My greatest contribution was probably the picture of me, leaning over my little child to speak into the microphone, with the legislator who had proposed the bill scowling off to the side.
I had been standing in the back of the room with my toddler daughter, because I saw the call on Facebook to “pack the hearing” with opposition to state legislation that would make it illegal to protest. Then they called my name to testify.
In early 2017, I was still new to activism and thought that showing up was about the least that I could do, but RSVP-ing “yes” had put my name on the list to speak. So I put my babe on my hip and hauled her up to the microphone.
“I did not take my kids with me to the Women’s March,” I said, “because I had heard how protesters were treated at Black Lives Matter demonstrations, and because I am white, I feel like I have an option to shield them from such things. I didn’t know it would be thousands of white suburban moms, who are treated so differently than activists of color. We cannot criminalize the right to speak out for justice, because the burden will fall unfairly on activists of color.”
I’m sure my testimony is more eloquent in hindsight than it was in reality, but the photo spoke volumes.
The recent image of a smirking teenage boy in front of an Indigenous elder in D.C. evoked many strong reactions in my circles, but a notable one was, “WHERE were their parents or chaperones?” The implied answer, of course, is behind that kind of confrontation. Our parenting determines what face our children show in public.
Optics may be my greatest value at public actions, showing that a pretty mundane-looking white mom cares about such things (so you who resemble me could too!). Otherwise, my kids’ presence makes me pretty distracted and more likely to opt out if the atmosphere shifts. But I want to make this clear: my activism as a parent doesn’t end — or begin— at mass actions.
All of the most terrifying issues that make us take to the streets or hearing rooms are things we address at home, by how we are raising our kids. On all of these issues, we advocate more often than we recognize, to shape the influences on our kids and their peers. Parenting can be activism, and it needs to be said for the benefit of two very different groups of people: parents (who underestimate ourselves) and the activist community (who underestimate or completely ignore the demographic of parents).
In Jesus’ time, children were undervalued, largely because their life expectancy was not very good. If children made it into adulthood, they became of greater value, supporting their parents as they aged. Yet Jesus famously dismissed his disciples’ screening process of deflecting children with their parents, declaring, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs” (Matthew 19:14).
Christian activists and parents, take note. The greatest Activist, embodying justice on our behalf, called the children and parents to himself. It doesn’t always fit the mold of our various movements to gather close those who need more accommodation, will be less predictable, and definitely have to put the cause second. But consider what we have to gain by investing in parents’ activism.
To my fellow parents, especially the stay-at-home types: You are not just changing diapers, reading stories, and answering the question: “What is ________?” ad nauseum. You are defining the terms by which their generation will view the world. You set an expectation of race-consciousness, teach your children your values about guns, create a culture of consent in how you talk about who and how anybody touches your child’s body, and explain where the garbage and recycling trucks take our refuse, and how that impacts our earth. Most importantly, you teach your children that they are not isolated, that how they live affects so many others, so we need to help others to feel loved too. Books, podcasts, websites, and social media groups are here to help.
Parents are on the front lines of making our world a more peaceful, justice-oriented place. Our values at home are not private; they are the seeds of everything our kids, their classmates, and entire generations will carry forth into the world. We parents educate and influence our kids, their teachers and school administrators, classmates’ families, coaches, babysitters, daycare providers, youth ministers, scout troops and teammates when we speak up, recommend, correct, and testify to justice-oriented approaches to any conversation.
To the activist community: Parents are a huge untapped force for activism, if movements are able to think outside the box and make space and time for our little ones to be underfoot or older kids to come alongside us. Those of us who stay home with kids younger than school age may be busy with many small tasks that seem not to amount to much. We are hungry for meaningful tasks — that we can fit in around nap times and meltdowns — to still influence a world that needs our voices more than ever.
Also, if you can find a way to bring together parents of littles for some community, while making an impact for the cause, we will be there. We understand like no one else the dire need for solidarity and support. What a difference it will make if children growing up during this era internalize that getting together on a cause that is bigger than us, making signs, calling legislators, and yes, even taking to the streets, is how our democracy works. A few organizations are on it already: Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Moms Rising, but many others need to catch up. Recognize and tap into the power of parent activists!