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Who Cares?

Before Covid-19, American women were already in crisis

This was the year everyone discovered that caring is actually hard work.

The New York Times told us “America’s Mothers are In Crisis” in a package titled “Primal Scream.” The Washington Post wants us to know that “Working moms are not okay.” NPR ran a special package explaining “Enough Already: How The Pandemic Is Breaking Women.” In the Times, Ezra Klein noted that “forcing parents into low-wage, often exploitative, jobs by threatening them and their children with poverty may be counted as a success by some policymakers, but it’s a sign of a society that doesn’t value the most essential forms of labor.” Indeed.

Except, of course, most of this isn’t new. True, according to the Times, 4,637,000 payroll jobs have been lost by women in the United States since the Covid crisis began; 32 percent of those women between the ages of twenty-five and forty-four said childcare was the reason for their unemployment. But embedded in these handwringing headlines and profiles and photo spreads is the recognition, far too late, that childcare is already work. Long before the pandemic escalated things, there was a slow-motion crisis happening in millions of people’s lives, manufactured by a society that doesn’t value care, that has splintered us away from one another and demanded we handle every problem by ourselves, or, if we’re lucky, in partnership with one other person. If we can’t pull ourselves up by our proverbial bootstraps, we’re shit outta luck, or in the more eloquent terms of geographer Ruth Wilson Gilmore, we become casualties of “organized abandonment.”

Margaret Thatcher famously said “Who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families.” Since the pandemic forced us all into some degree of lockdown and kept us there, more or less, for a year, I’ve been thinking of this as life in a Margaret Thatcher Unit. Our social lives have been amputated if they’re not neatly contained within a household, exacerbating every little stress that we must now face on our own. As researcher Noreena Hertz told Doug Henwood, humans aren’t meant to live like this; this much alone-ness heightens our fight-or-flight response, stretches us taut as a bowstring, ready to fire. The alternative, as all those articles about parenting remind us, is that many of us are trapped in our family units, unable to escape, building up an explosive tension that calls to mind the double meaning of “nuclear.”

Since the pandemic forced us all into some degree of lockdown and kept us there, more or less, for a year, I’ve been thinking of this as life in a Margaret Thatcher Unit.

Of course, elsewhere, Thatcher had essentially admitted that her political project was anything but the natural order of things; “Economics are the method, the object is to change the soul.” Long before Thatcher’s rise to power, others had engaged in such capitalist social engineering. The workweek we have somehow accepted as natural is a product of a time when the people in charge expected a worker to be a man who had a wife working constantly in the home. This situation itself—the “nuclear family”—was constructed much more intentionally than many might realize. Henry Ford had an entire department of inspectors whose job it was to ensure that his employees’ wives were engaged in “full-time domesticity,” as sociologist Andrew J. Cherlin put it, in order for those employees to qualify for his famous $5 a day family wage.

And prior to Ford and his ilk, as Silvia Federici argued in Caliban and the Witch, women were forced into full responsibility for domestic labor through massive state-sanctioned violence. Women, she noted, had, before the advent of capitalism, had some freedom, some access to common spaces and resources. With capitalism, “women themselves became the commons, as their work was defined as a natural resource, laying outside the sphere of market relations.” In this period of history, the gender binary itself, like so many other binaries (mind/body, human/nature, and, most importantly, home/work), was carved into society and our bodies through the infamous witch hunts in which women who stepped outside of acceptable lines were tortured and killed. The tautology established then is still so widely accepted that we can trace it in those job loss statistics: women care because we are women; we are women because we care.

The pandemic also introduced us to a new term: “essential work.” The first lockdown efforts aimed to close all non-essential businesses, though too often it was left up to the boss whether their employees were essential or not. Even plenty of “essential” work was forced online, but we suddenly became hyper-aware of the work that was still required in order to maintain our continued existence. Marxist feminists call this the work of “social reproduction.”

Thatcher be damned, we do live in a society, and being cut off from some of its few remaining benefits perversely underlines just how dependent we are on other people’s work. The Times discovered Silvia Federici this year, too; she told them, “The pre-existing condition is a system that makes life intolerable and unhealthy for millions of people.”

