It was a pretty heavy and amazing week for our family and city. The Westboro Baptist Church came to town to protest our local Jewish Community Center, Holocaust Museum, The Jerusalem Connection and a local high school that has a Gay-Straight Alliance. They are a group that travels the country using hate to express themselves. I spent an entire day just trying to wrap my mind around the concept.
What do we do? I was trying to imagine what we might be able to do to turn this on its side, to make a space for love and kindness. Would it be even possible? How does this exist in the world my children are growing up in?
After talking, texting and twittering with a few mama friends, my friend Sarah brought a brilliant idea to us borrowed from a synagogue in New York City. For every minute these signs were held in the air they asked folks to contribute to a fund that would benefit the very people who are meant to be the targets. Thousands of dollars were raised for just a 50 minute protest. So my friends Sarah, Sara, Jess and I dreamed of what might happen if we invited our friends and our whole city to do the same.
Every penny would be an offering of kindness reminding us that we will choose love and believe it will conquer all. After all, this is what we want for our kids and our world.
In just a few hours Sarah set up a website, Sara came up with a name, and we all started to spread the word. www.penniesinprotest.com was up and we waited.
What happened next, none us would have ever imagined. Within 24 hours we had $2000, and two local news stories. It just caught on like wildfire, 2700 Facebook fans, and over $11,000 just a week later. Our city of Richmond, Virginia came together in the most amazing way, uniting us to stand in love.
With ten children between us we talked a lot about what we should do about our kids and the protest. There had already been so many teaching conversations, asking questions and listening to our small people and their view on the subject. Was this a clear opportunity to teach and share our values in an age appropriate manner?
Should they go? Could they handle it, even if they can, should they? What are our responsibilities as parents regarding both their physical and emotional protection?
We ordered pizza and made signs while we mulled it over. Children ran around and laughed, but all of it felt so much deeper.
Jorge and I decided that Lyra (1) would come with me to the protest and leave the other kids at home as we weren't sure it was appropriate for our particular kids and their sensitivities and ages. The baby needed to be close to me and would sleep so I took her along. After I picked up Lucy (4), Josiah (9), Jack (7), and we went to an anti-hate rally (with no protesters) at Virginia Commonwealth University. We asked the kids what they wanted to do. They really wanted to hold their signs and be part of our greater community but I would have been fine if there had been no interest.
I couldn't sleep the night before the protest, I felt so nervous and unsure of what it would really be like to be there in the flesh.
When the protesters arrived I carried Lyra on my back in a carrier and a camera in my hand. The tension was so thick in the air as we watched a man, two women and a boy protest while we stood silently. A boy about the age of my son carried a sign saying, "God hates Jews." My heart dropped. I looked at my friend Sara (who is Jewish) and her little boy on her back.
Two mothers, two sons, both living their convictions in completely different ways on the same street, it was chilling.
I picked up my boys and told them what I saw. We were all quiet for awhile in the car and Jack said, "Mom, I don't think that boy means that...I think he just doesn't know mom, he just doesn't know." We went on to our rally which was joyful and a big love fest filled with all kinds of people. My kids ran around, just the same way they did the night of pizza and I held all the deeper things in my heart.
What do you think about kids and activism? Should children be present at protests? Is it our job to teach our children about certain issues or wait till they are older? Share your points of view in the comments.