Should children attend political marches? Admittedly, I do not have a direct answer to this question. I’m conflicted, I’ve taken my young child to a march, and left him home for another.
This last weekend, I was blown away by the courage and leadership of young people who participated in the March for our Lives events across the country. I do not question if these young people should attend political marches. Absolutely they should march, this is what democracy looks like.
But what about children too young to understand what is happening and too young to remember the event? Search online, and you’ll find articles from the parental perspective outlining tips for comfort and safety when marching with young children, as well as opinions on whether or not they should attend – here are a few linked pieces on the subject from Scary Mommy, Fatherly, and The New York Post. While none of the articles I’ve read directly discourage marching with small children, many caution parents and caregivers to stay aware of the “mood” of the event and to leave immediately if there are even hints of aggression.
In 2017, my spouse and I participated in the Women’s March on Dallas with friends and family and we took our son along. There were two small children in our group. We took standard precautions, had them ride in a wagon, and wrote our names and phone numbers on their arms in permanent marker in case we were separated. As we walked through downtown Dallas alongside thousands of other marchers, I became increasingly anxious. I was hyper-aware of the cars which could have easily driven into the crowds marching in the street. Having grown up in Texas, I also knew it was probable people around me were carrying concealed weapons.
Furthermore, I know that there are safety risks at any large public gathering, especially those which are politically charged. We made it through the day safely, and I was happy to have participated with my entire family, but my worry about if the children in our group may have been in danger was a distraction.
In the year following the Dallas march, national news reports about public violence and mass shootings further confirmed the anxieties I felt with my child in tow. For example, in October 2017 a car drove into a crowd of marchers in Charlottesville and killed a 32 year old named Heather – a woman who shares my name and age. By January 2018, I could not justify bringing my small child to a political march. I am fortunate that my husband was happy to drop me off at the capital and take our young son to the zoo while I attended the Women’s March on Oklahoma. I had friends who decided not to attend, because they could not find a sitter and did not want to bring their small children.
At the Women’s March on Oklahoma 2018, I walked alongside families with children of all ages. I saw many signs related to parenting and motherhood, for example, “Our Daughters Deserve Better” and “Strong Women Raise the Best Men.” I am proud of those families and I respect their choice to march with their small children.
I’m still glad that I didn’t bring my son this year.
I kept an eye on every car driving past and I made a conscious effort to stay on the inside of the crowd, away from the street. If I had taken my son, I would have been sick with worry the entire time. As we rounded the end of the march route, a woman nearby exclaimed enthusiastically, “We made it to the end, we didn’t die!” I was relieved to know that I wasn’t the only one who felt nervous.
I witnessed absolutely no aggression or violence at the 2017 or 2018 marches I attended, and I left both events feeling motivated and inspired. I marched because the issues of maternal and infant healthcare, reproductive rights, paid family leave, affordable childcare, sexual harassment and assault, equal pay, education, and poverty -among others- are important to me.
No matter our individual beliefs, we all have opportunities to demand change and to raise awareness about issues we care about personally, those which impact our families, and our communities. I want to set an example for my child. I believe it is important that he sees his family and friends engaging politically. As he grows into a young person with his own beliefs and passions, I want him to be politically active and aware, but at his age now, my need to protect him from random violence, overwhelms my need to include him.