Family Friendly? Not in My Name! [Black Bike Article]

Family Friendly? Not in My Name!

“Family friendly” is a phrase that gets thrown around in activist circles with little to no thought, way too often. “Family friendly” has little to do with any actual real life family, and more to do with  trying to make an event more conservative (liberal), non violent*, safe. It has little meaning beyond its use as code to signify that at this event some behaviours are acceptable/expected/enforced (e.g. listening politely to the speakers; following the directions of the marshals), and some behaviours are unacceptable (e.g. throwing wheelie bins at police; heckling boring speakers). “Family friendly” is code meant to appeal to middle australia – mum, dad, 2.3 kids. Apparently this is our target audience!?

Non violent, liberal, safe, coercive, controlled, middle australia aimed political events? Not in my name!

The above was just a hypothesis until it was confirmed to me at the last political event I went to which screamed “family friendly” on every piece of advertising. An event which, for me, consisted of sitting in sweltering forty degree heat for two hours while trying to keep two small children at bay. Sunstroke versus the G20? The G20 won. Family friendly my arse.

Somewhat ironically though it was also at this event that I came to appreciate the importance of actually, really, being (pro-actively) friendly to families. So what might family friendly look like?

Well, like most things there are some things you can guess, and some things you’ll learn by asking those in the know. And if you’re genuine about including carers of young ‘uns in your political work you should do both, and you should, because these are folks who know the value of time, and who get shit done.

Here’s a few basic tips:

  • Ask, ask, ask (!) carers what they need. They know!
  • Just treat kids like people because, you know… they are! You don’t have to be a class A entertainment act, saying hi and remembering their names is a good start. Carers (and kids) will feel much more comfortable if they don’t get the “phuck off breeders” vibe as soon as they walk in the door.
  • Be flexible and considerate. Things are not a big deal for you like they are for parents looking after kids. (Psst… we actually know, ‘cos we’ve been in your shoes!)
  • Time and place are important things to think about. Kids don’t do evenings well, kids don’t do dank indoors (with hour long monologues) well. Just do stuff in the morning, midday or afternoon. It’s not that hard to get out of bed… you can do it! Remember, you did choose to go to bed when you wanted to, and you did get to sleep without interruption.#
  • People can contribute in lots of different ways, recognise this fact and recognise all contributing work as valuable, ask people how they can/want to contribute. Then, accommodate what they can do: if they want to come to organising meetings make it possible, if they want to contact supporters let them, if they want to do support work well, you get the gist… There’s a lot of work to do and lots of these tasks are family friendly by nature (as opposed to name).But families, surprisingly enough, are multi-generational, so… leaving aside the kids and carers, what about the older folks? Just off the top of my head I’d think things to consider might be things like seating, and the ability to hear contributions. At that point though I’d have to ask some people in the know for further ideas on older folks needs.So there you have it… being friendly to families.But hang on, isn’t this just the tip of a much bigger iceberg? The iceberg of accessibility perhaps? Let’s ponder on that for a minute…It used to occur to me that the political circles I swam in were pretty homogeneous. Everyone lived in the inner city, everyone had a similar level of education, everyone was able bodied, everyone was single, usually at least, none of us had any real responsibilities. It was fun, but I did wonder sometimes how our political rhetoric of mass mobilisation was living up to our reality… in fact sometimes I still do!So… why do these groups tend to be more or less homogeneous? Could it have something to do with the hurdles that are placed in the way of people who are not “like us”? Carers of children and older people, certainly, we’ve already touched on that, but what about others?Imagine you are still yourself, still passionate about phucking up the system… but there’s something a little different… perhaps you use a wheelchair to get around, perhaps you live way, way out in the suburbs, perhaps you’re deaf, perhaps you care full time for ageing parents, or your disabled child, perhaps you’re illiterate. In each of these circumstances how would you relate to some of the political things you now go to, or organise. Would you be there? If not, why not?The point being that there is a reason (several actually) why people don’t turn up to organise politically with us: it’s near impossible for them to do so because we leave so many hurdles in their way! Of course making an effort to include people does not mean they necessarily will turn up, but should someone really be de facto excluded from a political event or organising because they can’t make it up the stairs?! Should we be so comfortable with this that we don’t even consider telling them, so they just rock up and discover “Oh, I can’t even get in, well that’s a bit humiliating!” This is actually really simple stuff, it’s just a matter of considering the needs of people who aren’t “us”, and trying to accommodate those needs to allow for the possibility of their participation.No, of course you can never cater to everyone. But saying you can’t cater to everyone does not absolve you of the responsibility to recognise who you are accommodating, and who you are not. Different occasions require different things. Sometimes we’ll know all the people who are coming, and we can just keep their specific needs in mind. For public events I think the circumstances are different, and it’s in these situations, in particular, that I think “we” need to be pro-actively inclusive which, for me, would start a bit like this:
  • Check in with people at the start of the event about any needs they might have, then do your best to fulfil those needs. If someone speaks English as an additional language, for example, try to slow down your speech, speak clearly, and don’t use slang, then ensure other contributors do the same.
  • Provide a venue that is wheelchair accessible. C’mon people, the state is all over this, let’s at least do as well as it does. If there’s a great venue that’s not wheelchair accessible write a phucking grant application to get a ramp and a wheelchair accessible toilet built.
  • Mention children. Can kids participate? If not will you provide any assistance for carers (childcare, child minding, a space for kids etc)? Do these people have blue cards?
  • Provide a signer for the hearing impaired/ if notified of the need beforehand. PAY FOR IT IF NECESSARY!
  • Think about getting out of the phucking inner city occasionally. The inner city will be the last bastion of capitalism. There’s a big wide world out there, full of people living actual lives.
  • Communicate all this clearly so people can understand what they can expect (wheelchair accessible venue, AusLan signing by request, child minding from 12-2 etc). In part this is just a conversation about (ceasing to be so) own-circumstances centric. Perhaps even a delving into – dare I say it – issues of “privilege” and how our non-engagement with privilege creates the spaces we have, and reinforces the power dynamics we (allegedly) hate. But related to that is also a conversation about our political horizons – what we see as our possibilities, what we are aiming for. If we are simply looking for a refuge from the mainstream, a subculture safe-haven that we can retreat to when toxic shit society gets us down, then let’s continue what we’re doing: people similar to us with the same education level, same amount of time, same capacities, can turn up to inner city venues on weekday nights, probably riding their bicycles because it’s just down the road. It’ll be a great little space, we’ll have fun. But if we are aiming (as we claim to be) for a thorough reworking of society, it might be time we started to recognise our own context, and started to think both within and outside of it. And maybe when we truly start thinking about people who are not us, when we start being accountable to those who haven’t found their subculture refuge, maybe, just maybe, we might start to become relevant.

*     Still undefined

#     Yes, I know, I know, some of you have really big problems with sleep but imagine having really big problems with sleep AND children jumping on your head! Thank goodness anyway children sometimes carry the ability to shake us violently out of our self pity.

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