Thursday, July 2nd, 2020

Show Up, Stand Up: Political Demonstrations with Your Children

Published on January 13, 2020 by   ·   87 Comments Social Buttons by Linksku - Share links onlinePin It
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The first time my children encountered a political demonstration was after the Women’s March in January 2017.  Our encounter was unplanned, and I was completely unprepared.  I thought my children were too young to understand the event and the issues it represented.

My husband and I live in Manhattan, not far from the New York march route.  We intentionally avoided the march.  Instead, we waited until late afternoon and took our daughters, ages 9 and 4 at that time, to a favorite Central Park playground.

Along our usual walk to the playground, we saw piles of discarded rally signs.  Suddenly, I found myself faced with questions like “Mommy, what does grab them by their pussies mean?” and “Is it mean to say Fuck Trump?”.  I was simultaneously thankful that New York City public schools do a great job educating young children on personal boundaries and body autonomy, and terrified to find myself the throes of an on the spot discussion on United States elections, the role of civility in political discourse, and other topics that threatened my sense of protecting their childhood.

Rallies, protests, and marches are, and always have been, an important force for social and political expression.  But I myself had only limited experience with political demonstrations.  I attended one rally in college as part of a class assignment, and I saw demonstrations while working in Washington DC, but I never participated.  I had also never lived in a large city during such a politically charged time.

The march signs made me realize that I can’t shield my children from political activity or current events.  This was a unique moment to teach them what being a politically active, informed, strong woman is all about.  I want our children to have the tools to express themselves, to stand up for issues important to them, and to stand up on behalf of others.

When the second Women’s March in 2018 took place, we were prepared. My husband and I discussed the march, why it was taking place, and what to expect – good and bad.  As future women, our daughters were involved in this talk and we let them decide if they wanted to participate.  The girls made signs expressing positive thoughts, which allowed them to feel engaged and have ownership over their experience and their message.   We knew the children would get tired, so we had a plan for how and when we would leave the march.  We talked about safety and reviewed our safety plan with both girls prior to and during the event.  We brought snacks and made up games to make the slow walk fun. It was powerful to see so many families and children marching.  My children were energized and inspired to see so many people standing up for women, and they learned the power of showing up for a cause.  There were still graphic protest signs and some vulgar language, but we dealt with it when we needed to. At times, the march was long and not very glamorous, but so is political change.  And so is parenting, for that matter.  With this Women’s March, I learned that I didn’t need to shield my children from protest and that more good came from letting them experience it.

Our third experience was last week’s Solidarity March Against Anti-Semitism from lower Manhattan across the Brooklyn Bridge after a string of violent, hateful actions the the New York Area.  The Anti-Defamation League reports more than 1,800 anti-Semitic incidents in 2018, including hate-filled robocalls to K-12 schools.

Show Up, Stand Up:  Political Demonstrations with Your Children

Show Up, Stand Up: Political Demonstrations with Your Children

Our children are now ages 12 and 7.  This time, we decided our family would march, and that participation not optional, but required.  Anti-semitism is on the rise and it is an important issue for our family.   We wanted our children to see that it is critical, that “never again” means not now, and not ever. We were very frank about anti-semitism, how that affects us as a Jewish family, and how hatred affects humans overall.  We talked about being an upstander instead of a bystander – something the girls have learned about in school.  We bundled up against the cold, wore comfy shoes, reviewed our safety and separation plan, and headed out for a day of standing up against hatred.

This march was harder than the Women’s March.  It was more emotional for us than before.  It was cold, the walk was long, and once we started across the Brooklyn Bridge, there was no way to end early.  So we didn’t.  With numb fingers we walked hand-in-hand.  With cold, windburned faces, we played Eye Spy and Word Game when the walk got long.  After the rally at family dinner, we had plenty to think and talk about.

With three demonstrations under our belts, we’ve begun to feel more comfortable taking our children to these kinds of events.  It has become easier to discuss political topics, social justice issues, and similar themes with our kids.

To all the parents out there who, like us, are afraid of their kids growing up too fast, facing too much as young people, I say choose issues that are critically important to you and take your kids to a demonstration.  This is an opportunity to teach your children positive behavior, nonviolence, and civility in public discourse – even when faced with the opposite. Embrace the protest, march, or demonstration as an opportunity, even if you are sad that the action is needed in the first place.  My heart breaks when I face discrimination, injustice, violence and hatred in our world.  But I can’t hide from it.  I can’t hide my children from it, or hide it from them.  It’s my job to stand up for my children and to teach them to stand up for others.   I want our family to show up, to stand up.

Gretchen Reynolds lives in New York with her husband, two children, and rambunctious dog Midnight.  She enjoys family time, travel, and Taco Tuesdays. 

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