baby proof: involving kids in activism.

September 26, 2019
climate strike nyc | photo by latonya yvette

Last Friday night, our beloved next door neighbors accidentally locked themselves out of their apartment on their way to dinner and so they knocked on our door at bedtime to get the spare key we keep for them in case of emergency.

I had already wriggled my way up to the top bunk to read Faye one last bedtime story, so I stayed put while the kids answered the door in their pajamas with James.

“How was the strike?” I could hear our neighbors ask cheerfully as the kids flashed them the cardboard signs they’d carried. Faye let out a prolonged moan: “It was sooooooo boring.” Her reply could not have been more emphatic.

My heart sank. Had I made a mistake? Had I dragged my too-young kids to an event that they couldn’t understand? Would they be turned off of activism forever because of my misstep?

climate strike nyc | photo by latonya yvette

But as I lay in bed that night, thinking about Faye’s groan, I also thought about the countless, interminable Sunday masses that I sat through as a child. The sleepovers that I left early so I could be ready to wear my cross-bearing gown and lead the procession to the altar. The sermons that droned on without ever seeming to get to a point. I was bored. Soooooo bored. But sitting through those sermons also helped shape me. As an adult, I’ve made my own choices regarding what specifics of those Sunday morning teachings I embrace and what I reject, but I’ve carried with me the lessons of community and belonging and hope and faith.

Last week, our cathedral was the open sky of Battery Park, with the glistening Hudson River to one side and the towers of downtown Manhattan to the other. In the course of listening to speeches from Artemisa Xakriabá and Isabella Fallahi and Alexandria Villaseñor and Greta Thunberg, there were plenty of things that my kids didn’t directly understand. Indeed, I’m sure they weren’t hearing most of the words at all. They sat in the grass, staring at the calves of the adults and teenagers around them. They played with friends. Faye got her hair braided and unbraided. Silas tumbled around like a top and generally tried to allay his boredom by thwacking strangers on the feet with his cardboard sign. They occasionally felt energized and raised their signs or asked to sit on my shoulders to better see the stage. Mostly, they ate more snacks than was really reasonable. At one point, Silas begged me to “go outside,” desperate for a respite from the crowd.

They’re five and two. Of course they thought the rally was boring. But I’m so glad we went. It was an opportunity to show my kids our family’s values in action, a chance to talk to them about why we were there, and why so many other people were there with us. It was an opportunity, bored or not, for us all to feel a sense of community and belonging and hope and faith.

climate strike nyc | photo by latonya yvette

Other things:

Speaking of involving kids in activist efforts, I’m joining Families Belong Together this coming weekend for a special event at Stories Bookshop and Storytelling Lab.

I’ll be chatting with Sandra Cordero, Executive Director of Families Belong Together, about how we can all continue to rally behind migrant families. There will be snacks and gigantic coloring pages for kids and 10% of all Stories Bookshop proceeds will benefit Families Belong Together. I’m so hopeful that local folks can join us. The event is free, but feel free to RSVP.

Photos are all by my dear friend Latonya Yvette who we went to the strike with. You can read more about her experience at the Climate Strike and see lots more photos on her blog.

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  • Reply Gia September 26, 2019 at 1:31 pm

    Really loved the transparency and thoughtfulness of this post!

  • Reply Judith Ross September 26, 2019 at 1:52 pm

    Thank you for going and for bringing those kids. This will definitely shape them. Our sons went to neighborhood actions — I have a newspaper photo of my older son when he was maybe 18 months sitting in his stroller holding a sign that says “Say No to Racism,” they both traveled with us to NYC when the younger one was only a few months old for an anti-apartheid protest in Central Park and both of them marched with my husband’s union on Labor Day. All of this, along with lively dinner table conversations, definitely shaped them and in a good way. They learned to think about the larger world, fairness, and it helped them realize that you have to speak up against injustice and sometimes it’s good to get angry (witness Greta Thunberg’s speech at the U.N.). Younger son now volunteers as an organizer trainer for the IWW, and older son (who just became a father himself on Tuesday) loves working one on one as an academic tutor with kids who can’t afford such services whenever he can.

