Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines

Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines


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An anthology that gives access to the voices of mothers of color and marginalized mothers
Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Frontlines is an anthology that centers mothers of color and marginalized mothers’ voices—women who are in a world of necessary transformation. The challenges faced by movements working for antiviolence, anti-imperialist, and queer liberation, as well as racial, economic, reproductive, gender, and food justice are the same challenges that marginalized mothers face every day. Motivated to create spaces for this discourse because of the authors’ passionate belief in the power of a radical conversation about mothering, they have become the go-to people for cutting-edge inspired work on this topic for an overlapping committed audience of activists, scholars, and writers. Revolutionary Mothering is a movement-shifting anthology committed to birthing new worlds, full of faith and hope for what we can raise up together. Contributors include alba onofrio, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Ariel Gore, Arielle Julia Brown, Autumn Brown, Cheryl Boyce-Taylor, China Martens, Christy NaMee Eriksen, Claire Barrera, Cynthia Dewi Oka, Esteli Juarez Boyd, Fabielle Georges, Fabiola Sandoval, Gabriela Sandoval, H. Bindy K. Kang, Irene Lara, June Jordan, Karen Su, Katie Kaput, Layne Russell, Lindsey Campbell, Lisa Factora-Borchers, Loretta J. Ross, Mai’a Williams, Malkia A. Cyril, Mamas of Color Rising, Micaela Cadena, Noemi Martinez, Norma A. Marrun, Panquetzani, Rachel Broadwater, Sumayyah Talibah, Tara CC Villaba, Terri Nilliasca, tk karakashian tunchez, Victoria Law, and Vivian Chin.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781629631103
Publisher: PM Press
Publication date: 04/01/2016
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 312,082
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Alexis Pauline Gumbs was named one of UTNE Reader’s 50 Visionaries Transforming the World in 2009, a Reproductive Reality Check Shero, a Black Woman Rising nominee in 2010, and was awarded one of the first-ever Too Sexy for 501c3 trophies in 2011. She is a cocreator of the MobileHomecoming experiential archive and documentary project, which has been featured in Curve Magazine, the Huffington Post, in Durham Magazine, and on NPR. She lives in Durham, North Carolina. China Martens is the author of The Future Generation: The Zine-book for Subculture Parents, Kids, Friends and Others, and coeditor of Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind: Concrete Ways to Support Families in Social Justice Movements and Communities. She was a cofounder of Kidz City, a radical child care collective in Baltimore (2009–2013). She lives in Baltimore, Maryland. Mai’a Williams is the creator and director of Water Studio which supports and cocreates with underground community artists and revolutionaries in Cairo, Egypt. Her essays, short stories, and poetry have appeared in publications such as make/shift, Mamaphiles, Popshot, and Woman’s Work. She is the instigator of the Outlaw Midwives movement, zines, and blog, and is the author of the anthology Revolutionary Motherhood, which became the inspiration for Revolutionary Mothering.

Read an Excerpt

Revolutionary Mothering

Love on the Front Lines

By Alexis Pauline Gumbs, China Martens, Mai'a Williams

PM Press

Copyright © 2016 PM Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62963-245-2



Alexis Pauline Gumbs

* * *

Revolutionary Mothering is a bridging act, in this book and in the lives of all the people who practice revolutionary mothering in their daily lives. Boldly dressing ourselves in the legacy of the revolutionary anthologies The Black Woman, Home Girls, This Bridge Called My Back, and the women of color–led Reproductive Justice movement, we are flamboyantly activating the legacy of radical personal political testimonies and theories of women of color feminists of the 1970s and '80s in order to make the radical practice of mothering visible as a key to our collective liberation. The practice of mothering that inspired us to create this book is older than feminism; it is older and more futuristic than the category "woman." We are investigating and amplifying the nuances of practices that have existed as long as there have been people of different ages with different superpowers invested in each other's existence.

We are making a claim that should be obvious but is often overlooked. In order to collectively figure out how to sustain and support our evolving species, in order to participate in and demand a society where people help to create each other instead of too often destroying each other, we need to look at the practice of creating, nurturing, affirming, and supporting life that we call mothering.

