Before we can answer this question, we must ask: what is play? Play is the antithesis of work. Work is the art of an exploitative science. It tugs at the reigns of capital, conducting its movements, speed and flow, carrying with it the hearse of companionship. It tramples our natural sociality, but binds us in a common hatred. Play is the revitalization of life; of our dreams and our desires. It is the rejection of the necessary non-freedom promoted, produced, and projected by work. It is releasing human floods of bodily desire across the barriers of separation created by work. Play is unmediated joy.
Anarchy is a condition; that of being without rule. Anarchy is the absence of, and the rejection of the notions that give rise to the legitimization of authority. It is unmediated freedom. Freedom to shape our lives as we see fit, to make our own decisions outside the realm of politics, where biological life is exposed to death, and to appropriate the means of existence from the chokehold of industrial civilization and its arsenal of economies, experts, and militaries.
Playground Anarchy is a conception; an understanding of what it is to experience life as play while simultaneously realizing its antiauthoritarian implications. Further, it can be considered the absolute embrace of a peculiar yet collective singularity; that of our inner-child. Further still, Playground Anarchy may be best described as the destruction of the great appendage known as chronological history and the creation of an always and all-at-once present appropriation of the past, during which we move from our shared affectivity to a shared direction.
We, its practitioners, recognize that upon entering adulthood (a.k.a. the realm of work, material overproduction, commodity fetishization, etc.) an individual can own nothing but their own labor power, surrenduring all other autonomous projects. It becomes painfully evident that we gradually and incontrovertibly lose our real sense of selves. Diametrically, we recognize that in our experiences during the years of our youth, life had been actualized. In childhood, life was all that it could be, and all that it is currently not: adventure, exploration, discovery, learning, loving, sharing, bonding, and growing. This recognition is explicated not only the theoretical writings of Marx or the classical literary contributions of Salinger, but universally: in every individual’s perceived need, even if it is expressed through the great irony of consumerism, to escape from the world of work, and thus, the logic of capital.
Yet, as anarchists we desire more than a pathetic dislodging from the dominion of capital. We are not interested in securing such matters of temporality; rather, we seek an eternal and unmediated freedom, which is to be materialized through a life (re)structured by play. Under capitalism, play has become yet another potentially affirming activity separated from everyday life.
True to its own perverse logic, capitalism designs, manufactures, and sells “parks” to communities – designated areas where our play is premeditated and established within assigned parameters. We are allotted a time and a place to play, so long as it does not threaten the sanctity of the work week, the monetary system at large, or the rigid social order it permeates. These are (often successful) efforts to maintain normalcy. When the clock strikes three, we flood the lot, and things appear to be going along as usual – running the way that they “should” be. Thus, it is only when we make our play total, outside of the increasing limitations of capital, that we destroy the constructs of work and leisure, of production and consump- tion, while simultaneously reterritorializing the space we inhabit through the liberation of our desires.
In a similar fashion, the standing mode of production – being an insatiable beast which finds sustenance only in merciless commodification – has adopted the technique of reifying our common nostalgia. While they rob us of life by exploiting us to wage slavery on the one hand, they expect us to believe that we can buy it all back in films, books, costumes and theme park tickets. We choose, as a response to the great lie we have been fed, to shove dirt in the mouth of such a courteous oppressor, in all of their offerings and claims of opportunity.
In Playground Anarchy we will henceforth begin to take back the images they exploit and credit themselves with – those images that we, their unwanted children, gave life to in worlds outside of work. The genuinely positive social relations (those of cooperation, sharing, and aiding) prevalent in childhood are to be made distinct from the spectacle’s vulgar interpretation/presentation: synthetic friendships, stories that applaud hierarchy and heroism, and adventures that only amount to transparent celluloid. We seek to collectively live out our dreams, while they seek to keep us stationary and entertained with a cheap imitation thereof.
