Clarissa’s Battle: Parent Organizing in Action

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ECFC, Media Impact Funders and the Raising Child Care Fund hosted a discussion about Clarissa’s Battle, a new documentary film that gives us insight into an erupting movement for childcare and early-childhood education funding. Documentary films are tools for transforming community and changing society – not only by informing/telling a story, but by but changing minds and hearts.  Through a combination of film snippets and discussion, we explored the value of documentary films for the storytellers and advocates, and the roll that philanthropy and other advocates can play in lifting up the experiences of the storytellers to achieve your philanthropic goals.  We also discussed the risks involved for funders in supporting the child care campaign featured in the film.

About the Film

Clarissa Doutherd is a driven, straight-talking single Black mother and social warrior in Oakland, California. Becoming unhoused with an infant inspired her to champion childcare and preschool as a human right.  Seven years ago, Tamara Perkins, a documentary film maker and activist, gets laid off from her job while expecting a baby. She interviews for jobs while nine months pregnant to secure insurance, stay in her residence, and pay for childcare. Amid this experience, she meets Clarissa, a single mom with a shared experience and now leading efforts to make child care affordable and accessible.

The result of their connection is Clarissa’s Battle, a documentary film that gives us insight into an erupting movement for childcare and early-childhood education funding, as communities across the country follow Clarissa’s successes, setbacks and indomitable resilience. But this is about more than a movement.  It’s follows the journey of a community leader, organizer, and time-stretched mother as she fights for the health and dignity of children and their parents nationwide.

What does the film help us see?

Tamara Perkins, an award-winning filmmaker and changemaker focused on documentaries that inspire transformative change through dialogue, healing and advocacy, talked with us about her hopes for Clarissa’s Battle.  Clarissa’s Battle was an opportunity to lift up the parents, providers and advocates doing this work across the country, humanizing those on the front lines.  Related: Tribune Star interview with Tamara Perkins: Clarissa’s Battle, A Story I had to Tell  

Clarissa’s Battle also illuminates a key competency of an organizer – “meaning making”, the ability to take an experience and interpreting in real time. Clarissa demonstrates this in the film – the ability to help translate what just happened, what’s going to change, and how we need to pivot based on the experience. Clarissa does this seamlessly over and over, takes unique moments and makes meaning for parents and caregivers about how something connects to their goals.  The film also does this, makes meaning of bigger broader lessons about a movement centering families and children, and .  Hopefully the film inspires others interested in supporting child care, early education, basic human rights for all families to organize themselves or support organizing efforts happening.

Clarissa Doutherd, single parent, organizer and Executive Director of Parent Voices Oakland shared the importance of this film in bringing broader attention and understanding of child care issues and intersections with housing and food costs, and what it means to be a parent experiencing those issues.  Many parents have incredibly traumatic experiences.  Clarissa’s Battle also gives hope to the story tellers and alleviates some of the fatigue they experience from having to repeat their stories.  Related: Op-Ed by Clarissa Doutherd, Nov 20, 2022: Children Suffer When Policymakers Short-Change Early Childhood Education And Care. Lacking early childhood education isn’t a personal problem but a societal challenge

Win or lose, we make the decisions, we built this organization together, we decided what Alameda County should look like.  ~ Clarissa Doutherd, single parent, organizer and Executive Director of Parent Voices Oakland.

Amy Fitzgerald, Vice President of Community Investments and Partnerships, East Bay Community Foundation (EBCF) shared their experience with supporting Parent Voices Oakland (PVO)’s decision to run a ballot initiative around child care – the campaign documented in Clarissa’s Battle. The decision was a massive risk and huge undertaking for PVO, an organization relatively young in its organization development process at the time.

PVO’s decision set off a chain of risk assessments and decisions among community funders.   Risk is not something embraced in philanthropic spaces, but to be a true partner to the community and to organizing, risk has to be a constant dialogue.  Funders must ask themselves how they are meeting risks side by side with their community.  EBCF took risks by:

  • Stepping out of its traditional community foundation model and maximize everything they could do as a public charity in terms of funding direct lobbying and C4 work.
  • Setting up a pooled fund, the Early Childhood Progress Fund, that was a collaboration of private and public foundations that allowed them to fund C3 and C4 dollars. Private foundations had to take risks in terms of revamping and relearning grantmaking processes in order to do this work.
  • Allowing their work to be explicitly led by and celebrate the work of Black women, letting their power analysis and tactics guide the funding. Even if they disagreed, the funders were still there to be a tool for lifting up the power, strategy, and brilliance of the women doing the work, and long term commitment to PVO.

Key lessons for funders

  • All organizing happens locally. Base building is not a means to an end, it is an end. If we are not funding base building, we are not funding power building.  Clarissa’s battle is very explicit about what it takes to fund and grow a base of leaders – base building is the root of all organizing.  We cannot have impact and change on a regional statewide or nationally level unless we are fully resourcing organizing in local communities.
  • We have to celebrate losing. Losing is part of the work of organizing.  Organizing out of loss means talking about what it means to lose and what it will take to build the power to keep going and to win.
  • Funders need to be in this work for the long term (years), and need to grow the pot of resources. We can’t expect community organizations to continue doing more work with the same amount of resources.

How can funders use Clarissa’s Battle?

  • Donor Education – involving donors in a “movement mentality” and mindset, and embracing meaning-making as part of their funder roll.
  • Shifting the narrative – Helping put child care in context of broader, intersectional issues and helping people feel more connected.
  • Generating Local Discussion and Engagement – Invite and engage community organizers to a screening, to have real discussions with them about the lived experiences of families they serve and build some new networks in your community around this kind of work.
  • Invite funders to think of creative ways to tap into imagination and use your rseources to build power in communities.

Interested in how you can use Clarissa’s Battle?

Funders interested in a thought partner around connecting and nurturing local relationships with grassroots efforts (using this film or in general) can connect with the Raising Child Care Fund. We can help think through ways to connect with and resource hyper local organizing work around child care in your area.

Related resources:

Funders interested in learning more about documentary film and other media as strategies for supporting your philanthropy goals, or connecting with other funders supporting media strategies, please connect with Media Impact Funders.

Related resources:


Watch the December 5th, 2022 webinar featuring snippets of Clarissa’s Battle and discussion with Tamara, Clarissa and Amy.



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