For over two months now, people across the nation and globe have been protesting in the Occupy Wall Street Movement (OWS). Increasingly, there are children present at these protests, which raises the question — should parents take their children to protests and rallies?
The gut reaction of many is to say no, they shouldn't. In the age of helicopter parenting when junior's every move is scripted into carefully chosen play dates and the perfect preschool, it makes sense that we would want to shield children from anything messy, organic, and not quite scripted with a start and end time with 'appropriate' people. But considering that in this day and age, Americans rarely voice their opinion face to face in public or protest anything, isn't it almost mandatory that we expose children to recent cases when Americans do show their discontent? Should we be worried about potential violence from police? Protesters themselves? A wrong element, as it were?
I live in a remote area and haven't had the opportunity to take my kids to anything around the town, but I have taken them to protests in the past. Here are some solid reasons to do so.
1. It gets them out of the fill-in-the-bubble classroom, and they get to see just how messy democracy can be. They will see various walks of life. You can explain and show them — right in front of you — the various concerns different groups have about government, corporations, etc.
2. Tie it to family history. The OWS might be happening in their age, but perhaps other movements happened in your generation (Gen X? Crickets?) or perhaps your parents'. Showing them the present can help them imagine what the past might have been like. My kids have learned about how my mother was "Another Mother for Peace" during the Vietnam Era, for example. They've also learned about the struggles of gays and lesbians for basic human rights when I took them to rallies regarding gay marriage (they have lesbian grandmothers on my side and lesbian aunties on my husband's side).
3. You are role modeling what it means to be a citizen in a free society. No matter what side of any debate or movement you are on, taking your children to a protest or rally visually demonstrates to them that you, as their parent, are participating in your democracy despite all the responsibilities of daily life.
4. Don't throw caution to the wind. Know your area and know some of the people you are involved with here. I've seen parents use a crowd like a giant babysitter. It ain't Woodstock — and even Woodstock wasn't Woodstock. Just because you have similar politics doesn't mean that the people around you are kid friendly. Keep kids close to you.
5. Band together with other families. There is strength in numbers. Stay around areas with other children and parents. Kids get bored and kids like to make new friends. Give them a safe opportunity to do so. Often, parents can make arrangements before the protest via online planning.
6. Don't worry so much that the kids are not getting the whole thing intellectually. They will get as much as they can on their current level.
7. Start building a pacifist file. Should your children want to prove conscientious objector status when they are of draftable age (if it comes back), having a record of past attendance at anti-war protests can help establish their claim.
Obviously, there is a whole range of opinions on this subject. Take a look at some of the sites below for a more complete picture. I wouldn't have taken my kids to Occupy Oakland — mostly because of my prejudices after living in Alameda county for a year and having a feel for some of the antagonism between police and people. But I would take them to Occupy Los Angeles in a heartbeat.