We call for the immediate dismantling of all borders, boundaries, and restrictions. We will leap over every fence. No longer will we accept the painful familiarity of their predict able realm of play. We will watch possibilities explode, like the gunpowder and dust of their spectacular images, yet ours will be so immense that they shade the night sky permanently.
In attempts to liberate seized playgrounds with locked fences, relentlessly stencil four-square courts up and down city streets, and to occupy abandoned homes, factories and universities, we give content to our particular form of subversion. Whether your experience is in sprinting through a cemetery after dusk, opening a fire hydrant on a hot summer day, or exploring a decaying manufacturing plant, we urge you to rediscover the child within you – to release it at once, and in every direction. Use your imaginations, pack some candy, go outside, find each other, and enact the most bodily of revolts. The playground is open.
Preschool to Prison
Although African-Americans constitute only 13 percent of all Americans, nearly half of all prison inmates in the U.S. are black. This startling statistic has led the United Nations Human Rights Committee to publicly criticize the U.S. for its treatment of African-Americans. A number of recent studies and reports paint a damning picture of how American society dehumanizes blacks starting from early childhood.
Racial justice activists and prison abolition groups have long argued that the “school-to-prison” pipeline funnels young black kids into the criminal justice system, with higher rates of school suspension and arrest compared with nonblack kids for the same infractions. More than 20 years ago, Smith College professor Ann Arnett Ferguson wrote a groundbreaking book based on her three-year study of how black boys in particular are perceived differently starting in school. In “Bad Boys: Public Schools in the Making of Black Masculinity,” Ferguson laid out the ways in which educators and administrators funneled black male students into the juvenile justice system based on perceived differences between them and other students. Today this trend continues with record numbers of suspensions as a result of “zero-tolerance” school policies and the increasing presence of campus police officers who arrest students for insubordination, fights and other types of behavior that might be considered normal “acting out” in school-aged children. In fact, black youth are far more likely to be suspended from school than any other race. They also face disproportionate expulsion and arrest rates, and once children enter the juvenile justice system they are far more likely to be incarcerated as adults.
Even the Justice Department under President Obama has understood what a serious problem this is, issuing a set of new guidelines earlier this year to curb discriminatory suspension in schools. But it turns out that negative disciplinary actions affect African-American children starting as early as age 3. The U.S. Department of Education just released a comprehensive study of public schools, revealing in a report that black children face discrimination even in preschool. (That preschool-aged children are suspended at all is hugely disturbing.) Data from the 2011-12 year show that although black children make up only 18 percent of preschoolers, 42 percent of them were suspended at least once and 48 percent were suspended multiple times.
Consistent with this educational data and taking into account broader demographic, family and economic data for children of various races, broken down by state, is a newer study released this week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation that found African-American children are on the lowest end of nearly every measured index including proficiency in math and reading, high school graduation, poverty and parental education. The report, titled Race for Results, plainly says, “The index scores for African-American children should be considered a national crisis.”
Two other studies published recently offer specific evidence of how black children are so disadvantaged at an early age. One research project, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, examined how college students and police officers estimated the ages of children who they were told had committed crimes. Both groups studied by UCLA professor Phillip Goff and collaborators were more likely to overestimate the ages of black children compared with nonblack ones, implying that black children were seen as “significantly less innocent” than others. The authors wrote:
We expected … that individuals would perceive Black boys as being more responsible for their actions and as being more appropriate targets for police violence. We find support for these hypotheses … and converging evidence that Black boys are seen as older and less innocent and that they prompt a less essential conception of childhood than do their White same-age peers.
Another study by researchers at UC Riverside found that teachers tended to be more likely to evaluate black children negatively than nonblack ones who were engaged in pretend play. Psychology professor Tuppett M. Yates, who led the study, observed 171 preschool-aged children interacting with stuffed toys and other props and evaluated them for how imaginative and creative they were. In an interview on Uprising, Yates told me that all the children, regardless of race, were “similarly imaginative and similarly expressive,” but when their teachers evaluated those same children at a later time, there was a discriminatory effect. Yates explained, “For white children, imaginative and expressive players were rated very positively [by teachers] but the reverse was true for black children. Imaginative and expressive black children were perceived as less ready for school, as less accepted by their peers, and as greater sources of conflict and tension.”
