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Parenting versus Protesting: Are They Mutually Exclusive?

I surveyed activists, parents, and street medics from NY, WA, IL, WI, CA, CO, the UK, Canada, and more, to open up the debate on taking children to protest actions. This is the first of a four part series about children and political protest.
9/22/03, Austin Tx, Fed Bldg, Anti-War Protest (pic:shannon clark)
9/22/03, Austin Tx, Fed Bldg, Anti-War Protest (pic:shannon clark)
Parenting versus Protesting: Are They Mutually Exclusive?
By Kirsten Anderberg 2004

Is it irresponsible to take children to political protests? Some argue it is a good experience for children to participate, first-hand, in political organizing, marches, protests, and the making of history. I am glad my mother took me, as a child, to civil rights protests, and actions against the Vietnam War, during the 1960's and 1970's. I do not believe textbooks can convey the feeling one gets when surrounded by riot police, while trying to peacefully demonstrate. I am glad I took my son to protests of the Gulf War in the 1990's, and the Iraq War in 2003. I feel it was part of his education to see nonviolent free speech and riot police clash on his own city streets, while with his mom for safety. But could I really guarantee my son's safety anywhere that riot police were present? Some argue that children should not be taken onto the front lines of American political change. But as an activist single mother, I could not just sit home, and not protest wars, simply because I had a child. And children are supposedly our hope for the future. Thus it seems essential to include them in our political struggles, if we want the issues to live longer than us. Are certain protests acceptable for children to attend, but not others? How does one determine which protest activities are appropriate for our children? How does a politically active parent balance their own needs to protest a war, for instance, with the responsibilities of parenting?

I surveyed a group of activists on this topic, from different parts of America; from Chicago, New York City, and Seattle, as well as from Wisconsin, Maryland, California, and Colorado, and also from England and Canada. More in the group self-identified as anarcho-feminists, than the other categories cited, which included radical leftists, anarchist parent of color, anarchist, Green Party member, progressive humanist atheist, and others. Seven of the 12 people interviewed are street medics, and 10 of those surveyed are parents. And only two of those surveyed say they had parents who took them to political protests. So, basically, this article is written from the viewpoint of first-generation (except for two), politically-active, parents, and street medics. Yet even within this somewhat politically-homogenous group, the opinions on this topic of kids at protests differ.

When asked if it is irresponsible to take children to protests, the overwhelming response from those surveyed was it depended on the nature of the protest. Several respondents felt protests that directly affected children's services, such as funding cuts at hospitals that treat children, or midwifery rights protests, warranted the strategic use of children at the protests. But many feel it is positive to involve children in a broad spectrum of political issues. For example, at the FTAA protests in Miami in November 2003, there was a Baby Bloc of mothers with children who marched together. One parent surveyed said, "I think it is not only safe, but necessary, to take children to (most) protests. As activists, and as parents, bringing up the next generation, we need to show our children that when things are going wrong, it is our responsibility to voice our dissent." Another respondent said taking kids to protests was a good idea because "children need to know that their parents hold certain views, and that these views are not unique to their parents... " Some said it would be nice if the community could work together so that some parents can be medics and legal observers, while others could center solely on children at protests. Another mother surveyed said she had quit being politically active, then her adult daughter (who she used to take to protests as a child), asked her to go to a protest, and now she is protesting again. That went full circle!

A distinction was made by some regarding direct actions and marches/demonstrations. Many felt large, permitted, labor union marches, for example, were safer than direct actions against corporations, like some of the FTAA or WTO protest actions. The former was seen as non-confrontational and the latter as confrontational. One street medic said, "I had to treat an 8-month old boy for tear gas/pepper spray in Quebec during the FTAA protests there and I don't want to EVER, EVER, EVER, have to do that again!" Yes, we all agree we do not want that to EVER happen, and that is why we need to talk about this topic seriously. Protests are not your typical family event, and we all know that. One respondent said protests are as safe for kids as they are for anyone else, "in other words, usually safe, often not, and usually hard to know in advance." Some felt that large gatherings of people in any context, presented a danger to children, in general, and that protests were no different. One person said, "You could argue because there is sometimes trouble at soccer matches (in the UK), it would be irresponsible to take children to soccer matches, but 100,000's go and get looked after by their parents."

