We talk with Clarissa Doutherd about the film that celebrates a decade-long fight and win for child care justice in Alameda County.
Clarissa Doutherd never imagined she would be sharing a feature documentary about herself. But after seven years producing her story with a creative team of other parents who know the struggle for reliable, attainable child care, the self-consciousness has passed.
Doutherd, executive director of Parent Voices Oakland, now celebrates the power of the film Clarissa’s Battle as organizers and families can see themselves in her story, a mom fighting for child care justice during a 10-year long campaign to subsidize child care via a tax increase in her home of Alameda County.
The 2020 win is the largest of its kind, a half percent sales tax which will raise an estimated $150 million per year to provide support and enhancements for child care, preschool, and early education and pediatric health care in Alameda County. This totals more than $3 billion for the area’s child care and teachers over the next generation.
“Every one of us, you know, in making this film, had a stake in it,” said director Tamara Perkins, who met Doutherd after being laid off and finding herself without health care when she was 9-months pregnant. “And we wanted to make sure that this can be the best possible representation of the incredible work that happens in organizing every day and that it would be a tool that would uplift and amplify that work.”
Doutherd says that the success of the campaign was a result of aiming to make policymaking more democratic, digging into where bureaucratic processes for policy decisions are leaving people out.
“I think the first thing — and what we did over and over — is show up in spaces where people didn’t expect us,” said Doutherd, who through the campaign and film showed examples of how integrating community voices into the conversations where policy decisions were being considered kept moving the levers of power towards the child care agenda.
And she says having a camera crew following her was effective when she walked into a room to discuss next steps to fund early child care.
“People would just then come to expect it, and try to be in the frame looking important,” laughed Doutherd at an event following the Virginia Film Festival Screening of Clarissa’s Battle in Charlottesville, Virginia.
In her producing role, Doutherd intentionally leaned into her values as an organizer to shape the film. She was dedicated to making sure she was not creating a bootstraps narrative. She points to the “often boring and unfun” everyday actions of communicating and holding each other through changes — base building — that is the real power.
We’re not inspired to take action when “it looks like someone’s heroic arc is they just defied all odds and did it on their own,” said Doutherd, who describes being very heard by the film team from the beginning. “This is about relationship building. It’s about movement building.”
The film throws the audience right into the midst of the busy routines and demanding (both physically and emotionally) day of Doutherd and the Parent Voices advocates. Doutherd’s son also is featured growing alongside his mother, making his own sacrifices as he shares her with the movement she is building.
Perkins hopes that organizers recognize themselves in the story and the film will continue to build capacity for people who have been through similar battles.
“I feel like the film is doing its work. It’s doing it from a place of power, like uplifting the power and in organizing, coming together, and not being alone — and not having to just go out and be seen only for, you know, the trauma that you’ve lived through.”
Producer and editor Sara Maamouri celebrates the outlook Doutherd brought to the project.
“We both worked with communities before to be like, here’s a film we’re hoping can help get the message out there. But working with Clarissa was just so different because she has this vision, she has this clarity of like, this is what needs to happen. And so that sort of opened up possibilities for us,” Maamouri said.
Doutherd reminds us that it’s relational organizing that holds us through the changes of our world. And sometimes that means building relationships with officials who didn’t champion child care.
“No matter who’s president, no matter who’s on your board of supervisors or city council, what remains constant is our community and collective narrative,” she said. “And what remains constant is the power that we build because we have relationships with each other and an agenda absolutely.”
Want to learn more about the film and where you can tune in?
If you’re in the Bay Area, you can RSVP for a free ticket to the Oakland Premiere this Saturday at the Oakland Museum of California. Upcoming, Clarissa’s Battle is also screening as an Official Selection with the Women’s Voices Now Film Festival and will be featured in the Northeastern Human Rights Film Festival May 19-21. The film will also be integrated into the BUILD 2023 conference with screenings and a curated workshop in Anaheim, California in July. The documentary has had screenings including at the Human Rights Film Festival NYC, San Francisco IndieFest, and the Centre Film Festival.
The team continues to share updates about screenings and events for Clarissa’s Battle on the film’s website.