Although it is clear that negative behaviors were magnified through “race-colored glasses,” according to Yates, her study of children engaged in pretend play found that “there is also potentially a systematic devaluing of positive attributes among black children.” This made her concerned about how “very early on, some kids are being educated towards innovation and leadership and others may be educated towards more menial or concrete social positions.” Reflecting on the 2001 book Bad Boys and how little seems to have changed since then, Yates affirmed that author Ferguson’s assertion that black children are given a “hidden curriculum” is still true now. She told me, “Our data suggests that that hidden curriculum may be persisting today and that it’s starting much earlier than we ever could have anticipated.” She noted her deep concern that “we’re actually reproducing inequality generation after generation.”
When I asked her to comment on the Goff study showing police estimates of black children as older than they are, Yates agreed that it appears as though “the same objective data are being interpreted differently as a function of race.” Ferguson also apparently noted this trend, calling it an “adultification” of black boys. Yates recounted an example from Ferguson’s work in which “when a white student fails to return their library book, they’re seen as forgetful and when a black student fails to return a library book, terms like ‘thief’ or ‘looter’ were used.”
Studies such as these consistently show that African-Americans have the deck stacked against them starting in early childhood through adulthood. Taken together, they make a strong case for the existence of a “preschool-to-prison” pipeline and the systematic dehumanization that black children face in American society. Yates summarized, “Across these different studies, black children are viewed differently. They are consequently given less access to the kinds of structural avenues required to advance in our society and ultimately they become less valued in our culture,” and are ultimately “fast tracked to the margins.”
Daily Beast staff writer Jamelle Bouie, writing about black preschoolers being disproportionately suspended, provocatively asked, “Are Black Students Unruly? Or is America Just Racist?” Yates gave me the obvious answer saying, “We know that [discrimination] exists. It’s the most parsimonious explanation for these kinds of persistent inequalities.” But perhaps there is also an element of justifiable unruliness involved. Yates offered that “black children—rightfully so—are more likely to disengage from their educational milieus and potentially rebel against them because these systems are at best failing to support them, and at worst channeling them into this pipeline towards negative ends.”
She indicted American society as a whole, saying, “Our educational system, our economic system, our judicial system, all of these are converging to reproduce these kinds of inequalities and perpetuate the criminalization of blacks in our culture.” Although Attorney General Eric Holder’s push to reform mandatory minimum sentences that disproportionately incarcerate African-Americans is indeed laudable, strong action is needed now to address the early childhood barriers facing black kids. The preschool-to-prison pipeline needs to be dismantled from its starting point rather than simply its endpoint. Ultimately, “change,” Yates said, “is really going to require effort at all levels such as individual teachers, superintendents, police officers, attorneys general and even in the media.”
Fight Ableism. Fight Child Abuse.
The Internet was abuzz last week with the Hillary Adams case; a young woman bravely videotaped her father beating her as a teen, and uploaded the video to YouTube several years later, sparking an international discussion about child abuse. It’s a horrible video to watch, made more chilling when you realise the level of planning and thought that must have gone into it.
Fighting child abuse is challenging on so many levels because it can be hard to identify the victims, especially when they are too terrified to speak. It’s telling that Adams didn’t come out about her abuse until she was in a safe environment, outside her home, many years later. Clearly she lives with the memories not just of what she experienced, but the systems that failed her and allowed that abuse to continue, because people thought her dad was a good guy, a stand-up kind of fellow, reputable, because he was a judge.