"I do not think it is "irresponsible" to take children to protests. I think it is irresponsible for police departments, fellow protesters, and others, to not recognize that children have a legitimate right to be at protests. At the Feb. 15th anti-war march in New York City, several police officers made snide comments that we were being irresponsible mothers by taking our children to the march. However, there is something very, very wrong with our society if children do not belong and cannot be kept safe at marches for peace," says one activist I surveyed. Two other people surveyed said, "I think that the police presence needs to be responsive to the fact that there are regularly kids in the crowd," and "If the reality is that kids are regularly SEEN at protests, then the response from police might change." And these are good points. If we can get police to behave as if there are children in their midst at all protests, perhaps they can rein in some of their random violence, and free speech would be safer for all in America.

Most of the activists I surveyed felt if you were politically aware enough to protest for political causes, you should be astute enough to do proper research on a protest before bringing a child. There seemed a consensus that parents needed to know who called the demonstration, what the political issues involved are, who would attend, what the agenda of the protest is, if the protest is permitted, what tactics are expected both by protesters and police in response, etc. All agreed "Safe Places" cannot be guaranteed, and one medic surveyed wondered aloud if the community should begin having kid-friendly non-violent action trainings. The parents surveyed felt you should have a clearly defined contingency plan with children, "from bathroom breaks to police attacks," including what to do if separated. Suggested basic supplies to take to protests with kids included sunscreen, extra diapers, food, water, and proper layers of clothing. Some commented paying attention to weather reports was also beneficial, as a kid wet in pouring rain at a protest, or frying hot in sun, will not be fun, and thus proper weather protection is an issue as well. A basic knowledge of street first aid would be nice too, if you live somewhere you can get access to that, such as Boston or Portland. Other advice included "always be aware of where you are, the mood of the crowd, the mood of the kids (and other adults if in a group), and the mood of the police." Many felt the best way to go for parents, kids and protests, were small affinity groups, where parents and children could collectively take care of one another. And although these are all good tips for parents and children, these are basics for adults too.

This is Part One of a 4 Part Series on Kids and Protests by Kirsten Anderberg. Watch her website, at www.kirstenanderberg.com, for the next three articles in the series, which will discuss Preparing Kids for Protests, Radical Parenting, and Teens and Protests.

homepage: homepage: http://www.kirstenanderberg.com
address: address: Seattle, Wa USA

the picture died? 07.Feb.2004 07:11

Kirsten Anderberg sheelanagig@juno.com

Apparently the pic did not upload! Well, you can see Shannon's pic of a child at a protest at

take them 07.Feb.2004 07:17


I take my kids whenever possible. What better way for them to get a sense of what's really going on out there, as well as learning that although some police officers can help them in certain situations and be fine as individuals, they are not, as an institution, their friends. As for the robocop tactics, at most protests you can avoid the pepper spray if you hang back a bit and watch your back. Of course, this system isn't foolproof (I got nailed in Quebec while walking through an apartment courtyard by canisters fired over the roof). But there are no guarantees of total safety for any of us at any time. In fact, I feel much more worried for their safety every time I hook up the Burley, (which means just about every day). I don't think any parents should avoid protests just because of worries about their kids' safety. They can always watch from a distance if they have to, but it is important for their kids to see and hear for themselves, rather than have their reality shaped for them through the media, educational system, and especially the advertising that permeates nearly every recess of the world around them.

A second question to ask at this point is about protests and tactics in general. I'd never criticize people that protest actions I decide to skip, but standing in a muddy pen surrounded by robocops as Cheney holds a meeting hundreds of yards away does not seem very constructive to me. It's time for different tactics.

Global injustice 07.Feb.2004 09:10

not sad but wiser

I have been protesting what I believed was global injustice since I was old enough to have some idea of what that was-- about the sixth grade, I think. I'm 60 now. Undoubtedly I have been guilty of much smugness and self-righteousness in my choice of concerns about injustice.

My kids were always been included in any action, and certainly participated in family discussion, and exposed to all the anti-injustice reading material that littered the house. There was never a TV set, and about the only radio we listened to was NPR-- before it was so overtly National Pentagon Radio. I always imagined they would be little firebrands-- toppling the windmills that were too big for me.