Canaries in the Coal Mine

We already lived with (and some of us had never stopped shouting about) a system that did not value care. What changed with the pandemic that so ruffled the feathers of the nation’s papers of record? What’s the missing piece in all these exhausted women’s lives? Their work and home responsibilities were already overwhelming; we already lacked functional (let alone affordable) childcare, paid sick time, family leave, or any other scraps of a safety net. The agenda-setters in the press and in politics, perhaps, formerly had access to privatized help: nannies, cleaners. But most of us already didn’t.

The missing piece, the one bit of social welfare that the United States deigns to provide, is public schools. And so, as so often happens when our Thatcher Units come up short, everyone has heaped blame on teachers. As if, in an occupation where 76 percent of the workforce are women, so many of those teachers are not stressed-out moms themselves.

At the beginning of the pandemic, I talked to Ellen Schweitzer, a social studies teacher at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan. Schweitzer was part of the Movement of Rank-and-File Educators (MORE), a caucus within the United Federation of Teachers union that represents New York City’s public schoolteachers, and she’d been involved in organizing to force the schools to close for Covid while New York’s mayor and governor hemmed and hawed. New York schools are crowded—most of Schweitzer’s classes topped out at thirty-four students, and hallways were jam-packed. Safety precautions were nonexistent, she said; the schools promised that the bathrooms would be stocked with soap. “The sink that I usually use, only ice-cold water ever comes out of the faucet,” she said. “But, hey, at least there was soap and water!”

The get-back-in-the-classroom push came later, but its scolding tone, its “what-about-the-children!?!” finger-wagging, was deeply familiar to educators and to anyone who’s been paying attention for the last few decades. “If educators and their unions don’t embrace the established science, they risk continuing to widen gaps in educational attainment—and losing the support of their many long-time allies, like me,” one “epidemiologist and father” wrote in Vox. In The Nation, Sasha Abramsky wrote, “It is an abdication of responsibility for teachers’ unions and district administrations to reject CDC guidelines on returning to schools over the coming months, and not prepare to reopen classrooms at the end of this academic year—or even the next academic year.” With allies like these, who needs enemies?

Turquoise LeJeune Parker is an elementary school teacher in Durham, North Carolina and the vice president of the Durham Association of Educators, and she’s had to apply for health accommodations to keep teaching remotely as the schools there reopen for in-person learning. But Parker’s not exactly been lounging around eating bonbons for the past year; she’s been adapting her entire curriculum to virtual learning, figuring out how to engage small children over a screen, organizing virtual field trips and talking with her students about the multiple global crises they’re trapped in. And she’s had enough of the scolding, the blame, the dismissal of real health concerns that teachers have. “People, no matter the circumstance, believe that teachers are just some trash and we just don’t do our job.”

The same publications running hectoring op-eds demanding teachers get back in the classroom also document in extensive detail the spread of Covid variants, the brutality of the second (and third, and as of this writing, possibly fourth) wave, the widespread grief over loved ones lost to the virus, and the struggles of long-term sufferers as though these two issues are disconnected. On February 6, the Los Angeles Times ran an op-ed titled “Kids are suffering. Follow the science and reopen schools now.” Less than a month earlier, the same paper had written “Children apologize to their dying elders for spreading COVID-19 as LA County reels.” Children can’t spread Covid, except when they can, apparently. Follow the science! This is the same city where the teachers’ union, in 2019, struck in part to lower class sizes from, in some cases, up to forty-six kids in a room. Those lowered numbers, for the 2020–2021 school year, still allow up to forty-four students in higher grades, up to twenty-seven for third grade and below.

It’s been stunning to watch the discourse elide every single policy failure that led to a situation where some children have been learning remotely for a full year. Biden’s the president now, so everything’s all better! Or, perhaps, in the faux nonpartisan spirit of the day, “the science” is running the show! Though of course “the science” is anything but settled, as three epidemiologists recently noted in Jacobin. Seth J. Prins, Justin Feldman, and Abigail Cartus wrote that

the availability of resources that can make schools safer map onto existing patterns of racial segregation and disinvestment in public education that predominantly elite researchers pushing for in-person schooling seem happy to ignore, even as teachers in their own upper-middle-class suburban school districts sound the alarm on unsafe working conditions. With this latest attack on teachers’ unions, in-person proponents are not actually promoting “the science”—they’re engaging in racialized class conflict.

