My Daughter Marched Before She Walked — but Activism Is More Than That
On Jan. 20, 2018, I participated in the Women’s March in NYC — along with my 3-year-old twins, 22-month-old daughter, my husband and around 200,000 other New Yorkers who are passionate about gender equality and fundamental human rights. Attending marches and protests is not new to me, nor is bringing my kids. The latter is a fact that elicits questions from some and praise from others.
At this particular demonstration, my youngest, Skyler marched proudly down 6th Avenue with a sign draped around her neck that read, “I Marched Before I Walked.” It was an obvious slogan; after all, her debut in activism had been in utero at the 2015 NYC Pride Parade. And at the ripe age of 22 months, Skyler had already been wheeled, slung, pushed and nursed through upward of 20 activism events. She rallied to #SaveOurHealthCare. She protested acts of injustice, from deportations to the tax scam to the end of DACA to the murder of Philando Castile to the appointment of Jeff Sessions to Trump's Muslim ban and beyond.
But I was still shocked by the reaction this tiny human with her simple sign received from fellow marchers and onlookers on Jan. 20. She was surrounded at every step by admirers — and after the March, photos of her went viral.
But while internet fame is all well and good (and I'm certainly proud that my daughter was rocketed so quickly into notorious pint-size badass territory), what happens next? Now that the March — two years of marches, in fact — is behind us, how can I as a parent keep the spirit of peaceful protest alive in my daughter's daily life? How do I teach her that activism is much more than marching?
The way I see it, protests are just one spoke of the activism wheel, and modeling a multi-wheeled activist lifestyle with the hope of instilling that in our children is... well, a vehicle that seems difficult to keep up to speed.
Activism, in its most general definition, is concentrated campaigning with the goal of social or political change. So I see those activism spokes as: listening to viewpoints that are different from your own, communicating frequently with elected representatives, taking leads from those around us who are silenced or marginalized (both historically and presently), disrupting the status quo, showing up when injustices arise, standing in solidarity with others when basic human rights are threatened and speaking up and out for those whose voices are silenced by systemic systems of oppression.
But what does all that look like for small kids who spend the majority of their time bickering over who set foot in the kitchen first?
It looks like imagination.
And involving young children in activism is as simple as creating spaces and providing opportunities for that imagination to flourish. If we can’t imagine a better future or a more just society, how will we ever be able to bring one about?
During the Women's March, we passed a poster with an illustration of the Statue of Liberty. My son, Zane, looked at it and asked me, “Mom, why does the pointy lady have blood all over her and why does she look so sad?”
"Well," I answered, “the pointy lady imagines a world where anyone can come to America regardless of who they are or where they are from. In our country right now, decisions are being made that make it difficult for all people to come to America, and that makes her very sad. What kind of America would you like to have?"
He didn't respond, but I could see him thinking — and imagining.
As a parent, I strive to fuel my children’s exploration and discovery of their sense of identity and their values. Contrary to the beliefs of some, involving young kids in activism doesn’t brainwash them with a specific "left or right" agenda; rather, it exposes them to a wide range of human struggles, causes, dreams and expressions. By growing up participating in activism, I hope my kids will discover for themselves — and continue to live by — the pillars of decency, compassion, justice, love and equality. And if the spokes of activism are varied and many, then their hub is undoubtedly imagination.
Skyler, I am also proud that you marched before you walked. May we all march for the world we imagine — and may we as parents raise imaginations.