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Mama Sez No War. An email interview with Vikki Law from New York, United States

Parenting & motherhood
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United States

Vikki Law is a writer, photographer and mother who has been working on a survey of anarchist mothers for the past two years. She also put out the zine Mama Sez No War , a compilation of mothers' experiences and activism against the U.S. war on Iraq. Check out this interview about mamma, zines, supporting families in your activist community, and protest!

Can you introduce yourself?

I just turned 32 years old. I was born and raised in Queens, one of the 5 boroughs of NYC. I now live in the city itself, in a rapidly-changing neighborhood called the Lower East Side. I’m the proud parent of a now 8-year-old daughter named Siu Loong (which is Cantonese for “little dragon” since she was born in the Year of the Dragon). [Read Vikki's interview about co-editing the zine Tenacious: Art and Writings from Women in Prison here].

Can you tell us about the projects you do around feminist parenting and how people without children can help support parents in their community?

With China Martens (of The Future Generation zine and now zine-book), I do a presentation called “Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind,” about the need for radical movements to support the families in their midst. The idea came up because we realized that many parents, particularly mothers, in anarchist and other so-called radical movements were being pushed out by the child-unfriendly practices of their peers. The first workshop we did at an anarchist bookfair in 2003 for parents, on building radical parenting networks. The parents who came were tired and burned out; childcare for the bookfair had fallen through and so we spent a lot of time chasing after children and not being able to talk very much. That was when we realized that we had to gear our talk towards those who didn’t have children and encourage them to be active allies to the few overwhelmed and unsupported parents who hadn’t fled their radical scenes.

I’ve also been doing a survey of mothers who identify as anarchists to find out what support they’ve received from the other anarchists around them. The project started when I read about historical anarchist women (of European descent) and realized that they often felt that one could not be an anarchist and a mother. For instance, Emma Goldman declared that motherhood meant "years of absorption in one human being to the exclusion of the rest of humanity." Voltarine de Cleyre did not live—or have much to do—with her own son. Even in anarchist-controlled Spain during the 1930s, a time much celebrated by anarchist historians, women with children remained, by and large, unsupported by their collectives. Because the responsibility for childcare still fell upon them, they were unable to attend union meetings, often leading to the neglect and dismissal of many of their concerns. So I wanted to examine whether and how the anarchist movement (or movements) have grown to support the mothers in its midst and what could be done to enable them to continue participating. So, if you know of (or are) a self-identified anarchist mother, please get in touch!

Can you tell our readers about your zines which focus on motherhood and kids?

I did several mother-daughter photo zines with Siu Loong from a 2006 visit to Hong Kong (where my grandparents and assorted other relatives still live). For her 5th birthday, she got a used digital camera. Our first day in Hong Kong, she took 99 photos! (Yes, she puts me to shame.) She was the one who came up with the idea for a zine. One day, while photographing the houseboats along Causeway Bay, she said, “We should do a zine.” Then, realizing that she had way too many photos for a zine, she decided that we should do a zine series. We did a few issues when we returned home, but sitting down with a 5-year-old and trying to edit a zine on a computer is very time-consuming, so we stopped after 3 or 4 (although the original plan was to do a zine for every one of the 14 days we were there).

Recently, China Martens (of The Future Generation) and I put out the second zine of our series Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind. The zine is a collection of stories, experiences and suggestions by both radical parents and their allies on building family-friendly movements. We eventually hope to put out a handbook, but while we amass submissions and work on making it a bigger project, we want to make the information available for those who are interested.

What made you decide to start the Mama Sez No War zine? How did you come up with the idea and the name?

Back in 2003, when the U.S. first declared war on Iraq, I put together Mama Sez No War. I wanted to create something that showed the power of us, of mothers like myself who were outraged and who were taking action: I envisioned a zine collecting the voices and experiences demonstrating that mothers are not only angry but pro-active in the anti-war movement. Mothers weren’t visible in the early anti-war movement, but I knew that they were doing their part in saying NO to the war. I wanted to do two things with this zine: create something that not only built bridges between mothers who were against the impending war and rebut the notion that motherhood equals political indifference. I spent a crazy 3 weeks gathering submissions from every mama I came across and created a 68-page zine that came only weeks after the U.S. War on Iraq began. Zine-making became a political act and was something that I could do as the mother of a small child. I realized it was a way to put out not only my own experiences—but those of women usually shunted to the margins, be they political mothers or prisoners—to challenge the way others perceived issues that don’t impede upon their everyday lives. That was the first zine I did post-motherhood.

