After a gunman shot and killed 17 students and staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in February, students across the country staged school walkouts to take a stand against gun violence. It was the first student-led movement for gun control – and on March 24, students will march again during March for Our Lives. These peaceful protests will be taking place in Ann Arbor, Detroit and other local cities.
If you and your family are interested in participating in this protest or any upcoming protests, but you’re not sure it’s OK for younger kids, here’s why it’s important to get them involved – plus protest tips to prepare for the big day.
Why kids should attend protests
Children already feel very little power in a world in which adults make all the big decisions; inviting your children to participate in family protests helps them discover power and voices, both as family members and as citizens.
Local moms agree.
Sarah Radtke Welsh, of Ferndale, says that her young children’s participation in protests teaches them that they, like their parents, are “standing up to defend values important to our family – the values we teach our children.”
The last protest Welsh’s children attended included several of her children’s aunts and one grandmother, which helped the children see the ways in which their extended family shares common values.
Lee Roosevelt, of Ann Arbor, has taken her daughter, now a teenager, to protests since she was a baby – and now it is her toddler son’s turn. Exposing children to the power of protest “is an essential part of growing up as a global citizen, as important as reading to them or taking them to the DIA,” Roosevelt says.
Nomi Joyrich, of Farmington Hills, says involving her children in protests has made them “feel empowered knowing they are helping to shape the world around them.”
Family protest tips
So are you ready for your first family protest? Excellent! Here are 10 protest tips to consider as you’re preparing for protest day.
Make sure your child understands the protest. Kids should know why it’s important to you and why they want to participate. Be clear what you are promoting rather than simply what you might be opposing. Talk about your family’s role in the protest. Are you there representing your own interests (supporting or blocking a local issue) or are you supporting another community (you’re white at a Black Lives Matter protest, for example)? If you and your child are there to support others as allies, then your role is in the background and any requests from press regarding quotes or photographs should be redirected to the people for whom the issue directly impacts.
Involve children in the preparation. Make posters and buttons, teach them more about the issue, and make snacks to enjoy during the protest.
Establish clear safety guidelines. Family safety is paramount and if anyone at a protest begins to behave in ways that are dangerous, your family will leave. That may mean different things to different families – especially if a protest involves counter-protesters. Be sure to settle on how and where to connect if things get out of hand or if you’re separated during a protest.
Write your phone number on their body. Do this even if your child is confident she remembers the number. If she is separated from you, panic might interfere with her ability to remember your phone number. In order to avoid this, write your number on her arm with a Sharpie.
Set behavior standards. Help kids understand that inappropriate behavior on their part reflects poorly on the protest. Let your child know that if they have had enough, you will leave. This is especially important for children who struggle with anxiety or discomfort with crowds.
Discuss day-of pictures. Are you and your child comfortable with having your photo taken during a protest? Will that answer change if it is a fellow protestor asking to take a picture of your child holding a sign or if it is a reporter wanting to take that picture? Decide on this before the protest.
Protest in a group. Children feel safer with familiar faces around them, so if you’re able to go to the protest with a group, that could be a better option.
Consider protest-day dress. Wear good walking shoes and dress in layers, bring sunblock, water bottles, snacks, hand wipes and a small first aid kit. My child had an unexpected nosebleed amidst an enormous crowd of protesters in a Washington, D.C. protest. Pack and explain safety items that you hope not to use: a handkerchief or scarf to go across nose and mouth, in addition to protective eye wear (sunglasses if your child does not wear glasses) in the event of tear gas.
Build in downtime after the protest. It is in the conversations that follow the experience that children may learn the most, and be best able to express any feelings they have about the issue. Use this time to reflect with your kids.
Take kids to celebrations too. You protested the city’s plan to sell local wetlands to commercial builders and the city just voted to keep the wetlands intact? Go play there. You marched for marriage equality? Go to the courthouse to watch the first couples emerge with their marriage licenses!
While you’re munching on the delicious treats you and your children made for the protest, point out to them that you are surrounded by a different kind of community when you protest. Rather than a community based on geographical lines, your family is now part of a community of like-minded, informed and engaged citizens.