4 Reasons I Won’t Stop Taking My Kids to Political Protests
- Treat others the way you want to be treated.
I’m not about to pretend like I’m raising my babies to be good little Christian boys and girls, but religion doesn’t have a monopoly on compassion. If there is one thing I strive to teach my children, it is to put themselves into someone else’s shoes and think about how our actions affect other people.
One of the most baffling responses I have gotten to my activism in the Black Lives Matter community is, “But you’re not even black…”
No, I’m not black. And I will never understand what it is like to be black in America — at least not fully — but that doesn’t mean I can’t feel compassion for those who do.
Taking my young children to protests gives me the chance to talk with them about social justice issues that wouldn’t normally come up in conversations. Because we are white, documented Americans, there are a lot of issue that won’t come up in our everyday life. We aren’t negatively impacted by the brutal effects of institutional racism and xenophobia, and so we need to be intentional about finding ways to talk about these prejudices and the ways they effect the people around us.
If my family and I were running for our lives from a government that was slaughtering my friends and neighbors, only to be detained against my will in an airport, and turned away with nowhere else to turn, I would hope people would occupy airports and shout down the bigots who were holding me there.
If members of my community were being intimidated and imprisoned and killed by the police, solely because of the color of our skin, I would want people to mourn and fight and refuse to let up until someone did something to change this whole fucked up system.
I would want people to hear me. To see me. To acknowledge my fight and pain and existence. And I would want people teaching their children about me, my struggle, and that I matter.
2. Civil Engagement
What a lot of folks are referring to as “the resistance” against Trump is, in reality, just civil engagement in a democratic society.
Calling your representatives? Attending City Council meetings? Marching in the streets? That’s not radical- that’s engaging.
Many of us weren’t raised by particularly politically active parents, and because of this, we feel like expressing our discontent is somehow revolutionary. But engaging with your government on issues that effect you and the people around you is the very least you can do. Showing my kids that they don’t have to take the decisions of their representatives lying down is one way I hope to empower them.
3. Leading by example
Most parents (at least, of the ones that I know) would never claim that they want to impose their own thoughts and ideals on to their children. For the most part, we want to create an environment that allows our children feel safe to explore and think and discover what they really believe about the world around them.
But when it comes down to it, we still attempt to instill in our children certain values we see as being the most important. For some, this is respect and obedience. For others, it is creativity and independence. And for me, it is compassion and action. I want my children to look at the world and ask themselves, “What am I going to do about it?”
Do you see suffering in the people around you? What can you do to help?
Is there an issue you don’t know a lot about, but seems to effect a lot of people around you? Educate yourself.
Do you find yourself in a position where you are the most privileged person in the room? Recognize that, listen to what others have to say, and make sure others have a chance to take the lead.
I will never claim to be a perfect model for my children. Sometimes I’m too scared, too busy, or too exhausted, and I opt out of engaging. But these are the muscles I want to help my kids build; I want compassion to be a reflex and action to be their response, and modeling those reactions for them is the best way to show them what that looks like.
Basically: Children follow your example. If they see you standing up for human rights and basic decency, they are more likely to do so as well.
4. They aren’t fragile, and they aren’t dumb.
No matter how much we try to shelter them, kids are constantly more observant and intelligent than we give them credit for. We joke about how kids pick up on our swear words, but they also pick up on our prejudices, and the prejudices of those around us. They are always listening and connecting the dots between our words and actions, whether we think they are paying attention or not.
If you are a white, cisgender, documented citizen, you and your (also white, cis, documented) children are likely not going to be victims of prejudice on the basis of skin color or gender identity. While other families live with this reality, and thus are forced to explain these abuses to their children, we have the privilege to shield our children’s eyes from these harsh realities.
This does not benefit anyone. It doesn’t help your child understand the complexities and challenges that others face, and it doesn’t help to prevent others from facing them. These conversations need to be had intentionally and repeatedly. We need to be willing to honestly answer their questions, even if it makes us feel guilty or uncomfortable.
Children are not too fragile to handle these discussions. In my experience, talking with my son about the injustices others face has been met with confusion, outrage, and compassion. When I took him to a #NoBanNoWall protest, which was in response to travelers being detained against their will in airports across the nation, he immediately put himself in the shoes of those being hurt. He talked about how scared he would be if he or I were detained, and how the children of those being held must miss their moms and dads while they are gone. Compassion was his immediate response.
Our kids aren’t so innocent that they can’t handle these situations. They are thoughtful, and compassionate, and have a lot to offer these causes if we give them the chance. Youth have been the driving force of social movements in the past, and the current human rights injustices we are facing in America today are no different.
The question is, what do our children have to gain from remaining unaware of the struggles of marginalized people in our country?
- We allow them to remain ignorant to the world around them, which leaves them ill-prepared to understand how complex these issues are as they grow older and become more independent and influential.
- We cultivate an indifference towards the policies and politicians that effect them, the people they know, and the people they don’t know.
- We prevent them from participating in social movements that could radically change the world that they have to grow up in.
Social justice movements have historically been driven by the youth of the nation. My kids might be young now, but before I know it, they are going to be grown and they will have to navigate this world without my constant guidance. I want them to feel connected to the people around them, even if those people have completely different experiences and stories than they do. I want them to feel empowered, both socially and politically. And I want them to know that they are worthy of being heard and taken seriously, and that they can be a part of the change they want to see in their world.
If you want to read more on the importance of teaching your children about social injustices, I really like this Huffpost piece: Preserving My Children’s Innocence Is An Act Of Preserving White Supremacy.