This content on this page is written by Adam Tinkle. Adam, a district parent and father to Alice (8) and Milo (5), has supported the work of the Police Reform Task Force and other regional advocates for racial justice, through writing, research, organizing, and taking to the streets. A musician, media artist, and educator, he directs MDOCS (the John B. Documentary Studies Collaborative) at Skidmore College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ve felt incredibly inspired, over the past year, seeing so many fellow parents becoming invested in organizing and advocating for equity in education. But the current movement for racial justice – the moment of collective reckoning in which SEEN was born, sparked by the killing of George Floyd, Jr – were the Black Lives Matter protests that filled our streets beginning in May 2020. Marching in or occupying streets in ways that may block car traffic is a gentle form of “civil disobedience”: intentionally disobeying certain laws as a form of protest. Any history of Civil Rights struggles in the U.S. – from Rosa Parks to lunch counters to the Little Rock Nine – is unimaginable without civil disobedience. And even as more institutional and bureaucratic work for racial justice and equity is increasingly taken up – with varied levels of sincerity and success – by school districts, police departments, city councils, and myriad other organizations, civil disobedience is certain to remain a key strategy in the movement for Black Lives.
Q: How can families get involved in this part of the movement? Is it a good idea to go to a protest with kids?
In the Washington Post, Tama Leventhal, professor of child development and public policy at Tufts University is quoted saying, “Taking children to a protest teaches them a sense of agency and to look beyond family, school and community to larger societal issues..it’s a way to introduce children to leadership skills. … We want the younger generation to be politically active and play a role in society, whatever that role may be.”
My kids have had transformative experiences during the protests we have attended over the past year. It’s one thing to talk about racial justice in the home, but putting our bodies in motion alongside other supporters of the movement provides a reliably concrete and impactful spur to many of the conversations we ought to be having with our kids — about law, racial identity, political change, anger, and safety in our communities. Protests can be musical, moving, exciting spaces, and provide opportunities to connect with neighbors who might share our values but not our immediate social circles.
But not every protest is going to be a comfortable space for people of all ages and all tolerances for risk. If you’re newly considering engaging in protest with your kids, here are a few suggestions:
- Know your organizers. Message someone involved with planning the event before you go, and mention that you’re thinking of bringing kids. They should honestly tell you whether this is the kind of event that kids belong at. This is not to say that there’s anything wrong with showing up to an event you just saw advertised somewhere. But unless you have a personal connection to the event, I’d suggest limiting your expectations and keeping your plans fluid.
- Go with friends, and with other families. Kids have been at most protests I’ve been to — I always look for fellow parents and introduce myself as soon as I get on site. Families often establish their own kid-friendly areas on the periphery of the crowd. Bring chalk, and encourage your kids to leave a message or an artwork. If you feel like marching in the street will strain your credibility next time you warn your kids not to play in traffic, there are no rules against simply staying on the sidewalk while keeping up with the march.
- Stay alert, and know your exit strategy. The majority of protests I’ve been to have felt joyous and safe from beginning to end. However, we all know they do occasionally go “sideways” – and when they do, it’s likely because law enforcement has elected to escalate or engage in a confrontation. If this happens, you don’t want to be around with your kids. Knowing who the protest’s Safety Team and Medic Team are (they will usually be specially attired) is a good idea, as they will be able to give clear directives about safely extricating yourself.
- Feel free to bow out at any time. Having kids in your care at these events means juggling different priorities. Routes for marches are rarely advertised in advance. Events may start late, or run well beyond their advertised time. Speakers may recount traumatic events that may raise difficult emotions or conversations for your kids. Know and respect your and their limits – showing up to show support, even for just a little while is, in my view, better than not showing up at all.
- Bring snacks: some for your family, and some to share! Well-organized protests usually have water and snacks freely available, but, in my experience, all of the hiccups and stamina-testing aspects of protests typically vanish in the face of special treats.
- And while you’re at it, why not treat yourself, too? Balancing parenting and political engagement isn’t easy, and you probably haven’t patted yourself on the back lately for doing what you can to make the world a better place for our kids.