What’s more, polls continue to show that many parents in fact back their kids’ teachers, some even to the point of a potential strike. In February of this year, Pew found that 59 percent of adults “say K-12 schools that are not currently open for in-person instruction should wait to reopen until all teachers who want the coronavirus vaccine have received it.” In that same poll, 80 percent of Black adults said vaccination should come before in-person reopening. “As was the case last summer, Black, Hispanic and Asian adults are more likely than white adults to say that the risks to teachers and students of getting or spreading the coronavirus should be given a lot of consideration in deciding whether to reopen schools for in-person instruction,” the report noted. “And lower-income adults remain more likely than those with middle or upper incomes to say the same, as do Democrats compared with Republicans (including those who lean to each party).”

That’s probably because, in places like L.A. and Chicago and Philadelphia, Black and brown parents know quite well the already-inadequate conditions their kids face at school, and they know who’s been more likely to die of the virus. They know whose schools end up with window fans stuck on boards as a “ventilation system” and whose schools already met ventilation guidelines but quickly “upgraded ventilation and filtration systems, just in case.” They know, in other words, that the system was never designed to actually create good learning conditions for most kids. As this story went to press, reopened schools in Chicago and New York faced another wave of the virus, and a former Biden health adviser told reporters that he was questioning his own previous advice, given the recent virus variants: “Kids are playing a huge role in the transmission of this.”

Get Covid and die, get written about in glowing terms. Collectively refuse to die, and your “allies” will begin to threaten you.

Yet teachers are expected to make up for all these very real material failures with nothing but their love for students, and we blame them even when they’ve done their damnedest to draw attention to those failures. Over sixteen thousand students in Chicago were homeless, so Chicago teachers fought to include funding for homeless kids in their contract and were told, “You can’t bargain for that.” (They still won.) This is not a new story, either: in the 1940s and 50s in New York, the radical teachers of the Teachers Union organized alongside Black parents in Harlem, wrote culturally relevant curricula, lobbied for recreational spaces for kids, and proposed public nursery schools. In return, they were red-baited out of classrooms and had their union crushed. In current-day West Virginia, teacher Leslie Haynes told me of teachers boarding school buses during the pandemic to deliver food boxes to kids who relied on school meals. It was wrenching, she said. “I didn’t realize just how much we carry on our hearts.” We love it when teachers care about our kids, as long as that care comes in the form of individual self-sacrifice. Get Covid and die, get written about in glowing terms. Collectively refuse to die (or to spread the virus to your students and their families), and your “allies” will begin to threaten you.

In Loco Parentis

Teachers like Parker and Schweitzer and Haynes have been working, this entire year, going above and beyond the usual too-much work that teachers are expected to do in order to make up for all the ways society fails children, particularly working-class children of color. They have been packing bags of supplies and hand-delivering them to students; they have been calling parents and having private Zoom sessions and reinventing how they teach. They have been doing all this in many states without getting early priority for vaccination. They have, in fact, been goddamn superheroes. The simple truth is that it’s not good enough, because the one piece of their job that society actually values is the one part that isn’t safe to do without potentially sending Covid cases spiking and even breeding vaccine-resistant variants that will cause more mass death. I’m talking, of course, about the part where they supervise hundreds of students each day so those students’ parents can go to work.

Because if we, collectively, gave a shit about kids’ learning conditions, they would not be attending overcrowded schools with lousy ventilation; ancient, crumbling textbooks; ice-cold water in the sinks; and no nurses. Teachers would not be the ones bargaining for smaller class sizes and counselors in the buildings and green space and recess time. They would not be sharing photos of mold and mouse droppings in their buildings online. Or they would, but they’d have actual support from all the current scolds. They wouldn’t have to be superheroes; they could be human, grieving, depressed, struggling, messy, and mortal like the rest of us.

“To care for these children is not just one thing—it is many things,” Stacy Davis Gates, vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union and mother of three, told me last fall. “We have to resist policymakers focusing on schools only to provide a solution,” she continued.