Now guess what. They are absolutely conventional! One is a corporate lawyer in Washington (I sent her a subscription to AdBusters-- she told me she thought it was purile. She also told me the Lion King was the most emotionally compelling theatrical work she had ever seen.)

Another is a doctor. Very successful, extremely well liked. Never says anything bad about anyone-- but absolutely silent on the issue of "injustice" in medicine. Confines her activities to those which she has some control over, and remains staunchly apolitical.

The last one is in a graduate program in library science. Mostly worried about finding a job-- doesn't know or doesn't care that American librarians have lead the charge against the USA PATRIOT act.

My point? Only that of Khalil Gibran:

"Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts.

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit,
not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you
with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;

For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that
is stable."
We should include kids in our lives. We should bring them to protests.

We have no idea what they will do, or what they will take from the experience-- it may be very different from what we see, but anything is better than sitting motionless in front of a TV set.

well said 07.Feb.2004 10:30


My kids are only 8 and 5, but I already agree with what "not sadder but wiser" has written, including the quote. When parent tells me what their kids are going to do or where they're going to school some day, I always ask the parents if s/he's God. After all, one would have to be in total control of not just another human being, but the entire universe that interacts with them, to bring about such results. It sound like "not sadder" did a good job of parenting, especially in understanding at this point that we're all individuals. And for what it's worth, many of us were apolitical, conservative or whatever at earlier stages in our own development. "Not sadder's" kids are constantly evolving like the rest of us. Who knows where they in fact might be at some later point?

It's sad, "not sadder"... 07.Feb.2004 11:18


a doctor isn't speaking up against the true horrors of vivisection (which they have the most power to confront--and likely even performed in their education--as that deeply unethical and fraudulent science hurts human health and is literally concentration camp-like torture for the animals), and a lawyer doesn't respond to the injustice all around (which they also have the most power in this society to confront). It makes me sadder when people who are fortunate and smart enough to have gotten themselves into positions of relative power piss it all away on selfish ventures and don't reach a hand down to those who are suffering most.

But thank you for your insightful post.

behind the fence, in a swamp 07.Feb.2004 14:07

muddy waters

Hi Jerry. I agree that we need new tactics. I also feel that standing behind a barbed wire fence in a bog was highly worthwhile. Though Cheney wasn't disrupted, such an example illustrates to Portland just how much freedom we've lost. This one disgrace will get a bit more media in the future as, hopefully, a lawsuit progresses; all of the public property in America is a free speech zone--NOT some swampy little pen designated by the po-po and/or federal government.

And maybe somebody will play video of this to the Portland City Council (free broadcast).

Lost freedom 07.Feb.2004 20:41


The freedom which you have lost is not symbolized by the pig-pen,
it is symbolized by your submitting to stand in it.

to Muddy Waters 07.Feb.2004 20:49


First off, I could never say anything negative about anyone named Muddy Waters (still my favorite bluesman). In any case, if you found it worthwhile, I say power to you. It's not for me at this point, but I think any act of resistance is better than none. It's not like a zero sum game where one tactic excludes another. But I still think many are not going to play that game any more. Maybe we should all start talking off the internet about what tactics might be more effective.

? 07.Feb.2004 23:50


Why "off the internet"?

I am for taking children to protests 08.Feb.2004 03:13


I am for taking children to protests for all of the reasons that everyone has said above!!

Children, Adults, Come One, Come All 08.Feb.2004 13:53


Taking children to protests humanizes the crowd by making it more diverse. It makes the group more representative of the community, and less likely to be thought of as a small splinter faction, as the media and police often stereotype the crowd.

It makes police attacks on the crowd less justifiable, particularly in the A22 picture displayed.

Conservatives and cop-huggers question the parents for bringing children to a protest, but that's blaming the victim, just like saying a woman "asked to be raped" for going out at night, or someone "asked to be robbed" by going into a so-called "bad" (read: African-American) neighborhood.

Cops will claim that people with children don't belong at protests, but they just want a clear field of fire to attack the people they don't like: progressive people from the ages of 16-35 or so - the groups they think the public will support their attacking, because they're a bunch of "dirty hippies" and "black-clad, violent anarchists."