  • Reply Christie September 26, 2019 at 1:57 pm

    I’ve been dragging my boys (8 and 5) and daughter (2) to protests for the past few years. Their first one was a protest against the Muslim Ban back in early 2017, where I spoke. As an immigration lawyer and advocate I have been invited to speak at numerous rallies for the past few years, and I drag my kids with me. They are so bored. Likewise, they were bored on Friday when I took them out of school to go to the strike. It was HOT. And we marched on HOT city streets. They wilted. But you know what? In the days since, I have heard my 5 year old singing: “Hey Hey, Ho Ho, Fossil Fuels have Got to Go!” Just as he still chants, “No Ban No Wall, USA Welcomes All” almost three years later! I stand on the side that thinks it is totally worth it. It’s a trite chant, but I tell the kids –THIS is what democracy looks like. I do a lot of asylum cases, and I tell my kids about my clients who cannot even get up and speak to a crowd in protest against the government. I have represented numerous human rights lawyers, advocates, and journalists who were persecuted because they did the same thing I do all the time. I don’t know what my kids get from all of this, but I do hope that they get a great since of what a democracy is supposed to be and how FREAKING lucky they are to be born here, white, middle-classed, and privileged and how that makes them obligated to raise their voices for social justice. Keep on doing it, sister, and I’ll be right there with you! 🙂

    • Reply maryann September 26, 2019 at 4:08 pm

      Yes! Ditto – except for the part about being a kick-ass immigration lawyer and for that, I thank you, Christie, for doing that important work.
      My kids were so bored and so hot too. A reporter asked my 12-year-old niece what we all wanted out of the strike and she answered honestly: “I’m not quite sure!” I loved the analogies to attending church, Erin. So, so true. I just feel like we all need to talk about climate change more and if we get kids involved, maybe some will sink in, maybe they will realize that their voice matters, and hopefully they will start to recognize our privilege.

  • Reply Jenna September 26, 2019 at 2:39 pm

    YES. My kid’s first set of protests was Occupy, when he was 7-8. He went to the camp, he marched. He didn’t completely love all of it. There was complaining. There was him feeling like he was the only kid at school protesting. BUT. Now he’s a teen and he still doesn’t love protests but his favorite show right now is Patriot Act and damn if that kid isn’t always thinking about justice and pointing out social problems.

  • Reply EmK September 26, 2019 at 3:07 pm

    As I often tell my kids (eye rolls follow), it’s good for kids to be bored sometimes!

  • Reply MissEm September 26, 2019 at 3:40 pm

    Thanks for sharing this. I’ve been on the fence about taking my kids to our city’s protest tomorrow. Not bc I’m worried about them being bored (I believe facing boredom is often much healthier than seeking entertainment from everything anyway), but bc I have anxious kids, and my major goal is for them to fall in love with the world and the people of the world so that when they meet with its deep troubles they have a relationship to fight for, and so that relationship is begun in peace and joy and a sense of deep belonging before I introduce anxiety and disaster. I’m still on the fence about this. At the same time, I also believe in them seeing the examples of the adults in their lives and the way we stand up for what we value. If I take them along, they don’t have to understand everything, but they can watch and that will be part of their growing and knowing that the world is full of goodness and hope.

    • Reply Madeleine September 27, 2019 at 12:33 am

      Hi Missem – I really value your comment. It reminds me of my efforts not to bring adult topics into kids lives. This is a point that is made in the book “Simplicity Parenting”, which Erin actually recommended on her blog (and for the record, she was right – it’s the only parenting book one needs). However, your comment about wanting your kids to feel peace and joy and a deep sense of belonging is what really struck me. Because protesting can be introduced as a way to show joy and a deep sense of belonging to the earth. Protesting does not have to be a place of anger. For little ones, it can be explained that we are making signs and singing these songs because we love the planet. I would encourage all adults to consider introducing kids to the climate march in an age-appropriate way (or, at least, appropriate-for-that-specific-kid way). For younger or more anxious kids, I would encourage you to consider telling them this is what we do for things we love: we protect them, we sing chants with lots of other people, we yell at the top of our lungs about things we love (for the child in my life, the chant she chose to lead was “I love trees and bugs!” I mean, it works.). Standing up for the environment does not have to be about anxiety and destruction. We are fighting FOR something, not only against something else. Best wishes to you whatever you decide.

