Profamily Hoopla Nan Fink 0 n May 14, 1988, a bright and warm Saturday, forty thousand people gathered near the Washington Monument in Washington D.C. for the American Family Celebration. From its name this event easily could have been another rightwing rally for the preservation of the nuclear familv O n e look at the crowd. however. made it clear that this was no right-wing event. At least half of the people present were union-affiliated-identifiable bv their colorful union hats and T-shirts, and their loud cheers when their union officials were introduced. The broad ethnic mix and the many visible "Jackson for President" buttons were also indications of the progressive leanings of the crowd. The event itself was in the best of the American festive tradition-relaxed and upbeat. People lounged in the sun, their kids were entertained by a children's program, they ate from picnic baskets or bought food from vendors, they strolled around the literature tables set up by union, political, and religious organizations, and they listened to music and speeches. 'Are you having fun?" one of the speakers asked. Those who were listening yelled, "Yes! " Yet, despite the celebratory air of the event, concern about American family life was the theme of the many speeches given by high union officials, liberal congresspeople, and heads of organizations such as the National Organization of Women and the National Council of Churches. The fact that the U.S. is the only industrialized nation in the world, except for South Africa, that doesn't have a national family policy was repeated throughout the afternoon. Speakers, citing the many serious ~ ~ ~ b lfaced e m bv ~ families today, called for a host of improvements in government support servicesincluding family and medical leave, Nan Fink is the publisher ofTikkun quality health care, increased child and elder care, equal pay for men and women, better education for children, economic security for all families, and more housing for poor families. American Family Celebration, with its Americana air and its progressive criticism of US. family policy, was organized by the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), an organization of activist women from many different unions. According to Joyce Miller, president of CLUW and vice president of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers, members of CLUW have been concerned about family issues since 1971. It is only in the last few years, however, that CLUW has translated this concern into action. CLUW's programming is directed toward unions, and unions (with the exception of some local chapters) have not wanted to deal with family issues. In fact, the all-out union support given to American Family Celebration-an indication of a major change in union attitude toward family issues-came somewhat as a surprise even to the event's organizers. Such support would have been unthinkable only one or two years ago. The shift in union consciousness about family issues that made this event possible in 1988 reflects the growing openness to profamily concerns among many groups on the left. This shift on the left is remarkable, because, since the 1960s and until recently, the left either ignored the family or saw it as an instrument of oppression of everyone but white heterosexual males. The left's long-standing resistance to identifying family issues as important and its hostility toward people who care about the quality of family life can be Significant Judaica Drowned and the Saved. Levi. 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Master Card and Visa accepted on orders over $15 Also include card #. cardholder sianature and exnirat on date Postage of t3 on"aomest c and55 nlernal ona per oroer.Ai orders must be prep8 d and cneck and money oroers in US only. 1 I seen no more clearly than in two articles printed in The Nation in 1982. In "Recapturing the Family Issue" Michael Lerner, now editor of Tikkun, wrote that there needs to be a left profamily voice that addresses the specific problems of American family life today. People, he wrote, are attracted to the right because it is the only place where their concern about family life is being taken seriously. H e proposed an ambitious three-part program-including a family Bill of Rights, a family support network, and an American Families' Day celebration. From the reaction to this article, one would have thought that Lerner had advocated that everyone be locked into oppressive nuclear families. Barbara Ehrenreich, co-chair of Democratic Socialists of America, responded in The Nation by saying that profamily concern comes from "nasty impulses," such as racism, sexual repressiveness, and misogyny. It leads people to back off from the "important" issues of gender and sexual liberation. Describing left-wing profamilyism as "puritanical" and Lerner's proposals as "an affront to common sense," she suggested that we need a supportive infrastructure of community institutions-not family institutions. In 1982, Lerner was apparently ahead of his time. However, it is now 1988, and most progressives consider the family to be a legitimate object of concern. Almost all of us, after all, are in families, whether we like it or not. Also, we have broadened the definition of family to include alternatives to the man/woman/one or more kids (in that hierarchical order) constellation. Those of us living with a child and/or with a gay lover, for example, now think of ourselves as living in families. ot only have we redefined the family to include all sorts - of variations, but, as the years have gone by and we have had to deal with family responsibilities and pressures, we have been made all too painfully aware by the grind of our daily lives that family life is very difficult. Problems we have with child care, health care, elder care, work, and making enough money to pay for everythingall these things create enormous pressure, and this pressure affects the quality of our family lives. As we look at other industrialized countries and 62 TIKKUN VOL. 3, No. 4 see that they provide more support for their families, it makes sense to us to fight for that support in this country. Given that there is a recent, growing openness to profamilyism amongst progressives, several questions about strategy emerge. First, how can we push for greater family support without giving up the broad definition of the family we have worked so hard to attain? There is a danger here: In order to get support for a national profamily ~ o l i c y we , might end up not insisting that all configurations of families be included. A case in point is American Family Celebration. Although there were a few references in the speeches to "there are all kinds of families," the literature for the event side-stepped the question of what is a family. Before the event, gays and lesbians asked CLUW leadership more specifically to include homosexual couples as families. C L U W responded by encouraging gays to participate in the celebration hut not to expect that all their issues would be dealt with at that time. At the event itself, family life seemed to be equated with heterosexuality. There were many references in the speeches to single mothers, old couples, and poor families-but no talk about gay couples or gay parents. CLUW organizers appeared to be afraid of turning off union leadership by including gays. However, if the left is going to make headway in sparking a profamily movement, it is important not to marginalize gay families. A left profamily platform won't be supported by most leftists unless it includes all kinds of families. Another question about profamily strategy that emerges is how to channel concern about the family into effective political action. The purpose of American Family Celebration was to build support for progressive legislation in areas connected with family welfare. Given the large number of people that turned out and the spirit with which those people responded to speeches about the need for a national family policy, it appeared that the event was an effective support-building mechanism. The problem was, however, that there was no follow-up. People at the celebration were encouraged to sign petitions that included two sections, the first of which was a ,general statement that the federal gov- ernment has "an essential role to olav in strengthening the basic rights for American families." The second section, A Call to Action, urged US. Congress members to support specific pieces of profamily legislation that have been introduced in the House or Senate. The petition, although good tor consciousness raising, was only a first step-and a wimpy one, at that, People at the event could have been organized to lobby individual congressional members about particular pieces of legislation (most crucial is the Family and Medical Leave Act, which has a good chance of passing). American Family Celebration, as a first step in reclaiming the family issue, was successful in that it got across the need for a national family policy. Predictably, the event focused on specific problems of families-e.g. poor education, lack of health care, and poverty. Typical was the statement, "We need good child care for our children!" As important as it is to press for the eradication of these, and other, family problems, it is equally important that the problems be put into a larger context. This was done only to the extent that speakers at the event blamed the Reagan administration for making things worse for families. Connecting links between the structure of capitalism and oroblems in familv life were not mentioned at all. For example. there was no discussion about how the competitive American economy creates pressures for people at work-and how these pressures cause people to be less available for loving family relationships. In order for the left to mobilize around family issues, the connecting links need to be made clear so that people understand that improving family life is not just a matter of developing a better system of child care or giving money to poor families (as good as these things would be). A progressive profamily platform needs to help people recognize how these problems are connected and how they are the result of the social system that exists in the U.S. Otherwise, it will be mobilizing around a family "wish-list" and miss the larger picture. Those people who care about family life in America-and who are not caught up in right-wing profamilyism-are more likely to respond to a deeper analysis of the family issue. 0 2 L .