Action Committee on Decent Childcare

author(s) unknown(1972). A description of the CWLU's childcare group and its battles with the Chicago city administration. author(s) unknown

(Editors Note: This article, reproduced from a 1972 Women: A Journal of Liberation, was an assessment of ACDC one year after its highly successful beginning.)

In Chicago, the Action Committee for Decent Childcare (ACDC) was organized a year ago as a coalition of women who work in childcare centers, need childcare or are interested in the problem. As a result of experience in attempting to develop client-controlled childcare centers, women realized the need for building a movement which could challenge existing policies and win reforms. The ACDC was formed as a direct action, mass organization which supports but does not become directly involved in setting up centers. The ACDC's goal is to change the existing political situation (and the codes and financing which reflect it) which ultimately will mean that groups will be able to develop centers in Chicago.

Before discussing in more detail the specific strategies and tactics of the ACDC, our underlying concepts should be made clear to put our work in context with our respect to our perspective on the women's movement.

In the past few years our movement has expanded rapidly, involving thousands of women across the country in the search for understanding women's oppression. At this point we feel it important to move on this understanding, with organization that can unite us in order to actively fight for ways to immediately improve our lives and build a base of power for women.

We have learned that women are oppressed in a variety of ways; but we are just beginning to learn the meaning of our own self-interest and how to act on it. For our movement to continue to expand, we must develop the power to challenge existing power relations and win power for ourselves. This can only be accomplished if we relate to all women's needs, beyond identifying the sources of our oppression and understanding them (as in consciousness raising alone). Our task must be to organize power.

Organizing for power means that we must create those structures that will enable us to move forward in developing our abilities and skills and bring about change.

Organizing for power also means that we must have a conception for the kinds of reforms we are fighting for. In many places the word reform is associated with cooptation--if you win, you must be doing something wrong, or what you are fighting for must be "counterrevolutionary". A few people in our society have power. Our task is to build a movement which can change that fact. This means organizing around specific demands that can be won, and which in the process will alter power relations, thus building our power base as women. Winning in one situation will give us the ability to move beyond that victory to greater challenges and the accumulation of more power. We feel one of our movement's worst enemies is its lack of visible success - to give us faith that we can win. Such small, tangible successes also help to make our vision concrete.

At the same time, in the struggle for concrete victories women will gain a sense of power and the meaning of power in our society. As women, one of the major obstacles we must confront is the belief we have no power and there is nothing we can do about it. Most of us have never had any influence over policies that effects our lives; and we have never experienced a situation where that might be different. Our challenge is to prove that wrong by building organizations which, in fact, win.

The basic question is determining what issues are in our self interest as women and then determining what kinds of reforms are possible. On the basis of self-interest, alliances can be built between two groups of women.

With these underlying assumptions the Action Committee for Decent Childcare was begun.

When we first began to organize, it was clear that most women in Chicago did not realize there was a crisis in childcare services in the City. Thus our initial work involved publicizing the crisis. We organized a demonstration of women and children at the at the City Council when the 1971 budget was passed to publicize the fact that no allocation for childcare services were being made. We then held a series of community meeting in different areas of the City, both as an educational program and as a way to find women who might be interested in working for us.

In July, a delegation of 60 women and children and the press met with Mr. Wade Parker of the City's Department of Human Resources. Visibly shaken by the angry group, he agreed to three of our five demands -- to undertake a review of licensing codes and procedures, to end closed door meetings of the department and to attend a public hearing on problems with licensing in the City.

Following up on the demands, the ACDC prepared for the public hearing scheduled for August 30th. The plan was that the day care center operators would present their grievances to the City and demand action. Women who attempted to open centers would also discuss their problems of harassment from the City due to its arbitrary licensing policies.

On August 16, Mayor Daley appointed Ms. Murrell Syler as Director of Child Care Services and shifted control of day care operations (but not really since she didn't have any power). Syler agreed to attend the meeting. By next week, both Parker and Syler tried to back out of their commitment. Additional pressure from women (calls from center operators all over the city -- both black and white and a delegation going to see Ms. Syler) and from the press convinced them to attend.

Through a carefully developed citywide network, over 200 people attended the public hearing. The testimony about the City's codes and procedures and specific questions raised about the City's plans, broke the wall of silence on the issue. Press coverage was extensive and for the next several weeks, day care was in the news with charges and countercharges by City departments. At the public hearing, the ACDC presented its analysis of licensing code and procedures with specific recommendations for change.

As a result of the meeting a complete review of licensing codes is underway. A City committee was created of which ACDC is a part. As in the case with most such committees, work is progressing, but very slowly. An action is being planned at the next meeting to demand a timetable for implementing the recommendations of the committee.

In September, the ACDC conducted a citizens investigation of a center the City was threatening to close down because it did not have a fire alarm (even though it was a modern, brick, building with steel structures)! The press coverage proved significant enough to force the City back down. In another case, we accompanied a center in their court hearing and the case has been given a continuance based on the City changing the code.

Currently a series of three community meetings is being planned in preparation for the City's budget hearing and a State Summit on Day Care called by Governor Ogilvie. Demands will be made to local politicians that they support legislation to provide funds for child care facilities. In a addition, ACDC will organize demonstrations a both these meetings to provide pressure for our demands.

ACDC is a citywide organization with representatives to a steering committee form six local communities and one representing woman at-large. We have a chairwoman and one staff person. Our goal is to organize local chapters in various Chicago communities but this depends on our abilities to raise funds for the organization. We meet weekly to discuss strategy and to evaluate our work.

What has ACDC won? At this point, we have succeeded in forcing the City to review its arbitrary licensing codes and many changes are highly likely (assuming our continued pressure). Two centers have not been closed down due to our efforts. The day care issue is now a public one and the City has been affected by our pressure (calling us and demanding we get of their backs, and telling us, "you don't bite the hand that feeds you"). And, perhaps most importantly, ACDC is established as an organization committed to fighting for free, client-controlled, 24 hour childcare in Chicago.

The struggle has just begun and we feel the pressure of developing quickly enough so that we will have the power to prevent the City from taking control of day care as part of its patronage system. We also anticipate the development of forced childcare for women on welfare (already a reality in Nixon's and Governor Ogilvie's proposals) and we must be strong enough to prevent that from happening. Further, as money becomes available, we must be in a position to ensure community groups can establish the kind of services they need and under their control.

Significantly, as women, we are developing skills to be able to confront the City and be able to use the press to our advantage. All of us have developed skills and confidence during the past year. As a women's organization, we feel that ACDC is a viable model for organizing for power. With all the frustrations, disappointments, difficulties, and hard work, we are slowly learning and helping each other to learn the meaning of power and how to fight for it