The cops don't like it when the crowd is a cross-section of society, and when some of the people they attack are "respectable" citizens, journalists, children, etc., who want to exercise their constitutional rights, and sue if they are the subjects of unprovoked police terrorism.

Then again, there's Sgt. Mark Kruger, who gets off on attacking women at protests. (A22 - attacked camerawoman Beth English of KPTV; 3/25 - attacked the small red-headed woman with pepper-spray, who's sued him; 3/26 - shoved handcuffed female jaywalker in the face and ordered pictures of it from the Oregonian; A21 - brutally arrested Amber Hicks, slamming her head into a van, then conveniently didn't show for her trial. Earlier on A21 he shadowed the Code Pink women, which I got on tape, knowing that Kruger + female protesters = trouble).

Children and Direct Democracy 09.Feb.2004 11:11


It's truly a scary world when the self-righteous corporate media makes pompous declarations about the inappropriateness of bringing children to demonstrations while ignoring the implications of the growing violence of the police state. But this is what has happened here in Portland. KATU is especially famous for this. Last August, during the unwelcome residental visit, that snotty "Steve" guy on KATU repeatedly made snide and judgmental comments about "parents who would bring their children to a demonstration like this, possibly knowing things would get violent." And alas, the August before, when the same unwelcome dictator stopped by, the same thing happened. A 10 month old baby was pepper sprayed in the face by police along with all the other innocent bystanders. And several corporate media stations responded to the attack by simply parroting the official line which blamed parents who brought the children rather than the cops who assaulted them.

This is especially eggregious considering that the media continually flies into a feigned panic every time someone wearing black and/or a bandana walks by. "Things could get violent now," they say. But they wink and smile about the hundreds of disgusting riot pigs clad in black and face masks. They point to protesters who choose to protect their identities and imply that they must be up to no good if they don't want to be identified, but they fail to focus on the riot cops whose name tags have been removed or covered up, and whose faces are obscured behind black masks of their own. It's funny, I've spent the weekend editing a video about the corporate take on anarchy. So this is all fresh in my mind. I've watched hours upon hours of taped news broadcasts (yeeeeech) and laughed until I cried.

KATU's coverage of the anti-bush protest was filled with precious moments. Like Elaine Murphy claiming to have been "assaulted" by protesters. KATU must have showed that clip 40 times, and never once did they mention the context. In the clip, you can clearly see a few people in white T shirts shoving each other, one guy in a white shirt lunging at people, and then some people in masks move in, surround the aggressors, link arms, and separate the offending parties. So even from their own footage, sans the lurid commentary, it looks like the only people doing anything remotely "violent" are the KATU bodyguards, dressed in spanking white shirts. As it happens, though, the story is even more complicated and amusing. ...but, I digress.

In any event, in the midst of all their quesitonable and extremely slanted commentary, "Steve and Natalie" continually commented about seeing children in the crowd, and asked each field "reporter" if they thought it was appropriate or surprising to see children there, and etc. Again, never once did they imply that the children were in danger from the police, but only from "shadowy," "scary" folks dressed in black and wearing bandanas "and we can only assume they might be [gasp!] anarchists."

So I'm happy to see people actually discussing this in a serious and thoughtful manner here in indymedia.

Yes, it is very scary to bring a child to a demonstration. I constantly fear the violence of the police when I have my child with me. But I'm more frightened of a world in which no one teaches children to stand up for what they believe in, no one publicly questions even the most questionable authority, and we allow ourselves to be herded around behind either privet hedges or barbed wire by our own fears as surely as the sci fi weapons of the oppressor. If we are to make a real change, we need to be raising the next generations to do stand with us for what is right.

I grew up being taken to protests 09.Feb.2004 15:57

Red Emma redemma13@yahoo.com

Unfortunately, they were right-wing anti-abortion protests. My mom was an activist with Right-to-Life when I was a little kid, until her own child-rearing responsibilities got to the point where she felt like she couldn't spare the time. I grew up being dragged to every sort of "pro-life" activity, from marches and rallies to speeches to endless shifts at the "Life Center" (sort of a "Birthright" kind of place). My mom even got arrested once at an abortion clinic, although I wasn't brought along for this. My most vivid memory of the whole experience was constantly seeing the photos of bloody, cut-up babies, many of them blown up to poster size and used as signs. (Just for the record, these are a highly inaccurate form of right-wing propaganda.) Funny, my mom didn't want us watching violent movies, but she saw nothing wrong with exposing us to these pictures!

