Clarissa’s Battle: It takes a village


The official movie poster for Tamara Perkin’s ‘Clarissa’s Battle’.

In 2020, Alameda County voters passed Measure C, giving $150 million annually to fund child care for low-income residents.

The documentary “Clarissa’s Battle (2022)” focuses on Clarissa Douthard, an activist and the Executive Director of Parents Voice Oakland, a nonprofit focusing on child care. Douthard was instrumental in getting this legislation onto ballots.

Director Tamara Perkins, a film professor at Skyline College, expertly gives Douthard the space to bring forward her passionate work on expanding access to health care and pre-k for working-class families.

It’s a scene that plays out across America. Black and brown mothers and fathers struggle to give their children quality health care and pre-k despite living near some of the wealthiest zip codes in the country.

Alameda County’s poverty level is 14% higher than the national average. In addition, Oakland is 22.0% African American, 27.2% Hispanic, and 15% Asian, leaving Douthard feeling the lack of support is part of broader institutional racism in the United States.

The documentary follows her efforts to navigate the county’s politics, meeting with politicians such as Congresswoman Barbara Lee as well as local families to bring support for working-class families.

As an advocate for child care, we see the bureaucracy and community effort to get support for the most vulnerable people. The income disparity is crystal clear as we see the various poverty levels. Some mothers rallying for the Measure to pass are unhoused but must wait for the county and voters to act.

The film notes that the average cost of childcare per month in Oakland is a whopping $2,400, the same city where the median income is $7,000 a month. Furthermore, the average cost for rent is $2,816 for a 2-bedroom apartment leaving little room for families to afford childcare.

Douthard’s ability to recite the bleak data, such as the 5,000 African American mothers in Oakland waiting for funds for child care, reflects her passion for the cause. We see her struggle to balance being a mother with the fight to get funding for other children. She takes her son with her after school as she works phone banks and speaks to those in power.

The documentary excels at making the information easily digestible to those who may not understand the difficulties in getting policies passed, with a visual timeline that paints a picture of Oakland’s battle with poverty.

Clarissa is open about her background, which is the primary basis for her skills to present her case to politicians and rally voters. Her willingness to express her own story is admirable.

For anyone who cares about the material conditions of our children, this documentary is a must-watch, if at times heartbreaking. This story is about Clarissa, but it is also about families in Oakland, California, in the United States, and across the world.

The message is clear: children can and should be the priority, especially in areas where wealth disparity is the most extreme.