We have to get out of this fairy tale land that [school] is just going to be a magical place where the violence in their communities doesn’t impact the students, where the racism that they experience from the institutions in this country doesn’t impact the students. . . . All of what we are experiencing with the pandemic, the deep disparities and racial inequities, and then, also, the decades-long assault on public education, all of those things are converging at the same time. So miss me with all of this “Kids are going to be doing so badly because school is all remote.” No. Children are going to be doing badly because they probably are going to be homeless, because you’re going to start evicting people from their homes and we know Black families are going to be hit by that faster than anyone. I have not seen a school be able to provide a solution to a systemic failure of government yet and it has been over twenty years.

It’s particularly cruel that the reason teachers are so easy to scapegoat and exploit is that their work is considered to be close to that of mothers. It’s the very fact that they care that makes it easy for us to take out all of our anxieties on them; as teacher and parent and author Megan Erickson wrote in her book Class War, “the failure of teachers is like the failure of mothers—unthinkable, monstrous, disgusting, the final antisocial act that threatens not only the fabric of the political economy but its perpetuation.”

The Man Runs Everything

Everyone in politics owes the welfare rights movement an apology. They were demonized for decades as that worst of all things: bad mothers. Lazy, refusing to work, their caring didn’t count. And yet the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill that passed through Congress without a single Republican vote, quietly proves them right. Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota responded to a tweet asking if the plan would “blow up the Clinton-Gingrich welfare reform and work requirements” with a snarky meme saying, “Yes.” While the amount of money provided is still small—$3,600 for each child under age six and $3,000 each for older children under eighteen—the child tax credit expansion in the bill is, as Omar noted, an acceptance of the primary demand of the welfare rights movement: money for caregivers, because caregiving is work.

The welfare rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s improved conditions for all welfare recipients, but it was led by Black women like Johnnie Tillmon, eventual executive director of the National Welfare Rights Organization. Tillmon was a sharecropper’s daughter from Arkansas who, after fifteen years of doing laundry and working in cotton fields, founded a welfare rights group in her L.A. housing project. There was also Roxanne Jones, who led the Philadelphia WRO, served in the Pennsylvania state senate, and continued organizing among welfare recipients until her death in 1996, right before Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act into law, “ending welfare as we know it.” As historian Premilla Nadasen wrote in Welfare Warriors, the welfare rights movement “adopted political positions based on a material understanding of the hierarchies of race, class, gender, and sexuality and the way in which these realities were intertwined and inseparable for all people.” They won legal victories, representation, and forms of self-determination; they expanded benefits and grants and influenced the Nixon administration’s push for guaranteed income. They did all this through direct action, disrupting welfare offices, holding sit-ins, marches, and public pressure campaigns—impressive wins for a workers’ movement that had no workplace beyond the home.

Everyone in politics owes the welfare rights movement an apology. They were demonized for decades as that worst of all things: bad mothers.

The welfare system was always designed to help maintain a supply of low-wage workers, and this was doubly true of the Clinton-Gingrich plan. Welfare recipients had to put up with demanding caseworkers, home visits at all hours (not too different from Henry Ford’s inspectors), being shamed and stigmatized as “lazy,” and constant threats to have their children taken away. They knew that arguments around the “dignity of work” would always be used against them. “The dual problems of lack of dignity and low benefits were linked,” Nadasen noted. “The meager monthly sum indicated the lack of respect afforded to both the AFDC program and its recipients and sent a message that recipients’ work as mothers was not valued.” Or, in Tillmon’s words, “AFDC is like a super-sexist marriage. You trade in a man for the man. But you can’t divorce him if he treats you bad. He can divorce you, of course, cut you off anytime he wants. The man runs everything.”

The cornerstone of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty was getting people jobs, but the welfare rights movement pointed out that plenty of people with jobs were still poor. These women were also well aware that there were no provisions for childcare should they get jobs; leader Beulah Sanders, highlighting the criminalization of Black children, explained, “When our children are picked up by the police, they’ll ask them where their parents are. And we’ll have to tell the police that we’ve been forced to let them roam the streets because the Government says we have to go to work.” While white women, Nadasen noted, had been expected to be housewives—a role that by the sixties Betty Friedan and her ilk had begun to reject, calling for access to careers—Black women had always been forced to work. For them, recognition that mothering was work deserving of support was a radical demand. Tillmon suggested the President make “a proclamation that women’s work is real work.”