This book cannot include all of the generations that have practiced mothering on this planet, but we find it important to honor at least the generation of work that precedes this project. Much of the intergenerational vision that we practice and celebrate in this collection can be described through June Jordan's declaration in 1977 that "Love is Lifeforce." In a previously unpublished speech that she delivered at a conference about children's literature at UC Berkley, Jordan poetically and urgently articulates the importance of intergenerational relationship to the fate of humankind. We want to start here, with June Jordan's words, with love, and follow up with some words from Alexis Pauline Gumbs's research on feminists of color conversations and practices of radical mothering. Maybe when we say "mothering" in this book, we really mean "the creative spirit" or "love" itself. We find Jordan's definitions of creation and love and life and power useful; we find her queer, utopian, hopeful and critical articulations of mothering crucial to the questions about and experiences of mothering we explore in this text. And we love you.

The Creative Spirit: Children's Literature

June Jordan

* * *

Love is lifeforce.

I believe that the creative spirit is nothing less than love made manifest.

I see love as the essential nature of all that supports life.

Love is opposed to the death of the dream. Love is opposed to the delimiting of possibilities of experience.

When we run on love, when we move and change and build and paint and sing and write and foster the maximal fulfillment of our own lives, as well as the maximal fulfillment of other lives that look to us for help, for protection, or for usable clues to the positive excitement of just being alive, then we make manifest the creative spirit of the universe: a spirit existing within each of us and yet persisting infinitely greater than the ultimate capacities of any one of us.

I think of the amazing fact, for example, that tiger lilies in a field will bloom, wild as they grow, exactly on the same day as wild tiger lilies several miles away; there is an orderliness, a perpetual inclination to grow, to become manifest from an invisible beginning, a perpetual impulse to expand, and to transform, that seems to me the essence of being, even, perhaps, the irreducible purpose of being. By nature, whether we are children or tiger lilies, it seems that our essence, our purpose does not imply harm to other elements of the world. Neither tiger lilies nor children, by their nature, threaten the rain, or the bees, or the rivers of the world.

And it seems to me that love, that a serious and tender concern to respect the nature, and the spontaneous purpose of other things, other people, will make manifest a peaceable order among us such that fear, conflict, competition, waste, and environmental sacrifice will have no place.

That is what I believe.

What I know is that the creative spirit is real beyond you or me. In my own life as a poet, and in the lives of many of my students, for instance, it has happened, more than once in a whole, that an entire poem will be "given" and/or that a completely formulated, fictional character will be "given" to us: This process, or this kind of an event by no means represents a mainstay of our productivity, but it does occur often enough to keep you humble, to let you realize that the creative spirit is as much a process depending on your receptivity as it is a process depending on your willful conjuring up of your willful projection of visual or aural or verbal constructs for which you would like to feel proudly responsible. If this is the function of the creative spirit, then, in my work as an artist, it seems to me that I am always about a most sobering task, the task of survival, for myself, and for those who may carry what I offer to them, into their own lives.

And because we coexist on a planet long defiled by habits opposite to love, it seems to me that the task of surviving and/or the task of providing for the survival of those who are not as strong as I am, is a political undertaking: Vast changes will have to be envisioned, and pursued, if any, let alone all, of us will survive the destructive traditions of our species. Enormous reversals and revisions of our thinking patterns will have to be achieved, somehow, and fast. And to accomplish such lifesaving alterations of society, we will have to deal with power: we will have to make love powerful. We will have to empower the people we love so that they can insist upon the validity of their peculiar coloring or gender or ethnicity or accidental economic status, so that they can bloom in their own place and time like the tiger lilies growing beautiful and free.

So far I have been looking at the creative spirit or the rational, and imaginative manifestation of love in a general way.

How should we see the function of this spirit in relationship to children?

I know of nothing more important, more difficult, and more purely loving than the nurture of children, be it as a parent, a teacher, or as an artist wishing to serve them well.

Children are the ways that the world begins again and again. If you fasten upon that concept of their promise, you will have trouble finding anything more awesome, and also anything more extraordinarily exhilarating, than the opportunity or/and the obligation to nurture a child into his or her own freedom.

At the same time, children depend on you and me, on the large women and the large men around them, for more than we can easily, or comfortably, imagine. Like it or not, we are the ones who think we know, who believe, who remember, who predict, a great part of what they will, in their turn, think they know, or remember, or believe, or expect simply because we are the ones who feed, who clothe, who train them to stay away from fire or dolls or Chinese food or the vigorous climbing of apple trees. In addition, children rely on us for their safety, for their sense of safety, for their sense of being in or out of their element, their sense of being capable of solving whatever problems come up, or of being in capable, of being helpless.

