Asynchronous Civics

November 06, 2022

Parenting, at least the way I do it, has a lot of time when I’m not doing much. But it is time of a particular type.

It is time that is interrupted; interruptible; passing at places not fully under my control; and during which I need to passively attend to what my kids are doing.

Civic and political life is largely a life of meetings, which require a different type of time: time of uninterrupted attention at specific hours and locations.

I have almost none of that type of time. And so outside of the work I do at DataMade, I haven’t participated very effectively in political and civic life since my children were born.

In the last year, I have been working with three very talented activists and researchers to understand the systemic dynamics of Chicago Public Schools and contribute what we learn to the public conversation about what schools are and should be.

It is the most satisfying and impactful, non-professional, civic action I’ve done in the last twenty years.

We have had two meetings.

Most of what we’ve accomplished is because my collaborators are very experienced, thoughtful, and seasoned in their expertise and relationships.

But a lot is also due to the fact that we all take care of young children, and have found a way to work together that doesn’t just accommodate that, but takes advantage of the particular type of time caregivers have.

It’s a group chat.

And like all group chat you can dip in and out of it throughout the day, catching up when you have a few minutes, and crucially, dropping when you don’t.

I’ve spent hundreds of hours getting to know my collaborators, learning from them, and expanding our vision of what could be possible. I have the time to do that because it fits into my life and my obligations. It doesn’t compete.

For generations, feminists have been pointing out how caregivers are excluded from public life, and demanding childcare so that caregivers can participate in meetings that require intensive time and attention.

It is absolutely right to demand that. But, I have also been experiencing the power that is available if we don’t require intensive time and attention from each other in order to build together.

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