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Kids at Social Justice Rallies & Protests

“Mom, why are we going to the rally?”

“Black people are being killed by police in a way that is not fair, not just. Many people in our town are going to the rally to say this must stop.”

A quiet descends on the car. I know I’ll have more questions later, but for now my 4 and 7 year old kids are digesting my answer.

Marching up Main St. in July 2016 for a Black Lives Matter rally. That’s my kiddo on the right and his friend on the left. Photo by Amber Paris.

As parents in these tumultuous times, there are some big decisions to make about how we will show up for social justice. Rallies and Protests are a powerful tool, and there are some big questions parents are asking about bringing their kids. Are we putting our kids in harms way? Are we brainwashing our kids by bringing them to rallies on issues that we feel passionate about, but they haven’t made their own decisions about? Are our kids ready to hear the devastating realities of our world?

This summer in our rural New England town there were a couple rallies with nearly 400 people, a big deal in our area. Two were Black Lives Matter rallies, shining the spotlight on the injustice of black men who continue to be killed by law enforcement – see The Guardian’s counter for #s. And two rallies were in solidarity with Standing Rock, a Sioux tribe in North Dakota, where since April hundreds and sometimes thousands have gathered from over 100 tribes to stop the oil pipeline that crosses two rivers and through sacred land. This is the frontline of climate justice.

At the rallies it was beautiful to see many families with kids. At the Black Lives Matter rally there was a group of high school students leading the chants!

Look at that face. This is serious stuff! And it is – Water is Life.

Here are a few stories from parents about why they brought their kids to these rallies, or why they chose not to, and also how they talked with their kids about the rallies…

One (white) mother has kids (also white) who are 2, 7 and 11 and after the rally asked her 7 year old if he understood what the chanting was about and he replied literally, “I understand Black Lives Matter, and No Justice means No Peace”. Later they were able to talk about how people of color have a different experience with the police because of the color of their skin and how they are having a hard time with the justice system right now. Her 11 year old internalizes injustice and works through her anxiety about it over a longer period of time. Mom is looking at the ZinnEdProject to find age appropriate teaching resources and will start reading “A Young People’s History” out loud with her.

Another (white) mother had never brought her (white) kids ages 5 & 7 to a social justice rally and didn’t feel ready to have a conversation with them about police violence against black folks. She came to the rally by herself and did some work to think about having that conversation with her kids. She is now ready and will most likely bring her kids to the next rally.

One mother (POC) brought her 9 and 11 year old kids to both of the rallies. They were really nervous & scared on the way to the Black Lives Matter rally. As the kids began to interact with the people around them in the rally, they began to relax and be able to fully show up. She says, “the energy at a BLM rally is definitely different than a climate protest. The intensity is powerful on a deeper level when you are fighting for your culture, your dignity, your people to be treated like people.” Her full story will be shared on this blog later this week.

People have stuff to say about this topic – you can google it and find a wide variety of opinions. Here are a couple resources I like: In this blogpost Jennifer Harvey writes about her thinking behind taking kids to politically charged events, and blows the question of brainwashing out of the water. And if you need ideas for conversations about social justice with your kids here’s an excellent resource. You can also read our blog post about families showing up for racial justice, and about why we support Black Lives Matter.

In our town of 12,000 over 400 people rallied in support of Black Lives Matter in July 2016. Photo by Amber Paris.

When it comes down to it, I choose to take my kids to social justice rallies because injustice is real and we have to do something about it. Inaction only contributes to injustice. Are my kids super excited about going? No, but they aren’t excited about going to the dentist, or going to school every day either. Showing up at rallies a necessary part of creating a society that is good for all citizens and for the planet, just as going to the dentist is really good for our personal overall health.

Rallies/Marches/Protests/Sit-ins are a very important tool in the struggle for justice. Many things I do to fight for justice aren’t as visible to my kids – donations I give to BLM, advocacy against racism in my community, the petitions I sign, the conversations I have, the trainings I give about racism. Rallies are something they can actually participate in, and it is a chance for them to see that many people care about injustice. Unfortunately this is not something they are learning about in school, or from mainstream media, so I have chosen to be intentional about making sure they have access to this information.

My hope is that they will be motivated to fight the injustice they come up against in their lives: a kid being treated unfairly at school, curriculum that is disrespectful to Indigenous People, an unfair policy on their sports team. But when it comes down to it my kids will make their own choices in life – I can’t control their thinking and action. What I can do is teach them about what is happening in the world and give them tools for making positive change.

My kids don’t go around the house chanting “No Justice, No Peace – No racist police!”, yet. They aren’t so easily indoctrinated. They are listening. They are watching. I trust them to make their own decisions about how they will show up for justice.

This Friday there’s another Solidarity with Standing Rock rally in our town. Will you be taking your kids or not? Why do you show up for rallies with your kids? Or why don’t you? We’d like to know.

My kids and their friends rest in the shade after the Black Lives Matter rally in July 2016. photo by Amber Paris.

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