In the ample analysis of the video and discussions about how Adams’ father should be punished, one element of the case has been minimally examined: Hillary is disabled. She has cerebral palsy. This is a key aspect of the story that shouldn’t be left out, because it’s central to a larger discussion. You cannot talk about child abuse without addressing, specifically, the abuse of children with disabilities. A UNICEF report in 2005 stressed that any action on child abuse needs to fully integrate children with disabilities. Disability-specific interventions are critical because of the disability-specific issues children experience globally, and 10% of the world’s children are disabled or will become disabled by age 19, which makes them a nontrivial population.
A child born with a disability or a child who becomes disabled may be directly subject to physical violence, or sexual, emotional or verbal abuse in the home, the community, institutional settings or in the workplace. A disabled child is more likely to face violence and abuse at birth and this increased risk for violence reappears throughout the life span. This violence compounds already existing social, educational and economic marginalization that limits the lives and opportunities of these children. For example, disabled children are far less likely than their non-disabled peers to be included in the social, economic and cultural life of their communities; only a small percentage of these children will ever attend school; a third of all street children are disabled children. Disabled children living in remote and rural areas may be at increased risk.
Disability radically increases the chance that you will experience violence, sexual assault, and physical abuse in your home. A study in 2000 indicated that disabled children experience physical abuse in the home at a rate 3.8 times higher than that of their nondisabled peers. It’s actually extremely hard to get accurate statistics because so few regions collect data, or collect incomplete data that is difficult to extrapolate. This lack of interest in even determining the extent of the problem illustrates, starkly, how little interest there is in addressing the issue. When abuse of disabled children is reported, it’s often ignored.
This is the result of social attitudes about people with disabilities, particularly disabled children. Disability becomes a value judgment, and people with disabilities are found lacking. Less valuable. Less important. Casual abuse of disabled children isn’t just rampant, it’s socially acceptable. ‘Caregivers’ argue that they need to be able to discipline their children, that raising a disabled child is inherently harder. In abuse and neglect cases, the media often portrays the abuser sympathetically. Parents who murder their disabled children get the kid glove treatment because having a disabled child is viewed as a tragedy, and it’s sometimes suggested that killing disabled children is a ‘mercy.’
People in a position to act may be slow to intervene in cases of child abuse involving children with disabilities, and the cost of that slowness can be devastating. When disabled children are taken from abusive environments, they may be placed in newly abusive environments, either in foster care or institutions. The number of disabled children living in institutions is alarmingly high, and institutional environments are not necessarily safe for children. The same abuses people experience in the home; rape, physical abuse, emotional abuse, may transfer into ‘care homes.’ And yet, there is a collective silence on these topics.
Cases of neglect and abuse of disabled children are in the news every week. Children are starved to death, exposed in the woods to die, beaten to death, kept in filthy conditions, repeatedly abused, or simply neglected to death. These stories are heartbreaking not just because they involve real people and real lives, but because they illustrate how little society cares about disabled children. Opportunities for intervention slip past, and often, when cases finally do attract attention, sympathy rests with the parents. They must have been driven to it. It was too hard for them. They had no choice. There were ‘extenuating circumstances.’
Ableism kills. It kills children who live brief, violent, miserable lives and it kills adults subject to many of the same kinds of abuses. And yes, ableism contributes to the lack of social support for parents of children with disabilities, many of whom struggle to meet the needs of their children in a society that’s busy slashing social services. All parents need respite care, but parents of disabled children have a much harder time getting it, and may be balancing expensive medical conditions and other factors on top of the stresses of parenting. Parenting is stressful and it’s hard regardless of disability status. It’s difficult to go it alone, without social support. It’s hard when you and your children are being bullied because of disability and your pleas for help go unaddressed because you’re not considered a full member of society.