We, the larger ones, possess a degree of power over the lives of children that we would find inconceivable and unspeakably tyrannical in any other context. Yet, we mostly wear this power as some divine right not to be questioned, not to be wrestled with as one would wrestle with an angel for the sake of one's soul. Or we try to minimize and trivialize this power by limiting our concepts of our function to those of discipline, or to those of boundless hugs and kisses. Or we pretend we do not have this power; in the name of what we mistakenly call freedom, we exert ourselves as little as possible, beyond meeting a relatively middle-class notion of creative needs. Or we pretend we do not have this power because we look at ourselves, and we look at the mess, the horrendous, shameful mess that is our international legacy to our children and we think, "God. I don't know, kid; don't ask me."

And, of course, regardless of how we view the power, the responsibility that we embody, vis-à-vis the children, that power and that responsibility remain an incomparable, profound and inexorable opportunity to bless or to curse their lives, to open or to seal their willingness to trust, to explain, and to create.

One abiding characteristic of these little people, the children of our lives, is their unabashed sobriety: whether they are "playing house" or whether they are doubling up with giggle fits of laughter, of extremely felt joy, children are serious: they do not pretend to make believe or to laugh or to howl out the hurt, the discomfort of a moment: whether the feeling, the act, or the so-called game, the child is, compared to the rest of us, supremely unequivocal in her or his commitment to that moment of being. As a consequence, particularly young children are what we term literal: I remember when my son refused to return to school after his lunch hour at home, one afternoon, because, as I finally persuaded him to confide in me, the teacher told him that he was adorable: because the word was unfamiliar to him and because her manner was less than clearly, simply loving, he felt himself in limbo and only after I explained the meaning of adorable and also the meaning of folks who say supposedly nice things that they do not entirely feel, was he ready to re-enter her dominion, the classroom.

Another way of saying what I mean is to say that children, that what happens to someone as a child, whether that something is a beating, or a picture book, will happen without meeting defense, without encountering a barrier to its potential impact — for good or for ill. In childhood we live through days and nights of singularly direct apprehension, singularly vulnerable passage through uncensored experience.

Let me give two different illustrations of this fact, both of them personal:

Last night, thanks to the kindness of Anne Gold, I reread "The Ugly Duckling." The version in my hands was The Complete Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen, translated by Eric C. Haugaard. I wanted to reread this story because two days ago Anne Durrell referred to it as "a great story" and, even as she made that judgment, my heart rebelled: my memory of "The Ugly Duckling" was rather different: I remember being given that story one night, as my parents prepared to go out for the evening, leaving me with an unknown adult, a babysitter of some sort. Abandoned as I felt, I took the little book into my crib, I believe I was somewhere between two and three years old at the time, and I read and I studied the words and the drawings of that story: Infamous night!

In the bastardized version that I held in my hands, undoubtedly the same candy store version now available for 39¢ or 49¢, the ugly duckling was ugly because he was Black, and because he was smaller than the rest of the brood: a runt.

As I was Black, or darkskinned, compared to both of my parents, and as I was smaller than most kids my age, there was no route that I could find for escape: I was the ugly duckling and, moreover, I was ugly for reasons I could neither control nor change. Reading that story I met my doom: for the first time, I acquired a sense of myself as ugly as not belonging, as wrong, you know, that even now I must struggle to overcome. That wound was severely crippling, severely intense.

Well, it was quite extraordinary to discover, last night, that the original version of "The Ugly Duckling" has nothing to do with color and that, actually, the duckling was larger than the rest of the brood because he was, indeed, a swan. And it was quite extraordinary to discover, last night, that I agree with Anne Durrell, that I think it's a great story, as she does, because now I can see a wonderful meaning to the tale, now I can see a message: that you will be beautiful when you are recognized as the person you really are, and that you will be beautiful when you do not try to be something you are not: when you are true to yourself then you will become like a swan: released in the grace of natural and spontaneous purpose.

That is the first illustration of the vulnerability of the child. Here is the second: this is a poem that my son, Christopher, wrote when he was nine years old:

All of Us a Family

The day will come
When people will come
Red, Yellow, Black and White
A family they'll be
And a family tree
Oh and the day will come
When a Black leader can stand in safety
Knowing that all others are his brothers and sisters
In the family of man.

At the last, that was his response to the assassination of Martin Luther King: a terrible wistfulness that no one would possibly deny as to its authenticity.

