We are in an age of social and political action unlike anything of the past partially because the internet allows us to be more connected with issues and movements. The variability of actions is on a spectrum of large, mass participation like the Womxn’s March to smaller movements such as speaking to your local city council member in-person or via email. The internet has also been a tool to amplify youth voices successfully with what we have seen with global climate strikes as well as the March for Our Lives movement. With so many ideas to support and so many ways to be involved in our communities where do we start in a way that we feel comfortable exposing our families to issues, we think we all should care about?
As a mother, I have taken my children to march with me and see me speak on the State Capitol steps a number of times. My oldest has a love of joining me on the microphone to say a keyword or line with the topic we are addressing. My children have accompanied me to smaller civic actions as well as larger rallies. Not everything is a march, not everything involves me speaking, and I am fairly discerning so do not get them involved with every action I choose to participate in. They are now six and nine and even have their own agency where I attend actions to support them and their voices as they have done for me.
The key is discernment with what you get involved with, what your family gets involved with, and how you choose to show up for an issue. Here are some pointers I hope that help from my experience of community engagement and activism with my family.
Know your values. If your family has not done a value assessment for how you choose to operate then sit down and figure this out. You want the issues you support to be aligned with how you say you are walking in the world. Think of basic child development and at that age of seven kids generally notice there is a world happening outside of them or at the age of nine they really start to question the world they are seeing. You will want to be reinforced with your values to guide the new things they are seeing and questioning as a family involved with activist actions.
Should We Participate
Unless you are an organizer for an event you will not inherently know the details of what will be happening. Establish your boundaries of what you feel comfortable exposing your family to. Here is a brief list of things to consider:
Weather (exposure if the event is outdoors or how much time you will be exposed to the elements if headed to an indoor location, do you have the gear to be comfortable)
Mobility (strollers, baby-wearing, walking – also know details about the terrain such as if there was a recent snowstorm there may be ice-packed sidewalks that can be hard for strollers and wheelchairs)
Activity level (how far are you walking, how long are you standing)
Transportation (parking access, bike valet, public transportation, multiple cars or ride share – can you easily get back to a car if an event finishes a distance from where it started, do you know bus routes that connect between two locations)
Food, Drinks, Restrooms (what will the event provide for free, what will you need to be comfy, treats for littles if they get tired)
Conflict Risks (will there will be counter-protestors, is there an inflamed risk of law enforcement stepping in, what record of conflicts does the group have that you will be participating with)
Crowd Size and Getting Lost (if anything happens as part of the action or not do you have a plan to meet up if you are separated, does your child know your phone number if they are old enough, if not old enough you can write your phone number on their arm under their shirt)
How Do We Participate
Now that you are being vigilant with your planning, HAVE FUN. Find out what is appropriate from the organizers’ event description. Ask questions if there is a contact person. People are creatively using our voices in signs, chants, puppets, drums, and every other medium we can imagine.
Solo or Group (do you want to join others ahead of time to coordinate anything, do you want to be open to meet people at the action, do you want to be involved in your own little group)
Preparation (see if organizers or participants have a sign-making party, gather chant sheets if an event is prepared, practice the cohesive message you want to support)
Let Your Kids Express Themselves (whether they know the topic or are following you as a role model let them make their own signs, bring their own drums, wear what they want to wear – you can make a simple sign for them with block letters that they can color or fill in on their own if they want to collaborate with you)
Stop When Your Family Is Done (keep it enjoyable for everyone and gracefully exit before any meltdowns start. I try to know spots for a picnic or a meal nearby to replenish them because it is not just the walking or action, the excitement can also wear down our kids)
Debrief the Experience (give them time to sleep on it or rest – ask if they would want to do that again, the best thing they learned that day, what they would want to bring next time. make questions direct and not completely open)
Please comment below if this is helpful or if you have other tips to help the community as we get our families to become more engaged with the topics that mean a great deal to us.