Instead of jobs, they advocated a guaranteed minimum income—a forerunner of today’s UBI debates, though they’re too often written out of that story—as a way to eliminate the invasive means-testing of AFDC and allow them real autonomy. It would give them the ability to say “no” to crappy low-wage jobs and crappy marriages and every other lousy half-choice offered to poor people in America. As Cleveland organizers wrote, “Nobody argues whether there is enough money in this nation to clothe and feed everyone decently. Everyone agrees that there is enough. If this is true, then WHO decides that some people get their share and other people don’t?” NWRO’s proposal, introduced in Congress by Senator Eugene McCarthy in 1970, would have paid $5,500 to a family of four: over $35,000 in today’s dollars).

Men disappear from these stories, or they waft around in the background.

Nixon’s plan, the Family Assistance Plan, had a lower target—$500 per adult, $300 per child per year, which works out to a bit less than the American Rescue Plan is offering per child—and included work requirements. It died, like so many good ideas (lately, the $15 minimum wage) in the Senate, even as other parts of the welfare state were being expanded. Poor women on welfare instead got more coercive work “incentives,” the opposite of what they’d asked for. As the economic crisis of the 1970s gave birth to neoliberalism and the tax revolts, the Black welfare recipient became, as Melinda wrote, the focus of a vicious backlash that justified slashing away at the social safety net to protect the property values of asset owners. This budget-cutting stigmatizing spread—it’s no accident that the language used to demonize teachers contains so many echoes of the “welfare queen.”

That backlash reached its zenith in the Clinton-Gingrich plan, which turned welfare into a block grant to states, imposing stringent work requirements on recipients and even more punitive means testing. It didn’t end poverty; rather, it made it worse, because, as Tillmon and Sanders and Jones already knew, the jobs they were pushed into—fast food, retail, home care work—don’t pay. The continued refusal to raise the minimum wage has helped hold those women in poverty, along with the aforementioned lack of any sort of social supports for parents and oh, every damn thing the welfare movement said was going to happen. Households headed by single women, as Dylan Matthews wrote in 2016, “saw a larger increase in extreme poverty.” In 2014, as Matthews has noted, only 26 percent of that block grant welfare money was spent actually giving basic assistance to those in need.

Now here we are in 2021, and Joe Biden, who in 1996 voted for that Clinton-Gingrich plan, has quietly approved a temporary basic income payment of a sort to parents that outdoes the controversial Nixon plan. The money expands an existing submerged subsidy, the child tax credit, one of many forms of government support paid mostly to the middle classes, and makes it into a direct payment, meaning that poor people will actually get access to it. As Rachel West, a longtime organizer who is part of Election Action for Caregivers and Global Women’s Strike, told me, the Covid-19 crisis has laid bare “the enormous amount of work that caregiving is. Finally, after a lot of organizing, we are pleased that it’s on the agenda in this way. We’re glad to see recognition and payment, that’s what we want, for the work.”

Even with this halting progress, the women of the welfare rights movement are still not getting their due for their decades of hell-raising and deep organizing around these goals. Yet people like West, whose organizing dates back to that movement, are still here, doing much of the groundwork today. Mainstream feminists might have paid lip service to NWRO’s demands at the time, but they had little interest in taking leadership from poor Black women. They still believed, Friedan-style, that they would obtain dignity through careers. Through work. But now, with almost a million mothers leaving the workforce during the pandemic, it’s worth remembering another point of Tillmon’s: winding up poor and needing welfare is “like a traffic accident. It can happen to anybody, but especially it happens to women.”

Tillmon and her comrades have so much to teach us, as we grope about for a politics that understands race and class as neither separate nor additive, but mutually constitutive. The welfare rights organizers wanted to live how they wanted to live, and what they needed to make that possible was money.

Straight and Narrow

There’s another truth that underlies so many of these articles about moms being stressed, something else the welfare rights movement knew: heterosexuality is broken.

The group Mothers for Adequate Welfare considered marriage “a means for domination more than a means for expressing love” and favored “love, . . . responsibility toward other persons, and freedom to whatever extent that responsibility allows.” They wanted to have sex and relationships when they chose and the economic freedom to do it on their own terms. “Welfare reform” poured money instead into promoting marriage and hunting down biological fathers; this was, of course, just another way to blame women for wanting, rightly, to live and love outside the structures they’d been offered.