My mom and I have turned out to be the only activists in the family, but ironically, my first introduction to street action as an adult was doing clinic defense AGAINST protesters like her. Maybe my mom at least provided an example of standing up for what you believe in, but that's somewhat complicated. As an adult, I have never felt my parents were shining examples of living by your beliefs. For example, they are staunch Christians, but my dad works for the military-industrial complex building bombs. Of course THEY have a rationale for how all of this fits together, as you can imagine.

What they did instill in me was the habit of being very judgmental, dividing the world into Those Who Are With Us (a very small group) and everybody else who is going to hell. As an adult, I unthinkingly incorporated many of these habits into my career as a leftist, simply turning my parents' belief system on its head. (I.e., everything they told me was Good I decided was Evil, and vice versa.) It's taken me years to recognize this and start to get over it, which inevitably means making some sort of peace with my parents, and trying to accept them the way they are, although I will never stop actively opposing some of their most cherished beliefs.

These posts about taking children to protests brought back a lot of memories for me. I strongly support all the parents who take their children to protests, but I would throw out a few cautions from my own experiences as a child. Find age-appropriate ways to engage the children, don't just drag them along. (Showing a 5-year-old pictures of bloody carnage is not age-appropriate and will just traumatize them.) Find ways to help them learn about and explore the issue, don't just indoctrinate them. Focus more on living your beliefs than preaching (children can spot hypocrisy a mile off, even if they can't yet name it.) And above all, don't pound it into their heads that "Everybody who doesn't agree with this is wrong and bad." One phrase I use a lot when dealing with kids is, "Here's what I believe, and here's why. What do you think?" Not that this is necessarily the right way to do it, but I am trying to learn from what my parents did wrong.

I totally respect all the reasons parents have given for wanting to bring their children to protests, and plan to bring mine when the time comes. Thanks for some very thoughtful posts on a very important issue.

No 28.Feb.2004 19:24

Scott Reed

I personally believe that it is only appropriate if the children are old enough to understand. When I think of children at protests I think of the five year olds holding gory pictures at an abortion protest. Their parents tell them "See, thats a baby and they murdered it. It isnt right is it?". And of course the child says "no, its not right". The child was presented a very simplistic and narrowminded look into the issue, when I think we can all agree that the child should be able to develop his own opinions.

By taking to children to protests then, I believe that we indoctinate them with leftist ideas from the get-go. Give it time, maybe they'll join you on the frontlines in their teen years, when they have had time to swallow the very complex issues that we fight for. Free their minds, not just from right wing ideas, but from any political and moral pressure. Isnt that more gratifying?

Taking my kids to protests 20.Apr.2004 12:28


I took my twin daughters to their first protest when the resident oversaw that overpriced lunch last summer. I'd do it again, in a minute. I want them to grow up assuming that it's right and proper for them to be engaged, active citizens who uphold their beliefs in public, even if I wind up disagreeing with them in the end.

Notes from the experience:
I tried (at the last minute) to find other mothers to be with, hoping a "baby bloc" would be safer,simply by being more visible. I did find another mother at the march (Elizabeth of the Milk of Human Kindness project, with her beautiful daughter) and we pretty much stayed together. We kept near the edge of the crowd's movement, and mostly on the sidewalk, so that we could move away from situations that seemed dangerous to the kids. We tried to be sure that police could see us and see the children. We also left early, when we felt our children had been out in the sun long enough and needed to go home. Really, having a friend or affinity group, watching the movements of people and police, and being ready to change tactics or even leave in response to the needs of the children is the way to go.

My neighbor's friend (I'm sorry, I can't remember his name) took a rather disturbing pic of us being followed at a low speed by truckloads of imported Salem riot cops--attached.

hungry mamas going to lunch with the resident
hungry mamas going to lunch with the resident