Remember, back in the day, when you heard that a really important protest was happening? You could spring from the couch at a moment’s notice, with all the fervour and conviction that your half-completed Liberal Arts degree conferred, and rock up with chants and attitude ready to go.
For me, those days are drifting further and further into the past, but as our governments are leaning ever rightward, and the world is teetering ever more precariously on the brink of environmental disaster it’s as important as ever to get out there and make our voices heard.
Attending protests is empowering for kids, especially when they’re too young to vote, and they’re seeing their world run badly by adults. It gives them a voice.
It can also help your family reinforce shared values and beliefs like justice, compassion, and responsible stewardship of the environment. Standing up together and saying “this is what we believe in” is a powerful way to bring a family together.
Last weekend, we attended a rally protesting Australia’s inhumane treatment of asylum seekers. We really wanted it to be a meaningful and positive event for Arty, so we gave it some careful thought and planning. This helped me come up with a bit of a list of the specific things that need consideration when protesting with kids…
1. Discuss the why
There’s very little point bringing your child along to a protest if they don’t know why they’re there. Obviously the extent to which they understand the issues at play will vary according to the child’s age and maturity, but giving age-appropriate information about what’s going on is essential to your child’s sense of involvement.
For example, Arty is only 2 and a half, but he understands what sharing is, and what it’s like when someone doesn’t want to share with you. So we explained the asylum seeker issue on those terms.
We told him that some people live in places where they feel frightened and unsafe, and have to run away. We said that when they run away from those places we want them to be able to come to Australia where we can share our safe home with them.
This made sense to him and we left it at that.
2. Give them an idea of what to expect
Rallies and protests can be noisy. Emotions can run high. It’s important to tell your child that they will see a lot of people all together in one place, and that some of them might be yelling, or singing, or have drums or megaphones.
They might see police officers, they might see people in funny costumes. They will probably see people with signs and banners.
The more information you give them about what to expect, the less likely they’ll be to be overwhelmed by it when they’re in the midst of it.
3. Pack smart
It’s not always easy to stop for shelter, food, water, or other amenities when you’re in a big group of people, so when attending a protest I think it’s important to err on the side of over-preparation when it comes to these things. Always pack water, and a snack. Wear sunscreen. Bring an umbrella because it provides both shade, and protection from the rain.
If you have a baby or a toddler, consider bringing your pram. Not only is it a good place to stash your water and spare nappies so you don’t have to carry them, but it can provide a bit of a safe space for smaller kids who might need to retreat from the noise of the event.
4. Know the route, and the area
If your protest takes the form of a march, have an idea of the route the it will take before you embark. Map out a few points along the way where you can easily opt out if everything’s going pear shaped.
In Australia we’re lucky enough to be able to protest peacefully and safely in most cases. That said, if I were ever to feel that things were even hinting at getting out of hand, my first priority would be to get Arty out of there immediately. Having a plan for where and how to do that is an essential part of planning.
Ask your kid what they thought of the experience. Talk about the different things you saw and heard. Give them lots of opportunity to reflect on their experience.
Let them know you’re proud of them for what they’ve done, and reinforce your reasons for having gone along in the first place.
Parenting in a democracy means both involving our kids in the processes that drive that democracy, and letting them see us get passionately involved in them too. This is just one way of doing those things, but it’s a powerful one.