Positive Protesting with Children
by Caity McCardell
This has been an active year for protestors! Some of you dusted off your protesting shoes and took to the streets before, during and after our invasion of Iraq. Others are environmental or animal rights activists and make it a regular part of your schedule to protest various atrocities (so many to choose from!). No matter which camp you’re in, if you’re a parent or guardian, at some point you probably asked yourself, “Should I take the kids?”
It’s worth questioning the impact of street protests on children, since such events can involve both a learning experience in self-expression and a crash course in first-hand violence. Should children really tag along?
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) (www.peta.org) supports the involvement of children of all ages in animal rights work, even protests. PETA’s Street Team Coordinator, Joel Bartlett, explains, “Children are often horrified when they learn about cruelties towards animals. They want to express their grief to other people. The innocent sadness that children express over animal cruelty is also very sobering to people who have become desensitized to the cruelty that surrounds them.”
Alfred Kuba, Coordinator of Silicon Valley In Defense of Animals (www.idausa.org/index.shtml), reflects on the educational value of street protests. “Kids are not encouraged to question wrongs. That is why bringing children to protests shows them that they can express themselves and question anything they believe wrong. It develops their analytical and critical thinking.”
So where’s the debate? Protesting sounds like the best all-around experience for children. Pete Cohon, an Arbitrator and long-time animal rights activist, adamantly disagrees. He’s witnessed too many eruptions of violence to make up for the good it could do for children. “There is no way of knowing how the objects of protests will react, or the police, or even some of the more militant protesters,” he explains. “There is no way to predict if a demonstration will get out of hand and turn violent. My fellow protesters and I have had beer bottles thrown at us from a passing car. I’ve had people scream in my face in an effort to intimidate me. At some demonstrations things could get far worse.”
Clearly, we can educate our children without purposefully exposing them to potentially violent situations. If you choose to bring your children to a protest, consider the following:
- Going to a protest with children is like going to a baseball game. You’re committed to the cause, but you might not be able to stay for all the innings.
- Baby wearers: consider bringing a stroller along in addition to your sling. It’ll help carry your stuff – and it’s easy to poop out after a few straight hours of marching or standing and wearing a baby.
- Be prepared to not have a bathroom around – or to have a long wait for an available toilet.
- Do your companion animal a favor – leave him or her at home. They’re even less likely than your child to understand what everyone’s yelling about. It’s a hypocritical shame to see a thirsty, frightened dog at an animal rights protest.
- Avoid bringing your children to protests that you know are going to be large or if you suspect protestors plan to get arrested.
- Wear comfortable shoes. Bring plenty of water and food. Do you have enough diapers?
Talk to your children before, during and after the protest. Ask them about their experience and how they’re feeling, and observe their emotions aloud without judgment. Explain to them your political position and your stand, using language that instills hope. This is an opportunity for growth, both for children and adults.