Workshop: “Winning on Child Care through Elections”

America’s child care movement increasingly is utilizing electoral engagement as a tool to build power and make policy progress. Examples from across the country were on display last month when Every Child Matters organized and led a popular workshop on Electoral Engagement at the Grassroots Assembly for Child Care and Early Education in Washington, DC.

The Assembly was a historic gathering of hundreds of child care advocates, representing state and national organizations and unions, coming together to discuss strategies for collaborating to encourage political leaders to support their agenda.

The session, “Winning on Child Care through Elections,” highlighted issue-campaigns in Georgia, New York, Washington state, New Mexico, Iowa, Minnesota and Nevada, as well as in Alameda County, California, and was among the first-ever national event’s most widely attended workshops.

Four dynamic grassroots leaders illustrated a range of 501(c)(3) and (c)(4) approaches to elevating child care during elections – from educating and mobilizing voters to bird-dogging and putting candidates on the record in meetings or forums. Two shorter presentations focused on specific, just-completed campaigns, including the astounding, heart-breaking ballot initiative for child care in Alameda County that generated 66.2 percent of the vote in favor, falling just a half a percentage point short of the needed 66.7 percent. Eight prepared responders led small group discussions aimed at sharing experiences and identifying lessons-learned and questions to be answered.

The workshop was an introduction for most participants—to each other and to the idea that this exciting electoral work is happening in so many places. High-energy exchanges focused more on connecting and interaction than on detailed explanations. As with the Assembly as a whole, strong leadership from parents, especially women of color, was in effect. Concluding observations tended to be general, along the lines of: the electoral focus is productive, we need more of it.

No consensus materialized yet regarding best practices or strategy for the still-emerging movement. But general enthusiasm for electoral engagement around child care was evident. Leading themes included:

  • communicating with and educating parents about the issue and voting;
  • changing the public narrative to recognize child care as a right and public good;
  • the need to organize from the ground up; and
  • working in collaboration or coalitions that align core values.

Wherever child-care policy advocacy is occurring, at whatever level, that is where electoral engagement can help. It raises the issue’s profile and creates relationships with candidates who are, or might become, office-holders. It mobilizes parents. And it educates both voters and policy-makers.

As Shanequa Levin, Every Child Matters’ New York campaign director, put it: “Our workshop was important because elections highlight issues. But who shines a light on kids’ issues? I gave people tangible activities they can engage in as a (c)(3) organization. I also used my personal story to explain how other people’s advocacy for kids allowed me to survive childhood. That’s powerful. Elevating children’s issues during elections has to be a key part of all our work.”

Want to learn more? Watch the videos from the workshop below: