Should We Call Ourselves the Care Justice Movement?

The more the general public understands what’s difficult about care is the result of systemic failures rather than personal ones, the more we can organize towards progress.

Should We Call Ourselves the Care Justice Movement?
Photo by Ian Schneider / Unsplash

As I’ve been deeply researching the intersections of care, it has occurred to me, do all the people working on individual care issues see themselves as part of the same movement? Do nursing home worker unions, independent daycare owners, paid leave activists, care consumers, disability rights advocates, Black birth workers, workplace policy lawyers, and universal Pre-K devotees conceptualize that we may all be working on a continuum towards the same thing? And what, exactly is that “thing?”

I think it’s very helpful for individual caregivers and consumers to break out of having tunnel vision around their own care crises. It’s also helpful for activists to see beyond their specific cause. And the more the general public understands what’s difficult about care is the result of systemic failures rather than personal ones, the more we can organize towards progress. You can’t organize a bunch of people who feel guilty. You can organize people who are angry.

On the movement level, many people I’ve spoken to have expressed that there’s now an unprecedented level of collaboration rather than competition: Nicole Jorwic, who’s the Chief of Advocacy and Campaigns at Caring Across Generations, a disability, eldercare, and family caregiver advocacy organization sums it up as, “I think in the past, groups that were often pitted against each other for a very small pot of money and human service budgets. We are now getting outside of the scarcity mentality and seeing that if we broke down silos, we could actually fight for a bigger pie. I think that's obviously a really good thing. We are all continuing to work together to elevate each other's issues.” She’s also been a part of Care Can’t Wait, a broad coalition of activists and organizations who started working together more formally during the pandemic.  

A term that I think provides an intersectional framework for how we think about advancing all forms of care is “Care Justice.” At this point, the term isn’t in wide circulation, and I’ve only found one published mention of it, in a recent academic paper by Dr. Nell Lake who writes, “Care justice is not just a matter of political practice. It is also a vision for society that requires racial, economic, and gender fairness, in two ways: care access and care labors.”

So, I brainstormed what I thought a definition could be. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

The right to care for ourselves and our loved ones without social or financial penalty.
The commitment to treat and pay care workers as valued professionals.
The vision to create a world with quality, affordable, flexible and abundant family care.

This brainstorm was very much inspired by the definition of Reproductive Justice, which was created by Black feminists in 1994. According to SisterSong, RJ can be defined as “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.” What I think is so powerful and inspiring about the RJ framework is how expansive it is. It doesn’t specify policy goals. I particularly think the last part of the definition, “to parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities” is a north star  that can harness many lifetimes of activism. To me, “safe and sustainable communities” includes paid family leave, neighborhoods free from gun violence and mass shootings, robustly funded schools, good jobs, and so much more.

My ideas around Care Justice also seek to create these broad, ongoing goals rather than policy prescriptions, I want to include a positive vision for paid and unpaid care workers, care consumers and those who need care.

A term like “Care Justice” is only useful if people in the movement find it helpful in creating a sense of identity and solidarity. At first, I started asking movement leaders what they thought of my definition, but I am in no position to be the “official” spokesperson on this, so I switched to asking movement leaders what they thought of the term “Care Justice” in general and how they’d define it.

Andrea Paluso, the Co-Executive Director of Childcare for Every Family Network said her definition of Care Justice would be “everyone has the time, care, and resources they need to rest, connect, and thrive.” Danielle Atkinson, founder of the organization Mothering Justice says she likes the term because, “it sounds like common sense and what we deserve as human beings who care for other human beings, and who care for ourselves. We deserve to be able to take time to care for ourselves. We shouldn't have to earn it.”  Arnulfo De La Cruz, the President of SEIU Local 15, a labor union of long term care workers in California says, “In America, you don't have the right to care. When I think about what it would look like to get justice, It would mean access to quality, affordable care. And as a provider, being able to live with dignity and do a profession that just happens to be one of the fastest growing in America.”

While many progressive activists I spoke to really liked the term, others pointed out to me that it’s important to avoid any kind of framing that might alienate people you want to recruit to your cause. Chanda Causer, from the Main Street Alliance, which is a group that works with small businesses on care economy issues says about Care Justice; “I like it as an individual. I like it as an organizer, but I'm also trying to work across party lines. If I’m canvassing small businesses in rural North Carolina, for most people these things come down to the bottom line. Most people think about, ‘what is this gonna cost me?’ So if I were to come in and say, ‘we care about Care Justice!’ That would not open up a conversation.” Ai-Jen Poo, the founder of the National Domestic Workers Alliance says, “to the extent that Care Justice moves a segment of people, I think that that's a great frame. But I think that there's probably some people who [the term] won't move, and I want those people to feel connected. So from an organizer's standpoint, I'm looking for the frame that brings in every last person who is touched by that vision.”

My conclusion is Care Justice could be a useful term in some contexts by bringing together progressive groups to feel a sense of community and solidarity. It also helps articulate the idea that so many of us are in this for the long game, not short term, incremental progress only. Double Shifters, feel free to start using “Care Justice” if it speaks to you, and I welcome evolving ideas and definitions as the movement continues to grow.

For this week’s members-only thread I’m changing gears and keeping it light. So, what are you most looking forward to this summer? I look forward to hearing what you are looking forward to! Paying membership is what makes this newsletter possible. Plus you get audio newsletters, hangouts and more. It starts at $7/mo. Join us!

Members Only Hangout: Intelligent Decision-Making

June 6 3pm Eastern Time

How many kids should you have? Should you take a big promotion? Should you consider a cross country move? No one can tell you what the right decision is when you are facing a big crossroads, but we CAN think about a healthy process for HOW to make those big decisions. Double Shift member Abby Davisson will be leading us in discussion and an enlightening lil' workshop in decision-making framework at June's members-only hangout! If you are facing big decisions, are a decision procrastinator, or want to think about your choices more thoughtfully, this hangout is for you. Along with labor economist Myra Strober, she wrote Money & Love: An Intelligent Roadmap for Life's Biggest Decisions. We'll also be giving away a copy of her book! Members will get a separate email and calendar invite to their inboxes. Don't miss out on the fun!


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