November 28, 2011

"Occupy" Parenting


How Parents Have Been Sharing Occupy Wall Street With Their Children

By New York Family


Editor’s Note: We’re pleased to publish this fascinating account of how some parents have been sharing the Occupy Wall Street movement with their children, including overnights at Zuccotti Park. As its author Marc Weinreich notes, “the foothold in Zuccotti itself is looking more tenuous right now but the issue of engaging a street-level political movement as a family is still interesting and ongoing.” —

(Picture to the right of Maya Fahrer and her parents. Picture below of Liam Cohen. Photos by Marc Weinreich.)

A mother
from Inwood took her eight-year-old son out of school for the day last month to
give him a lesson that she felt he wouldn’t get inside a classroom. She brought
him down to Ground Zero. And then she headed uptown to Zuccotti
Park for the Occupy Wall Street
protests to show him what it looks like to be a part of history as it unfolds.

“There’s a disparity in education so
that only the rich can afford the best teachers,” said Diana Zavada, 36, a
single mother who immigrated to America
from Honduras.
“So I’m bringing him down here to educate him as best I can, to show him that
he can have a voice, too.”

“I want to
know about salary cuts and bank bailouts,” added her son, Jackson. “There’s a
lot of chaos in this park but not in a bad way.”

Amanda
Vender, a stay-at-home mother from Jackson
Heights, brought her four-year-old
son, Miles, to a nearby playground last month and then they went to Zuccotti
Park. He made a sign at the park
that read, “Books Not Bombs” because he was upset when his mother told him that
his local library had its budget cut while the country spends trillions of
dollars on a war. When they returned home, Miles said his favorite part of the
day was the protest and wanted to know when he could go back.

The park
has become a museum in this respect, but not all parents support the idea of
bringing kids to a living-exhibit replete with drug use, nudity and violent
clashes with the police.

“I would
never bring my kids here,” said Patrick Griese, 41, who traveled from his home
in Jersey City to see the protests. “When the
young kids who are here are old enough to remember, they’ll say, ‘Mommy,
remember when we went to the zoo?’ Parents who take their kids out of school to
be here should be arrested and people who take the day off from work to protest
high unemployment rates should be fired.”

To further
the conversation among parents, Kirby Desmarais, 26, founded Parents for Occupy
Wall Street
in September, in between raising her 18-month-old daughter and
running an independent music label in Brooklyn. She
wants the group to act as a forum for parents with crazy schedules who would
otherwise find it difficult to organize these discussions.

“It doesn’t
have to include only people who support the movement,” said Desmarais, who had
inspired more than 40 families to attend the group’s sleepover in the park last
month.

The
parenting group marched throughout the Financial District on a Saturday in
October, the same day staff from Camp Kinderland, a “summer camp with a
conscience since 1923” brought its banner to the park and sang songs including
Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin,” Pete Seeger’s, “Banks of Marble” and
Jim Garland’s “I Don’t Want Your Millions, Mister.”

The camp,
which is in Massachusetts but has
an office in Brooklyn, “raises the next generation of
activists,” according to Camp Director
Gabe DeAngelis.

“We want to
support the protestors here and give the campers, parents and alumni a place to
go to be a part of what’s going on,” DeAngelis says.

Last
summer, instead of Color War, the camp was divided into four teams: auto workers,
sanitation workers, mine workers and farmer workers, to teach the kids about labor
issues. DeAngelis said the signs, skits and murals that each team creates for
its cause help teach the campers how to bring about a sense of unity among
peers for the purpose of facilitating change.

“My guess
is the theme for next summer will have something to do with Occupy Wall
Street,” added DeAngelis.

Maya
Fahrer, 10, traveled with her father, Steve, and mother, Monona Yin, from Brooklyn
to join the protests because she has been a camper at Kinderland for the past
two summers.

“I want to
be here to learn about human rights issues and promote an awareness for the
environment,” said Maya, who held a sign that read, “Kids are part of the 99%.”

Likewise,
Liam Cohen, 7, came to the protest the same day with his mother, Jessica, a
child psychologist, and father, Bruce, a college professor. He made a sign that
read, “I love this world but there are bad things too that I want to stop.”

Bruce and
Jessica told Liam and his younger brother, Quinn, 4, that it’s a protest about
people using money to take care of themselves and not others and that the whole
world is watching. LiamCohen.jpg

“We want to
introduce them to the idea of public involvement because what we don’t have a
lot of in this country are protests in an open space,” said Bruce.

Some
parents have mixed feelings about bringing kids to the protests. Cristina
Furlong from Inwood has been educating her two-year-old son, Jackson, about the
protests and said he now refers to his favorite snack, pumpkin pie, as
“occu-pie.”

“The park
is no place for a toddler though because of the potential for riots,” said
Furlong. “It’s still important for older children to go there.”

But many
parents believe that the protests are not a place for children of any age
because it sends the wrong message.

Shayne
McCaslin, 49, a realtor from Tucson, Ariz.
said she feels the pain of the protestors but thinks they’re going about it in
a rather childish way.

“They’re
wasting their time,” she said. “Nothing was ever accomplished by merely
complaining. If they want change, go volunteer, run for office or at least join
a community board.”

Her
13-year-old daughter, Chantel, felt the same way.

“I don’t want my generation growing up thinking that
protesting will accomplish things,” said Chantel. “Volunteering towards a
cause, and not just complaining about it, is more effective.”

Todd
Gitlin, a professor of sociology and journalism at Columbia
University, said that many of the
major shifts in American History began through street action, citing the Civil
Rights and Women’s Suffrage movements, and also recalls young kids present at
the anti-war demonstrations during the 1960s. Gitlin understands why parents
are bringing their kids to protests and said he has talked with his wife about
bringing their grandchild down to Zuccotti
Park.

“The
protests are an impressive and auspicious thing,” said Gitlin. “If they’re very
young kids, they want to be able to say, they were there. It’s a curiosity.”

But another
danger in bringing kids to the protests is that it creates a war within
families, neighborhoods and among colleagues, said Shawn Bean, 36, executive
editor of Baby Talk, a subsidiary of Parenting Magazine.

“There’s
this idea that the one-percent is hidden away in this ivory tower with golden
gates,” said Bean, who has two children of his own. “In reality, these are our
friends, mentors, relatives, who we greatly respect, and for a liberal movement
of people who’ve been so disgusted with the Bush administration, it’s amazing
that they’re willing to wage a war against their own community.”

Marc Weinreich is a grad student at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He can be reached at marc.mw@gmail.com, or you can find him on Twitter

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