Heterosexuality was premised on a now-dead work regime, a bad deal once made in order to get (some) working-class people through the days and weeks and months. But the mediocre promise of the family wage has long since snapped, and here we are, still somehow holding up our end of a shattered bargain.

The deal, for (some) women, was that if we did most of the care we’d get some in return, even if that care was in the form of a home and some money and not really care-shaped at all. But it was a bad deal when it was made—not like we had much choice—and it’s a worse deal now, when so many of us have to do both paid and unpaid work and still aren’t getting nearly enough care ourselves.

The Times reported that

In opposite-sex couples, it is mothers who do the majority of the domestic chores and child-related planning, even when both parents work and the woman is the breadwinner. It is moms who tend to be responsible for the health of their families—the sick days, the doctor’s appointments, the worrying about germs—as well as the caring for older relatives. Moms remain the vast majority of single parents in this country, some of whom have had to choose in this pandemic between leaving young children at home alone or risking their jobs.

Men disappear from these stories, or they waft around in the background. One husband in the Times feature comes home, makes “his usual beeline to the fridge,” and his wife begins to remind him to wash his hands; he, in turn, points out that someone has called on their daughter during her remote schooling. There is no acknowledgement that maybe he could help the daughter, or even remember to wash his own damn hands. Another husband begins popping popcorn while his daughter screams for “MAMA!” and “Later, as she worked, trying to keep Mila entertained, he took a nap on the couch.” I cannot imagine just taking this kind of behavior (this may be why I am single and live alone). Mothers’ stress is a public policy problem, to be sure, but I remain frustrated at the lingering tendency to let men off the hook.

Feminist criticisms of the Wages for Housework movement, in which Silvia Federici and Selma James and so many others took the demand from the welfare rights movement that housework was work and built a political philosophy around it, often warned that it would institutionalize women in the home as carers. But the reality is that these supposedly feminist arguments often do the same thing: while acknowledging the impossibility of “having it all,” they still assume that men are simply incapable of doing fundamentally different labor within a family. They accept that caring, managing, and wrangling are forever a woman’s job—and the only solution is hiring another woman to help.

Heterosexual partnership isn’t really compulsory anymore, but it still serves as the structure around which we are expected to build our lives—even as the frameworks and foundation that structure was built upon have disappeared. This is the reality that is missing from so many “heteropessimism” takes of the last few years. We can get divorced; we can, as some of those articles imply, try not being straight. But heterosexuality as an institution was, as Gramsci noted, designed alongside the rationalization of production, turning the family into its own little standardized industry, and we’ve clung to its vestiges even as the world that built it has fallen apart. You can’t get the equivalent of Henry Ford’s family wage, and you don’t have to deal with his inspectors anymore, but we still too often accept that the tycoon’s preferred arrangement is somehow the natural one.

The radical promise of queerness wasn’t just expanding the range of the bodies we might choose to desire, though that was a central part of it, of course. It was a refusal of the shitty deal of the nuclear family and an attempt to live otherwise, in anything other than a Margaret Thatcher Unit, to take care of each other in all of our fragility and messiness and need. Thatcher, of course, like her buddy Ronald Reagan, backed viciously homophobic policy as she sold off public housing; as politicians like our current president have “evolved,” their progress has mostly been limited to welcoming gay people into the domestic institutions of the couple and the nuclear family. None of that does a damn thing to ease the (still largely gendered) burden of care. We remain cut off from so many radical imaginings of ways we might arrange ourselves to safely share caring responsibilities, and instead we’re all locked down with our individual—or coupled—miseries. But this could always have been otherwise, and this moment of obvious breakdown ought to inspire us to dream differently once again.

One cruel trick of heterosexuality was always that women were convinced that men couldn’t really learn to care—we just had to accept the little bits they might offer because that was how it was. But if there’s anything we should have learned in this bloody awful year of grieving mass death and intimate losses simultaneously, it’s that actually, care has no gender, and we can love each other across six-foot distances and locked-down cities and the world’s oceans.

We need that now. We need to refuse the privatization of grief and stress and pain and loneliness and, most of all, the privatization of care. Respect for our fellow workers, like schoolteachers, who have shouldered the burdens of care, and a wage of a sort for all childcare, are baby steps toward something better. This is the barest of beginnings, but one to cling to as we try to make a livable world from the shards of the one that Covid shattered.