And here is a poem that Christopher wrote one year later:

I've Seen Enough

I've been through Africa
I was there when Solomon was claimed king
I was best man to Cleopatra
I've seen the death of millions over in Japan
When the treacherous bomb was dropped
Surely I can say I've seen enough
What more proof need I tell you?
Must I tell you that I bore the cross
On which Jesus Christ was crucified?
Jesus Christ! I tell you surely
I've seen enough

Now you have brief but factual testimony to the emotional and intellectual makeup of a two-year-old and a ten-year-old.

These are random examples of vulnerability, and of a serious character, commonplace to the children who we frequently dismiss as "cute" and "childish," by which we mean not serious, and inconsequential.

It is for little people of such possible response, that we frequently put together toys and books about nothing at all, or toys and books that, inherently, we would despise for ourselves because they are "cute," or silly, or pointless, or fiendish.

What do we have in mind when we give a little girl the three-dimensional replica of a kitchen stove that does nothing at all?


Excerpted from Revolutionary Mothering by Alexis Pauline Gumbs, China Martens, Mai'a Williams. Copyright © 2016 PM Press. Excerpted by permission of PM Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Preface — Loretta J. Ross,
Introduction — Mai'a Williams,
Organization of This Book: Roots and Branches,
I. Intergenerational Introduction: Foremothers for Mothering,
Introduction — Alexis Pauline Gumbs,
The Creative Spirit: Children's Literature — June Jordan,
m/other ourselves: a Black queer feminist genealogy for radical mothering — Alexis Pauline Gumbs,
Motherhood, Media, and Building a 21st-Century Movement — Malkia A. Cyril,
On My Childhood, El Centro del Raza, and Remembering — Esteli Juarez,
II. From the Shorelines to the Front Lines,
Introduction — Mai'a Williams,
a conversation with my six-year-old about revolution — Cynthia Dewi Oka,
A Los Angeles Quartet: Daily Survival, Body Memory, First-world Single Mama, Identity and Mothering — Fabiola Sandoval,
Mothering as Revolutionary Praxis — Cynthia Dewi Oka,
Super Babies — Sumayyah Talibah,
Doing It All ... and Then Again with Child — Victoria Law,
population studies — Cynthia Dewi Oka,
She Is a Radical — Tara Villalba and Lola Mondragón,
My Son Runs in Riots — Christy NaMee Eriksen,
III. The Bottom Line,
Introduction — China Martens,
Single Mama Moments — Christy NaMee Eriksen,
Why Don't You Love Her? — Norma Angelica Marrun,
Mothering — Vivian Chin,
Brave Hearts — Rachel Broadwater,
Scarcity and Abundance — Autumn Brown,
The Clothesline — Layne Russell,
This Is What Radical Mamihood Looks Like — Noemi Martinez,
IV. Out (of) Line,
Introduction — Alexis Pauline Gumbs,
Forget Hallmark: Why Mother's Day Is a Queer Black Left Feminist Thing — Alexis Pauline Gumbs,
Three Thousand Words — Katie Kaput,
my first poem as a radical mother — alba onofrio,
Beacon, Bridge, and Boulevards — Gabriela Sandoval,
In this Pure Light — Cheryl Boyce Taylor,
Queering Family — Ariel Gore,
V. Two Pink Lines,
Introduction — Mai'a Williams,
Step on a Crack: Parenting with Chronic Pain — Claire Barrera,
Birthing a New Feminism — Lisa Factora-Borchers,
Choice — Esteli Juarez,
The Darkness — Fabielle Georges,
Birthing My Goddess — H. Bindy K. Kang,
Night Terrors, Love, Brokenness, Race, Home & the Perils of the Adoption Industry: A Journey in Radical Family Creation — Terri Nilliasca,
From the Four Directions: The Dreaming, Birthing, Healing Mother on Fire — Irene Lara,
What Does the Daughter of a Chicana-Lesbian Teenage Mom Know About Having Babies? — Panquetzani,
VI. Between the Lines,
Introduction — China Martens,
Collective Poem on Mothering — Mamas of Color Rising (Austin, Tejas),
Telling Our Truths to Live: A Manifesta — tk karakashian tunchez,
Love Balm for My SpiritChild — Arielle Julia Brown,
"You Look Too Young to Be a Mom" Excerpts from Girl-Mom, a Play Created from Posts to 2001–2003 — Lindsey Campbell,
Letter to Aymara — Micaela Cadena,
My Birthday Present — Karen Su,
Editor Bios,
Contributor Bios,

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