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19 September 2016

Momentum Kids: scaremongering about “tiny trots” is laughable

The new children's wing of the Corbyn-supporting movement blurs the boundaries between public and private activism in a way that is long overdue.

By glosswitch Glosswitch

So it sounds like a children’s cartoon – I’m thinking a cross between Nijago and Battle of the Planets – and they should definitely have used a “z” to make the plural, but all in all Momentum Kids, the new children’s wing of the Jeremy Corbyn-supporting movement does not sound like such a terrible idea. Cooperatively run childcare which enables parents to engage in political activism is something all political parties should have come up with years ago. That they have not done so speaks less of a noble desire not to indoctrinate children than of a sheer lack of interest in the complex logistics of carers’— that is, usually women’s — lives .

Enter Momentum or, in the kids’ cartoon, Mo Mentum, defender of hapless but strangely popular high school senior Jezza C).  While most of us are conscious that the relationship between Momentum and the mainstream media is somewhat fraught, I don’t think this is the only reason why responses to the idea of a Momentum Kids group have been lukewarm. There is much anxiety at the thought of “politicising” children, with comparisons even being made with Hitler Youth and child soldiers. The Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, has dubbed the group “tiny trots” (which to be fair would be a great name for the CBeebies offshoot cartoon – a kind of socialist Muppet Babies – were Momentum Kidz to run on CBBC).

Yet I think such worries are unfounded, or rather, if we are going to start fretting over the politicisation of children, we need to accept that it is already happening. Raising children is already a political act, and not just because there are other organisations – schools, faith groups, social media groups – on hand to indoctrinate your child. When we raise children we are dealing with relationships of mutual dependency within a specific social, geographic and economic framework. Children are social beings, constantly interacting with others, learning different rules and customs, being welcomed into some groups and excluded from others. Childrearing is political whether you like it or not.

Perhaps it is comforting to think children inhabit some neutral, politics-free zone, simply being fed, watered and played with until such a time as they can step forth and apply their finely honed critical skills to the things that matter. But that is not what happens. Some children are never adequately fed and watered to begin with. Some are never played with, or receive no formal education. This will shape the political beings they are, the views they hold, the people they want to represent them later in life.

Even children who enjoy relative privilege are absorbing political messages. It has taken me years of subtle hints and full-on rants to try and counteract the evil neoliberal indoctrination of Thomas the Tank Engine (“Be a really useful engine! Never question the ways of the Fat Controller! Always look down on the Troublesome Trucks, the scroungers, coming over here, shunting our coal!”). I grew up in a Daily Mail-reading household, peacefully imbibing the idea that my middle-class privilege was earned. I’ve needed decades to un-learn this. I do not want my children to make the same assumptions. If that is me indoctrinating them, I still think it is the right thing to do.

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It may be that we prefer the idea of a mother offering up her politics to her children to a formal organisation taking on that task. But how much of this is down to the strange distinction we make between public and private spaces? The home is sometimes thought of as a safe space which intermittently gets “infected” by the outside world, of which politics is a part. We neglect to consider the home a political space itself, which in turn allows us to depoliticise the work that goes on within it. “Caring for the young, the old and the sick is not work,” we say “it is life.” This is precisely the kind of thinking which contributes to the gender pay gap, the feminisation of poverty and the stigmatisation of dependency. Private spaces are political spaces. Recognising the interplay of care, dependency, paid and unpaid work that go to make up a human life should be a political imperative.

Momentum Kids is presented as both a childcare solution for adult activists and a place for children to learn. While others might find this unsettling, I find such a model highly attractive. It moves beyond treating childcare as merely an obstacle preventing mothers from doing “proper” work.  Children, it is argued, “can be empowered and understand their value, the value of democracy, the value of their civic engagement and the power they already have.” This positions them neither as burden nor as resource to be exploited, but as thinking, feeling, growing human beings. It’s a definition of children I find refreshing and, sadly, rare.

The Momentum Kids approach blurs the boundaries between public and private activism in a way that is long overdue. Instead of treating the mundane world of school runs, breakfast clubs, nose wipes and homework as something external to politics, it absorbs it, recognising that care work can be at the heart of how a community forms and reforms itself. It is precisely the kind of attitude that has so often been promised by the left but has up till now seemed absent in male-dominated parties reluctant to consider the relationship between gender, reproduction, care work and the body. Perhaps finally we’re getting somewhere.

I still have my misgivings. Even the most dramatic of structural changes can leave women clearing up afterwards. I find myself wondering whether the mothers of Momentum might not simply be being freed up to do yet more metaphorical motherwork on behalf of a party in which actual power and influence remain decidedly male. The declared aim to provide a “female-led, intersectional space for children” sounds slightly off at a time when female spaces have become so controversial. Then again, female-led spaces are presumably acceptable if the main purpose of them is to care for others rather than be cared for yourself.

Nonetheless, the “don’t indoctrinate the kids!” scaremongering surrounding this proposal is frankly laughable. We’re indoctrinating the kids every single minute of every single day. We’re telling children they can’t be girls if they want pirate parties. We’re telling children that caring for others isn’t “real” work and doesn’t merit adequate pay. We’re telling children that inequality is inevitable. We’re telling children that male violence is a fact of life and that violent pornography cannot be avoided. And we’re meant to be up in arms about “tiny trots”?

Our children are political beings. The question is whether their political beliefs are the ones we would want them to have – whether they foster hope, empathy, community, compassion, acceptance of others, love. Momentum Kids may or may not be the ideal place for such things to grow but you know what? I don’t see any other party being brave enough to identify the problem in the first place.