      • Reply MissEm September 27, 2019 at 8:12 am

        I LOVE that perspective. Thank you!

      • Reply Rachel September 27, 2019 at 12:43 pm

        Thank you for your comment – I love this approach! My son is only 2 now, but I can see myself adopting this perspective in talking with him about protests and movements as he grows.

    • Reply Kelly Libby September 30, 2019 at 3:56 pm

      Follow your heart, momma. You know what is best for your child and what is a good fit for his needs and skills.

  • Reply Pauli September 26, 2019 at 4:04 pm

    I been dragging my son of now 3 years since he was born to the streets, at first in the Fular, then the ergobaby, then the stroller and now walking.
    I still bring the stroller if he gets bored, tired or shy.
    We talk about the theme of the protest, make the signs and chant.
    I think is important specially if you have a strong opinion and posture about life, express it and teach them to live by their values. Example is everything.

  • Reply Michela September 26, 2019 at 5:00 pm

    Thank you for this. My daughters are 3 and 4 and I asked them if they wanted to go to the strike, explaining what it was, and they said no, we don’t like crowds. I didn’t take them, because I believe I should respect their feelings and I didn’t go myself because I took them to school and the day unfolded not as I had planned. It was important also not to go because what I saw was really sad…the school was full nobody went to the strike. We live in Central London in a very diverse neighborhood. Kids in my daughters school are mostly immigrants, like me and my husband, mostly low income families. It was loke the atrike never happened. It was like despite the thousands people marching few miles away the rest of the city was not touched by it. Sometimes it is important to stay home and to see what happens outside. I feel the movement is growing but you can get easily optimistic when you are surrounded by people who think like you. The majority pf people are still not touched by the climate change issues. Now I know that the next time there will be an occasion like this I’ll definitely take the girls but we’ll protest in front of the school, those are the people who need to listen not the one that agree with what I have to say.

  • Reply Caitlin September 27, 2019 at 9:34 am

    Hi Erin. Thanks for sharing this reflection.

    For what it’s worth, I was a kid who was dragged to many a protest (including a formative trip to DC for the Million Mom March against gun violence 19 years ago). This along with staying up late on election night to count the returns, and being involved in local and state organizing and campaigns. I was often bored out of my mind, but these experiences were formative and have absolutely made me who I am today.

    These activist moments are a love letter to the future. Participating and participating with young people is one way to show them that we care about the world they will inherit, and by extension, that we care about them. This goes too for actively supporting efforts organized by young people and following *their* leadership. Getting free requires stewardship, passing on values, and really believing in intergenerational solidarity. Proud to see you taking this on. <3

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE September 27, 2019 at 9:43 am

      Yes, absolutely.

  • Reply Mary September 29, 2019 at 5:56 pm

    I appreciate and relate to this perspective (as someone who sat through soooo many Sunday morning Catholic masses with my family). I, too, have made my own decisions about determining what my adult faith will look like, but I value my parents insistence on showing up, rain or shine, to the faith community they so deeply believe in. Not because it was fun or flashy or distracting like so many things in today’s world, but because it is what sustains them on a deep, spiritual level throughout the up’s and down’s of their life.

    I also appreciate this perspective as a teacher of middle and high school. There’s such a push towards “gameifying” education and making sure it’s always FUN…when in fact learning is so much more complex than that. It’s at different times joyful, boring, frustrating, discouraging, engaging…I feel strongly that I want my students to understand that their education can and should evoke all of these experiences.

  • Reply Dessica October 9, 2019 at 9:35 am

    Thank you for this.

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