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I clearly remember growing up in the 90s, next door to Newt Gingrich’s district, when Republicans claimed to be the party of “Family Values.” Those were political code words for anti-gay efforts and reinforcing traditional gender roles in nuclear families. But I actually think progressives have made a lot of ground since then on the idea that policies that provide meaningful support for families are the *real* family values.
A big question for me in undertaking my care report playbook was to understand how we build bigger coalitions and bring more people into the movement that’s working to value care and change our economic systems and policies around it. I don’t think our current choir alone can create the systemic change we need.
One resource I turned to in thinking about this is Loretta Ross, a pioneering Black feminist activist and one of the co-creators of the theory of Reproductive Justice. More recently, she’s created a framework called “circles of influence” as a way to think about effective alliances and coalitions. The idea is that there are people who agree with you 90 percent of the time, 75 percent of the time, 50 percent of the time, 25 percent of the time, and 0 percent of the time. She critiques the left for spending any energy trying to convert 90 percenters to 100 percenters, as a waste of energy. Instead, she urges widening the circle to bring others into your cause. The care movement could continue to strengthen internal connective tissue while at the same time working to build a larger tent with the 75 and 50 percenters, where it’s possible to work together on a specific set of issues. To do this requires accepting rather than obsessing over areas of disagreement, and not “calling out” other activists for working with people who don’t pass all progressive ideological litmus tests. Trust me, I know we live in hyper-polarized times, but I believe this outreach is crucial to the hard and sometimes uncomfortable work of social change.
I’m convinced faith groups could be a very powerful engine for the care movement. There are already faith-in-action organizations like ISAIAH in Minnesota that explicitly bring these ideas together effectively. Progressive religious groups, like the National Council of Jewish Women and the Unitarian Universalists who’ve taken proactive stances in support of abortion rights, could be natural allies to bring more explicitly into care movement work. But the outreach should not stop with avowedly progressive organizations. There is no way around the fact that growing the tent to include some Christian and more conservative faith organizations that have opposed abortion is a prickly recommendation. Reproductive rights are seen as integral to the values of many care movement leaders. With the overturning of Roe in 2022, care movement activists noted there is a lot of anger toward people who are only becoming more interested in care policies like maternal health and childcare now that abortions are much harder to get. “I understand the concern or the lack of wanting to make strange bedfellows with people who have put bed bugs into your bed,” said Anat Shenker-Osorio, a progressive messaging strategist. This anger is valid, AND there are opportunities for this outrage to be shared and used to build a multifaceted coalition.
Christians, and even evangelicals as a subset, are not a monolith, and beginning to engage Christian leaders who could be 75 percenters could be an important in-road. The nonpartisan Center for Public Justice (CPJ) is a nearly 50-year-old Christian think tank and civic education society that promotes pluralism in public life. Their Families Valued portfolio of issues includes promoting paid family leave and pregnancy accommodations; maternal health access and family-oriented benefits; and a childcare ecosystem that serves America's diverse families well. Non-religiously affiliated care activists could find broad alignment with CPJ, even if some of their positions in other parts of their portfolio related to religious hiring and institutional religious exemptions might be areas of disagreement. Rachel Anderson, a fellow at CPJ, said she is happy that CPJ supported and allied with other Christian organizations to support the 2022 passage of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. But she is clear she doesn’t view her organization as part of a big happy tent yet. “I wouldn't yet use the word ‘coalition,’” she explained. Collaborating with people like Anderson could also be a potential bridge to 50 percenters who could be issue-specific allies like the National Association of Evangelicals, the Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, who have recently come out with or publicly reiterated their support for paid leave.
Christian groups supporting family policies aren’t new: They were part of the coalition that got the 12 weeks of unpaid leave guaranteed to eligible workers in the 1993 Family Medical Leave Act and have also signed on in support of the recent passage of the PUMP Act. Some groups are now coming to newer stances about care based on political realities and their own self-reflection. “Broadly speaking, institutions and groups that are more typically aligned with American Evangelicalism are looking at [care policy] a little bit differently. Some are thinking more, in a post-Dobbs world, about the need for material support for women and children,” said Anderson. “More women are raising their hands and saying, 'We need to have paid family leave for all moms; we need to support women at work.’”
Anderson has also found opportunities within faith communities to discuss care work from multiple perspectives, including the experiences of women of color and the birth-equity movement. “We recently did an event about Black motherhood and it's been really well received,” Anderson said. “For people for whom this is a newer topic, there's an opportunity to connect [the dots] between material support, the history of racism, and the needs of the most vulnerable moms. If we look at those pieces altogether, we can see the value of supporting women in more material ways.”
Another way to start the conversations that lead to big tent coalitions may be to give more platform to the religious beliefs of care workers themselves. There are large numbers of care workers of all backgrounds—white, immigrant, and care workers of color—who are devout Christians. Highlighting more discussion of their faith and how it relates to their job choices and activism around improving care could be a compelling starting point. Ai-jen Poo, the president of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, pointed out that “a lot of care workers do this work because it’s God’s work.”
For instance, at the 2023 North Carolina Childcare Day of Action, state Rep. Jim Bergin (R), an older white man, spoke to a rally of advocates about his support for more childcare funding from the state legislature. He warmed up the crowd full of Black women from across North Carolina with a reference to a song he loves, “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” which was met with plenty of “Amens.” While his line “I believe childcare begins at conception” was met with a mixed reaction, he got a lot of approving applause for his many Bible references.
Takeaways: If you are part of a faith community, start and participate in conversations about how your house of worship or your larger denomination can get more involved in care issues at the state, local, and national levels. A lot of faith communities have community service and social outreach committees. Rather than having to find new communities for care activism, it might be possible to bring this existing infrastructure to a campaign for a ballot initiative, to get people together to write letters in support of after-school funding, or to support unionizing care workers.
Double Shifters, if you have stories of bringing care activism to your faith community, I’d love to hear about it! Feel free to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As always, thanks to the Better Life Lab for their support on this research.
For this week’s members-only thread, I want to know, in these deeply polarized times, have you ever personally changed anyone’s mind about a political or social issue? Members get these wonderful discussions in their inboxes every Thursday. Become a member to support this work and get lots of perks too. It starts at $7/mo.
A podcast rec: I’m choosing to do my Middle East reading, research, processing, donating, and discussing privately and in community with close Jewish friends. But I’d like to recommend this podcast episode from Ezra Klein that really resonated with me, and I learned a lot from experts on the show: The Jewish Left is Trying to Hold Two Thoughts at Once.
For Bingeing: Despite not caring at all about soccer, I’m enjoying the Beckham docu-series on Netflix.
November Member's Only Hangout
Thursday November 16th at 1pm ET
Please join me Thursday, November 16th at 1pm ET to talk about how we can transform how America cares! I want to make my research and reporting as accessible as possible to my beloved Double Shift community, so I am going to give a 15-minute overview of the extremely cool solutions I’ve found and spend a bunch of time answering questions and talking informally with you all about effectively transforming care in America. This is an actually hopeful and inspiring topic, and I think we could all use some of that right now. You absolutely DO NOT have to have read my report to join! Members will get an email and calendar invite.