On President’s Day, we took the kids to do something patriotic: We attended a rally to protest the policies of the current occupant of the White House.
I hesitated before bringing my three kids—ages 10, 6, and 3—to the event, but ultimately, my wife and I decided it was the right thing to do. I worried about the crowds and the logistics, as well as safety. Would we shlep to Columbus Circle only to encounter crowds and noise that would scare the kids, especially our easily spooked 3-year-old? Would the kids be so bored that we’d need to leave after only five minutes? Would some of the protesters get rowdy or violent?
Mostly, though, I was concerned about imposing my own politics on my kids, putting thoughts in their heads and words in their mouths. I want them to think for themselves and make their own decisions, even if their conclusions are different from my own. In truth, though, the older two kids have, since the election, expressed their worries about what will happen in a Trump presidency, especially to their immigrant friends. They’ve made clear, in their own age-appropriate ways, their burgeoning opposition to his policies. I am sure they arrived at their opinions through a variety of means, from the discussions at home to what they’ve heard at school to what they’ve imbibed themselves through the media. In other words, I, along with many other factors, have already influenced their thinking and helped them forge opinions. Now we had a chance to do something constructive, rather than just stew privately. In the end, far from worrying about the kids’ involvement, I came to see the rally as a great moment to teach them about civic engagement and acting on one’s beliefs.
Before going, I asked the kids if they want to make signs. My oldest declined, but the 6-year-old jumped right in. With some spelling help from Mom, she used markers and poster board to write, “Do the Right Thing Donald Trump.” I was proud that she thought of it on her own and created a colorful sign expressing the perfect sentiment from a child her age. The 3-year-old decided to get in the act, scribbling on a piece of paper, which we dutifully brought along for her to hold up, too.
Once we arrived at the rally, we unfurled the poster, and our fellow protesters immediately started complimenting it and taking photos of it. I proudly told anyone who would listen that she made it all by herself. Though the kids did get bored after just a few minutes, we settled on a system that worked to keep us there a while longer: My wife or I would sit on a bench with the kids who wanted to sit, while the other one would venture into the crowd with one of the kids, if any wanted to join.
In this way, I made a couple of extended forays into the protest, each time with a child on my shoulders. We joined the chants and discussed the signs and sentiments we saw and heard around us. The conversations were in-depth and thoughtful, and touched on issues such as immigration and environmentalism, Trump’s tax returns, the legislative process, and impeachment, a word we saw on multiple signs. I explained why people were shouting “This is what democracy looks like!” while also diverting their attention away from signs that were inappropriate for them, featuring words and images I’d rather avoid explaining to my little ones.
Eventually, the kids ran out of gas, and we headed to nearby Hekscher Playground, in Central Park. Though only yards away from the rally, we could neither see nor hear it from there, and the kids dove right into the fun. I saw several other parents with protest signs tucked into their pockets or stuffed in their strollers. We weren’t the only ones multitasking—a little rallying, a little running around and climbing—on a beautiful spring-like day.
At home later that night, I asked the two older kids what they thought about the experience. Both said they were happy we went, and I tried to probe deeper, asking what it meant to them and why they were glad we went. “To stand up for our country,” the older one said. “To tell Trump to do the right thing,” the 6-year-old added. It was their own way of processing the day and what it all meant. I was grateful those were their takeaways—and for the opportunity to show them what democracy looks like.