Mom & Pop Culture: Occupy Sesame Street! How Not To Lose Your Activist Spirit
For some reason, there's this notion in our society that once you have a kid, much of what you were passionate about before you got knocked up goes right out the window. Apparently, you'll be too busy dealing with sleepless nights, dirty bums, and cranky kids to worry about the same stuff as before.
Only, that's not really true.
Fighting for social justice doesn't need to stop when you give birth. In fact, in my opinion, we should fight even harder if we have to raise a kid or two in this world. Also, by continuing our activism postpartum, we'll set kick-ass examples for our children. It's win-win all around.
However, I'll admit that it does take a little bit more effort to find a way to maintain an activist spirit while caring for a kid. When I was ready to get back on the activist train, the easiest way for me was to simply take my son with me. In fact, I once volunteered at a Planned Parenthood table during a street fair in town, handing out free condoms and information on the various services Planned Parenthood offered while my then-infant son nursed, slept, or bounced on my knee. Thinking back, I wonder if he aided in our crusade to ensure safe sex (Ack! I don't want a baby that spits up all over me!).
As he grew up, and wasn't as quiet and portable, I found other ways to keep him involved while I stayed involved. Whether it was bringing him to a meeting for an organization because I couldn't find childcare or having him help color posters for a protest, he helped me as I stayed connected to my activist spirit. (I think I should contact Crayola about adding "Activist Azure" or "Protester Pink" to their arsenal of colors.)
Nothing showed the spirit of connecting activism and parenthood better recently than the Occupy Wall Street protests. Parents are certainly among the 99% and have been out there, both with and without their children, protesting and fighting for what they believe in. My town had their own protest, and I had no qualms about bringing my son.
He had many questions and I answered them as best I could. He wondered why all these cars were honking as they passed, so I read to him one of the signs: "Honk if you hate greed."
"What's greed?" he asked.
Cookie Monster couldn't have been a better learning tool than at that moment. We talked about how greed is taking more than you need and not sharing it with others. We talked cookies, blue furry monsters, and feeling sad when we don't share. And...he got it. At four and a half years old, he understood a a major point of the 99%.
I had even planned on taking my son to our local SlutWalk (although my town renamed it "Stomp & Holler"). What better way to teach him about respect and equality, I thought? Unfortunately, we were sidelined by a nasty case of the flu. Thankfully, I'm not the only mama who felt it's important to be involved in the SlutWalks.
Shannon Drury, otherwise known as The Radical Housewife, is no stranger to combining activism with family, and didn't shy away from sharing recent experiences with her kids. Drury, a mother of two (a six-year-old daughter and eleven-year-old son) talked with me about her choices.
How do you maintain your activist spirit as a mother? How do you integrate the two?
Honestly, I wasn't as much of an activist before I had my children. My idea of direct feminist action was listening to Bikini Kill while I read Ms. magazine. Both fine activities, to be sure, but neither would have any influence what happens in my community. After my son was born, I experienced that feeling of world expansion that is so common to new parents—the awareness that the status quo might have been good enough for me, but it was unacceptable for my child. It was time to walk the walk.
And as I tell parents all the time, there is no happier place for a kid than at a rally or street action. Kids have an innate sense of unfairness and injustice, so protests make perfect sense to them—and they love the opportunity to shout at the top of their lungs with impunity.
Why did you decide to participate in the SlutWalks? Did your role as a mother have any bearing on it one way or another?
As soon as I learned the story behind SlutWalk, I knew I would want to participate in a local action. I saw it as an action in the tradition of Take Back the Night and other speak-outs against sexual assault and rape that I've been a part of in the past. I was thrilled when I met the woman who decided to start up a SlutWalk here, for she was a mother of two herself! We strategized Minnesota NOW's participation in the walk while our kids played at a park near her house.
Bodily autonomy is a huge issue for me as a parent, and SlutWalk's mission dovetails with that nicely. My daughter's body belongs to no one—not even me, her mother! It is hers alone. And my son is not a a born rapist, unable to control himself when he sees a person in sexy clothing. Stereotypes insult men, too, and the large turnout of men who walked in Minneapolis was a great thing to see.
How do you involve your children in your activism? How do you inspire them to be activists themselves?
I bring my kids to events all the time. They had an absolute blast at the first day of OccupyMN, and I hope to bring them back for a visit tomorrow when they have the day off school. The Occupy movement is especially appealing to them, as they totally understand the frustration behind it.
Children are not oblivious to the tension the adults are feeling, particularly in their public schools. My own kids have seen some beloved teachers and staff be laid off, have their hours cut or their jobs restructured. I printed "MY SCHOOL NEEDS A BAILOUT, TOO" on an Occupy sign for my daughter, but I wasn't saying something unfamiliar to her. She agrees!
My hope for my kids is not that they will parrot all of my political views when they are adults (though that would be pleasant, indeed), but that they will never feel as though politics isn't relevant to their lives, or worse, that they can't influence the process. History belongs to those who show up, after all.
Start big or start small, but don't feel as if just because you've become a parent your activist ways have to fade away. Or, like Shannon Drury, you might find your activist spirit after having children. It can even be as simple as taking your kids to go vote with you, or blogging about your political outrage.
When explaining things to kids, don't worry that they won't understand—they truly do get it! And if you have to use a little Sesame Street to drive home the point, then that's okay too. A little pop culture in your politics never hurts.
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