The DC Childcare Collective is a grassroots group that provides safe, fun childcare as a form of political solidarity with social justice organizations in the DC area. The Collective believes that the people who want and need to be involved in grassroots organizing — often women and people of color — shouldn’t be prevented from attending community meetings because they have childcare responsibilities.
Meara O’Malley, who joined the collective in 2015 and is now one of its core members, says that rendering childcare available can be a powerful political act because, quite simply, it enables all community organizers to show up. I spoke with Meara to learn more about how the collective supports organizers working on some of the most pressing issues facing our city.
Meara, how did the idea of starting a childcare collective first come up?
It all started about eleven or twelve years ago, when a local grassroots organizing group called Empower DC realized it needed childcare during member meetings, and formed its own little childcare collective.
The DC Childcare Collective grew out of that. The way it works now is that it partners with various organizations that hold events for their members, and provides on-site childcare. The parents can just drop [off] their kids, attend the meeting, and pick them up — instead of having to entertain kids while the meeting is happening (which never works quite as well as people think!), leaving the kids at home, or just not going.
How do you choose whom to work with?
There are a lot of organizations in the city doing really valuable work in service of marginalized groups (a.k.a. “ally organizations”), but the childcare collective tries to prioritize grassroots organizations that are led by people advocating and organizing on their own behalf.
If the case of an ally organization, we may suggest ways in which it can pay for childcare (because we don’t want to take away the work opportunity from paid childcare providers), or have some of their own volunteers do childcare. We do want to prioritize organizations where, if we weren’t providing childcare, they would have very few resources otherwise.
What community organizations or nonprofits are you currently working with?
Our three core partners are Empower DC, Many Languages One Voice, and the 1417 N Street Housing Co-op. These organizations do work related to affordable housing, racial justice, workers' rights, immigrants' rights, and community-building (and more). With the housing co-op, we’ve been there since the start, when its members were collectively buying their building, which was back in 2011—and now the building is working on starting its own childcare co-op!
Most months, we provide childcare to these three core organizations, but we also work with at least one or two other organizations who reach out to us for one-off events — like the National Domestic Workers Alliance, People’s Congress for Resistance, or the DMV Sanctuary Congregation Network.
Do you also serve areas around DC?
In theory, yes, but I can’t remember the last time we got a request from an organization that wasn’t in DC. It’s not that we’re only intending to work with DC organizations, it’s just that a lot of our collective members live in DC, so it’s easier for people to get places. But no, we wouldn’t rule out Maryland or Virginia.
How many volunteers are part of the collective?
We have about 80 people on our mailing list, but in terms of people who are really active every month, it’s more like 30.
What does the screening process look like for new volunteers?
We ask new volunteers to submit a written application and to do a face-to-face interview, just to find out what the work means to them and what they’re trying to get out of it, making sure we have shared values.
The final step is our new member orientation, where we go over how the collective works, what to expect, and what our philosophy is). We talk about childcare as a form of solidarity. The collective defines solidarity as doing work in partnership with a marginalized community, and working to amplify the voices of those community members. We want to use what resources we have to support the advancement of justice and liberation. We want to always be listening and responsive to what our partner organizations need from us, rather than assuming we know what is the best way for organizing and activism to be done.
"We talk about childcare as a form of solidarity.
Photo credit: Hannah Nielsen-Jones
Is there any other way to support your work, for people who can’t volunteer?
Yes! We do have childcare supply drives every year or so, but we accept donations throughout the year as well. Childcare supplies, like books, toys, and games, are always welcome. Just email us at email@example.com!
Do you know of any similar childcare collectives in other cities?
A lot of different cities have childcare collectives. There is the Bay Area Childcare Collective and the Chicago Childcare Collective — those are the really strong ones — and I think New York City also has one. There’s actually a listserv called the Intergalactic Childcare Collective Conspiracy, where all the collectives share information and resources. They’re all over — it’s awesome!
Meara O'Malley has lived in Washington, DC since 2014 and has been a member of the DC Childcare Collective since the spring of 2015. She is thrilled to work with an organization that supports the organizing and activism of women and people of color in the city, while allowing her to spend time with amazing kids.