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Kids and Activism

Posted by Patience on March 5, 2010 at 12:33 PM
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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. 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.
ruby sign2.jpg

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.

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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.


Amber writes...

I honestly don't know what I think about this. I am very mixed. On the one hand, I think that it's important to teach our children what we believe and model our political action. On the other hand, I am always concerned about sharing bigger issues with our kids than they can handle.

I think that leaving it up to your children, when they are old enough to decide, seems like a good compromise. But I am still very uncertain either way.

Sarah writes...

I am an activist now because my parents took me to protests as a child. The WBC counter-protest was the sixth my five-year old daughter has been to: three anti war rallies, two gay rights rallies, and this one (not counting passing out flyers for Obama).

Age appropriate is the name of the game, but I want to teach my kids our values and that they need to stand up for what is right. She's not old enough to have her own opinions on these things, but she's old enough to learn mine, and in 10 years she can figure her own out.

Small groups of passionate people can absolutely change the world. It's never too young to learn that.

WickedLame writes...

I recently saw a video featuring a few of the God Hates Gays boys. You're right, it is heart breaking. The young munchkin that was at this protest in VA features in this video.

Kacey writes...

I think this is a great idea. I would love to have my child apart of something like this. I live in a small town so the opportunity for something like doesn't happen here. God doesn't hate Jews. Jesus was a Jew. God doesn't hate gays either just the lifestyle they choose. We are called to love the bible says that people will know we r children of God by the love we show for one another. I do believe homosexuality is a sin I would not let me child hold up signs about that particular subject but it is not our place to judge,only love. We should love them unconditionally and let God take care of the rest. All in all though I think that this is a great thing. I wish I lived closer so I could be involved with my child too.

I read this and had mixed feelings. There are so many things I am passionate about and that I would like for my children to be passionate about as well. Then I think back to my own tender years and I am reminded of how my mother took me to Pro-life rallies and the picketing of abortion clinics. The things I witnessed, saw with my own eyes, heard come from peoples' mouths from both sides are burned into me forever. My mother's passion was about protecting the unborn and she gave little thought to how hate speech and graphic signs would affect me. She wanted me to believe as she did and it was simple as that.

As a mother, I am mortified that she thought there was something right about that. Sure taking your child to picket an abortion clinic or Planned Parenthood may be much different than other causes, but there are things that go on at rallies and demonstrations that may take place that you do not realize how negatively they will impact your children. I have erred on the side of caution. I do not involve me children in my politics or my activism. As they get older, when they have more of a voice in the matter I would be happy to let them participate but for now, I will let them be children and I will teach them at home.

Carly writes...

I think this situation was a fantastic opportunity to actually show your children the relevance and power of your/their values out there in the big wide world. And also to show that a difference of opinion/values can be expressed peacefully. Let's face it, values can be difficult concepts for kids to understand so the more ways to make these ideas tangible, the better our children will understand what we are teaching them and why values are important.

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