My flavor of activism has always been craftivism. It feels like the perfect intersection of my passions: crafting and justice-seeking. I live for a beautiful and punny protest sign. I knit 25 pussy hats for the Women’s March last year, and 6 brain hats for the March for Science. I love the idea that something I made represented from DC to Denver. Sending my crafts out into the world helped me feel connected and productive. I crafted up a very symbolic sash for myself for the Women’s March. I am reworking it for the next march. My slogan: “Feminist as Fuck” will become “Feminist : Enough”.
While I have a lot of clarity about my own activism, I am still struggling to find the right balance of activism for my kids.
I don’t just want my kids to be aware; I would love for them to be Activist with a capital A, probably the way many parents want their kids to play sports or have a hobby. This strange desire makes sense given it was how I was raised. My dad is/was an activist. I grew up going to protests and marching. They were mostly fine, although one of my earliest memories was getting run off the road after a protest by an angry trucker. He followed us from a protest at Rocky Flats and road-raged us off the road. His semi flipped over in the process and he was ejected from the cab. I remember watching my dad care for him until the first responders arrived. I was probably 4 or 5. Obviously that doesn’t happen at every protest, but it was still scary and I still remember it, but it didn’t scare me or my dad off protesting.
As I grew, my activism grew. I protested throughout high school and into college. As you know, American University was a very politically active campus. I felt really at home there, even when Bush got elected. I am still ashamed that at the last minute I was offered a ticket and decided to attend George Bush’s 2001 inauguration instead of protest it as I had planned.
Before 2016 it was easier for me to involve my kids. We took Ellis to the Obama White House. The kids always come to vote with us. I took both the kids to a Hillary rally during the primary, by myself. Since November 9, 2016 my political engagement has shifted to resistance.
I went to the Women’s March with my dad and step-mom, but I left my kids at home. That was a good decision. Our march in Raleigh drew over 8,000 people and it would have been nearly impossible for me to parent my young kids in that crowd. I needed to be in that crowd that day. I was grateful that I had the opportunity to be fully in it.
We are talking about taking our kids to the local March For Our Lives because it is time and gun violence is an issue that has deeply impacted our family recently. This issue feels very personal and close to home. But I have concerns.
I get more concerned about what age is too young to create an activist? Or at what age is activism authentic and self-directed? My early activism was not of my choosing. Not that I didn’t enjoy it and ultimately mature into my own activism. And I loved seeing little kids at the Women’s March. They had the best signs (nothing beats a sleeping baby with a “I take naps, but I stay woke” sign) and they gave me the most hope. But I cringe when I see young kids protesting abortion. The double standard isn’t lost on me. I want my kids involved in activism because I think it is important and I want them to share my values, but I don’t want them to be my prop and I don’t want to use them for causes they don’t understand.
I agonized last week over the school walk out. Ellis is six and in kindergarten at a k-4 school. There were no walk-out activities planned and I couldn’t figure out how to have my kid participate in a non-existent walk-out at 10 am when he can’t tell time and isn’t even allowed to walk in the halls unsupervised. And I knew deep down it was my issue, not his (his awareness of the need for a walk-out is limited to lock-down drills and those are thankfully disconnected from current events).
I have similar conflict over reciting the pledge of allegiance. I haven’t stood for the pledge since second grade (when my Dad told me I didn’t have to stand for a flag if my country was doing things I wasn’t proud of—thanks activist dad!). I feel super uncomfortable that my kid is being indoctrinated by the mandatory pledge at school, but ultimately Adam and I decided that 6 years old was too young to take a knee or start a daily protest ritual.
If my kid was passionate about these issues on his own I would follow his lead and do everything I could to support his protest, but I also want that to be his choice, not mine. Until then we talk about issues and he knows mommy (and Opa) are out there protesting and I hope he knows he is welcome to join us when/if he is ready.
I am also starting to understand that context is as important as content when it comes to protesting. Ellis’ public school is not progressive. If he wants to be politically active there he will be alone. That’s a tall order for a short kid. I feel like we can fight the school or we can try to balance the scales for Ellis outside of school. We are acknowledging that school isn’t a perfect value match for us and believe me there are tons of things I am biting my tongue about at the moment: constantly separating by gender, only teaching about President Washington and Lincoln during Black History Month, the weird Dads only breakfast they have once a month at school, just to name a few. Instead of swimming up hill and protesting each of these things, we see them as an opportunity to talk about the things we do value. It has also spurred us to find a community that is engaged in justice seeking in an age-appropriate way. To do this we are in the process of joining a very progressive Unitarian Universalist church. This is where lots of my activism was nurtured growing up. (I petitioned to become the youngest voting member of my congregation at 14). I trust that the kids will grow in the right direction and see their peers engaging in social justice at church. It feels like a really satisfying answer to a really tricky predicament.
As for the March For Our Lives it was something you wrote, City Mama, that helped us make our decision about marching as a family this weekend. Adam and I need to be there for our own personal activism and healing. But for the kids we want them to be what you called “informed and innocent.” So yes, I want them to care deeply about creating a better world, but I don’t want that to come at the expense of their innocence. I know as parents we have to march to protect them in the long run and I know as kids we can’t let them march to protect them right now. Revealing the horrifying truth that Ellis could be shot at school is too much for a 6-year old to have to bear. We are going to do everything we can to make sure that is not in any way his burden.