But that doesn’t mean that the abuses endured by disabled children are justified, or that society as a whole is doing the right thing by standing by while children die. Hillary Adams got lucky; she escaped her father and built a new life for herself. She boldly spoke out about the case to raise awareness of the issue. And it’s excellent to see people talking about child abuse and what happens when people in positions of authority, like judges, are allowed to get away with abusive behaviour. But it’s also disappointing to see that few people are specifically tying this case in with disability, and talking about the disability implications here, because they are important, and they should be centred in conversations about the case.
Hillary Adams defies social narratives about disability, which is often perceived as a state of helplessness and inability to act with autonomy. She demonstrated ingenuity and enterprising behaviour, two things people with disabilities are not supposed to do, when she taped her father abusing her. She communicated on her own terms, another thing we are not supposed to do, when she posted the video and started talking about it. This makes it easier to ignore the disability aspect of the case, to treat Adams as exceptional and focus just on the abuse.
But abuse doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and the fact that Hillary has CP matters. Which means that it should be part of the discussion. Because any conversation about ending child abuse must include disabled children. Not just because they are children too and thus are part of the picture, but because they are particularly vulnerable to abuse and because there are disability-specific issues that must be addressed at the same time we fight child abuse as a whole.
Fighting ableism fights child abuse, because fighting ableism gets at the core of the attitudes that treat disabled children as disposable objects rather than human beings, as legitimate targets of abuse rather than victims. This is why ‘intersectionality’ sometimes feels like an inadequate word; it’s not just that disability intersects with child abuse, but that it’s a core intertwined issue that cannot be ignored without leaving children out in the cold.
Standing in an office while two kids beg me to go back to their home, I begin retreating back into my inner-child. I imagine how I would have felt if I was seven years old and a Child Protective Services (CPS) investigator told me I couldn’t stay with my mom anymore. Their mother had committed the crime of respecting the children’s desire to play outside. Paperwork has already been checked by the supervisor, the judge has backed it, and now I have to find a placement. I put them in my car and we drive. The tears continue, my guilt is overwhelming, and I grant them over to a temporary shelter. Two court proceedings, tens of thousands of dollars out of the mother’s pocket, and five bottles of ADHD medications for the kids later, the mom is given back her children. All because she let them play outside.
Guilt is what led me to where I am today. Guilt for kidnapping children for the state, and guilt for being an anti-drug warrior. It has led me to become a child advocate, an author of a book on the subject, and an anti-reformer. There is no reforming CPS, and there is no reforming the government. The entirety of government’s power comes from its promise of reform. No one believes the government is perfect, but nearly everyone believes it can be changed to benefit them. When you see the tears of children begging for their mother, when you see children drugged because the government gives incentives for doing so, and when children die in part because of your actions as a CPS drone, you stop believing in reform. I fell for political hope. I had faith I could be the good guy working for the state — that I would be different. We all imagine that we’ll be the hero in our story, but I was not. My faith is gone and reason has replaced it. The state is a religion and the political reformers are keeping the faith strong. The only way out is complete abolition.
There are over 400,000 children in Child Protective Services care in America. Eighty percent of those cases are not for physical or sexual abuse, but rather parental negligence. Negligence can mean the child is playing outside, is too fat, doesn’t like school, or — as in forty percent of cases — is for the parent using marijuana.
Perhaps CPS’s biggest problem is its evidentiary standard. CPS cases can be based on something that happened years ago and not even something that a witness saw firsthand. The agency uses evidence that is based on a memory of a story that a witness overheard years ago. How’s that for reliability? The investigator is actually told not to record the information taken during interviews word for word. Instead, they’re instructed to take notes and to use their judgment in entering the notes into a database in narrative form. In other words, the investigator creates a story based on their own memory of another person’s memory, which person may not have even seen the alleged abuse. Fantastic. This third (or even fourth) hand story is considered evidence strong enough for life-altering legal action. All of this is done despite an array of information documenting CPS’s extreme faultiness. Yet, CPS maintains a massive budget subsidized by the very parents they terrorize. This is the nature of government. Abolitionism is the only ethical stance in the face of a coercive agency like Child Protective Services.