I’ve been a political activist for almost thirty years, so my children were very young when I started taking them to rallies, protests and marches.
I’ve had more than a few adults express disapproval over these activities.
“Children shouldn’t be taken places where their minds are manipulated,” one such friend told me. “They aren’t old enough to make decisions about certain fundamental questions on their own and forcing a belief system on them is completely unfair.”
“You take your children to church,” I said. “What’s the difference?”
It wasn’t a fair question, mostly because I knew the answer all along. One gathering consists of rational and caring adults modeling decent, civic-minded behavior.
The other serves communion.
A family rebelling together, stays together.
Political and social movements have always been an opportunity to put democracy on display for our youngest citizens.
When they sit in a classroom and learn about people coming together to allow women the right to vote, or to support civil rights for black Americans, the lessons hit home for them if they have their own experiences with which to compare. Involvement comes in many different shapes and sizes, whether marching against unhealthy food and corrupt banking practices, or gathering signatures for better conditions at the zoo.
Just by being there, children experience a collective action, including all the positive and negative aspects of such, live and in person, rather than reading about it in a history book. Groups sometimes have internal struggles and have to learn the art of compromise to reach their goals. This empowers our kids, helping them to see how important we all are and what everyone can accomplish when we put our voices together with others and make a difference.
When my children were in strollers, our involvement was limited to marching for gay rights or fewer factory farms. As they got older, I took them to rallies for elected officials and they benefited from getting out of the house, having meaningful fun, and making friends with like-minded kids.
In elementary school, they canvassed with me, going door-to-door on behalf of candidates and causes. This helped them learn how to talk to adults and make eye contact. They grew to be self-assured and very comfortable meeting and talking to new people. Now that they are in high school, they comprehend ideas like voting with their wallet. Every teenager should have a boycott list and understand the value of researching companies so only the ones with the best practices get our hard-earned money.
That’s what community involvement can help children understand.
Admittedly, some political topics are complex. Many of society’s problems took decades to create and solutions won’t come quickly or easily.
When explaining to a confused child about what’s happening, try this analogy:
Some people are gathered in a kitchen. They purchase ingredients, mix and measure everything together with pride, care and attention. They toil over a hot stove for hours and finally produce the most delicious, mouth-watering apple pie.
Afterwards, those who own the kitchen arrive and take the pie away. Workers who created the culinary masterpiece are now requesting a slice.
They don’t want the whole pie. They simply want one slice, and perhaps a fork with which to eat it.
Children have an amazing sense of fairness and this idea that the majority of people should benefit from the system they helped create resonates with them.
Most parents raise their children to self-advocate. Responsible moms and dads extol the virtues of self-defense and the power of taking a stand against bullies. Those who bring their children to rallies or protests in public parks are simply modeling that behavior, showing how our actions truly speak louder than words.
Activists provide all of our families with a living example of what happens when we take a stand. Sometimes we bring picnic lunches and stick around afterwards to socialize.
The kids play games and then we all go home.
It’s not a bad way to spend the day.
Taking our kids—at any age—to participate in a community movement where neighbors gather to talk about solutions and the powerful are humbled by the people is good for them and for us.
At the very least, it’s most certainly an American ideal.
You might even say as American as apple pie.
Author: Katie Durkin
Editor: Alli Sarazen