children in that January of ’94 are now young people who have grown up in the resistance, and they have been trained in the rebel dignity lifted up by their elders throughout these twelve years of war. These young people have a political, technical and cultural training that we who began the Zapatista movement did not have. This youth is now, more and more, sustaining our troops as well as leadership positions in the organization.”

And so, in our own very different ways on this Sunday afternoon, my daughter and I are both participating in the quiet building of a truly all-ages revolution to create the world that we want to live in.

Victoria Law is a writer, photographer, mother, and Contributing Author for New Clear Vision. She is the author of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles Of Incarcerated Women (PM Press, 2009), the editor of the zine Tenacious: Art and Writings from Women in Prison, and a co-founder of Books Through Bars — NYC. She is currently working on transforming Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind, a zine series on how radical movements can support the families in their midst, into a book.

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