I think that we need to see childcare and child-friendly/child-safe environments as an issue that disproportionately affects women. Women who don’t have children often dismiss the needs of women who have chosen to have children; they need to see that by doing so, they’re reinforcing societal oppression. How many men have been made to feel excluded because they have children? It’s been noted that when men bring their children around, people usually go out of their way to help accommodate them whereas when women do so, they’re much more likely to get dirty looks, sneering comments, etc.

What are some of your personal wishes/ideas/plans for the future, if you would like to share them?

I’d like to see more people who don’t have children and who aren’t caregivers (babysitters, close family friends, aunts and uncles, etc,) to realize the need to support the families in their midst and not dismiss their concerns with the individualistic response, “YOU chose to have children. YOU deal with the complications.” Over the years, I’ve managed to build a fairly responsive community among the folks I organize and socialize with, but I still remember the early days of feeling extremely isolated and left out. I know that other parents have felt the same way and have even left social justice groups/movements or limited their involvement drastically; I’d like to see that mindset change so that those who are the first parents in their activist/organizing groups don’t have to fight the same battle over and over again.

Both my daughter and I have benefited from being part of a wider community of people; she’s blossomed under the care, attention and knowledge that various people have been able to give her and I’ve been able to do so much more without feeling the pressure of having to do it all by myself. China recently told me that an organizer of LadyFest in Baltimore (her hometown) made a children's shelf with books and crafts and other things for them to do when they visit. This is a woman who has no children and, as far as I know, has not been actively involved in other children’s lives, but wants to make sure that, when people do bring their children over, her house is welcoming and fun for them.

One of the projects I’ve been working on that is less visibly political (but in my opinion, not any less political than some of my other projects) is photographing Hong Kong’s fishing villages that are slowly shrinking and disappearing. Each time we visit Hong Kong, my daughter and I take a few trips to some of the traditional fishing villages, most of which are centuries-old and maintain many of their ancestors’ traditions (although some have updated the traditions to utilize 20th and 21st century technology). I plan to keep working on that project, both here (by printing and organizing the images I’ve already taken) and there (by going out and revisiting the villages and photographing both what has stayed the same and what has changed). I’d like to get some sort of support for this project since the cost of film and paper have risen tremendously since digital photography has become the norm and because this is an issue that hasn’t really been explored (at least not in the English language). In many of these villages, as the younger generation(s) grow up, they move to more urban areas in search of work and many of these communities—and their traditions—are slowly dying. I think that these are places that should be documented before they disappear and, as far as I know, they haven’t been.

I also plan to keep volunteering at ABC No Rio, which is an awesome resource. It’s got a zine library of over 12,000 zines and other types of alternative publications! It’s got a photo darkroom and a silkscreen shop and a walk-in computer center and a space to do exhibitions and events. It was one of the places that I came to as a teenager where I felt like I belonged, where it was okay to be both smart and different from the stereotypical egghead Asian teen. I knew that I didn’t want to be a doctor or a lawyer or an investment banker nor was I cut out to be a high school dropout turned gang member. Those were the two choices I saw before me when I was growing up. Then I came to ABC No Rio and realized that I could be both smart and, for lack of a better word, fuck-the-systemish. That was a huge revelation to me and a really important step in me being who and where I am now. So I plan to continue putting my time and energy into No Rio’s future (we’re planning to actually tear down the existing building, which is a tenement building that’s been neglected by previous landlords for decades and decades) and build a new building where things will work properly and which will be more inviting to the newcomer.

And of course, I plan to keep including my daughter in what I do whenever possible and whenever she’s interested. I got invited to read from my book at an event in May at ABC No Rio. Because it’s not a bookstore, I’d have to bring my own books and sell them on-site. My daughter told me that she was going to sell the books and she’s been very excited about doing that. I’m also planning to take her on the local part of my book tour (or my various book events since it’s not going to be a straight tour for x number of months like bands and big authors do). She told me that she’d sell my books when we were in Philadelphia and Baltimore. When I told her that the bookstore would do that, she got pretty huffy and wanted to know why *they* got to sell the books since it was *my* book. In 2006, China and I did the round of East Coast radical bookfairs (and the Montreal Anarchist Bookfair) to give our “Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind” presentation. My daughter came with us and took part in each and every childcare, children’s program and kidz’ corner that was offered. This year, the people planning the NYC Anarchist Bookfair named her “Director of Childcare” after she gave them a handwritten list of what she wanted to see at their childcare.

Thanks for the interview Vikki!

Vikki Law
Red Chidgey & Elke Zobl
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