At 7 years old, my daughter, has already attended seven civil rights marches (if you count the five Pride parades she’s attended—and I do. Oh, I do.). I don’t come from a long line of activists. In fact, my parents always seem (not so secretly) appalled that I let Jane march through the streets holding signs, chanting, and generally being a rabble-rouser. But here’s the thing: Jane was born into activism.
Jane’s the pride & joy of two queer parents. She popped out of the womb—fist raised in the air (literally)—into a family different than the traditional, hetero-normative nuclear family. We took Jane to her first Pride when she was 6 months old. I mean, how could we go wrong? Rainbows. Glitter. Messages of acceptance and love. But even more than that, in a world way too often homophobic and unwelcoming, Pride is a place where we can make the radical statement that LGBTQ+ folks matter. Unequivocably. Pride is still a radical, political act—an act of defiance against those who try to marginalize and “other” us. And Jane took the whole thing in wearing a fabulous pink tutu that was all the rage with the gay men who cheered every time they saw her.
But our social consciousness can’t just be limited to LGBTQ issues. The Summer of 2016 drove that home for me. That summer was notable for two reasons: we’d just moved to Atlanta from suburban Tampa, Florida and two black men died at the hands of the police in less than a week. I did the only thing I could do. I marched through the streets of Atlanta, holding a sign that read “Black Lives Matter,” wondering how in 2016 that could be a controversial statement. When she found out I was going to march, Jane wanted to go with me. But I was afraid. The night before the march, officers had been gunned down in Dallas. I didn’t know if the protests would turn violent—not at the hands of the protesters but at the hands of folks insisting that black lives don’t matter. But then I got to the march. Entire African American families had turned out to march. Together. Little kids on shoulders. Moms chanting with their kids. Those kids were there because their lives were on the line. Who was I to choose to shield my child from a reality that children of color face every day? That march transformed me.
Now, when I march, Jane marches, too. Here are the 4 reasons that I took my 7 year old to March for Our Lives Atlanta:
Jane needs to witness both the beauty and pain in the world. Yes, even at 7 years old. Celebrating beauty with kids is easy: smiling faces in Instagram photos, impromptu dance parties, birthday cupcakes at school. Talking about suffering is more difficult to navigate. White Americans have created a mythology of childhood innocence, which is based in our own privilege–and that works against children of color. But, if we stay present our surroundings, we’re presented with countless opportunities to talk with kids–in an age-appropriate way–about the hard stuff. Heck, Disney gives us an opportunity to talk about death after the opening of almost every animated feature.
During the Summer of 2016, I did some serious mental gymnastics trying to explain to Jane how black men died at the hands of police. I didn’t want her to fear police officers. I understand that there are good police officers. But I needed her to know that, for people of color, the police aren’t always helpers. That reality has to drive Jane’s choices when she’s with her friends of color. That need to be real, the knowledge that I can’t put a child of color at risk because I need to keep my child’s innocence intact, won out. Since then, we’ve talked about the hard things. Even school shootings. Knowledge hasn’t broken her spirit. But she is more aware of injustice. And she’s even more prone to compassion. We march so Jane can bear witness to loss and fear alongside the deep sense of hope and power that comes from marching with 30,000+ likeminded souls.
Jane deserves to find her own voice. My generation created a world in which lockdown drills are the norm—like tornado drills, except school shootings are a disaster of our own making. Shortly after the MSD shooting, I sat in a meeting where my daughter’s Principal explained active shooter protocol. Here’s the wrenching truth: during a lockdown, the classroom doors are locked. Teachers are instructed not to open the doors until the all clear is given. If a child is out of the classroom—in the bathroom, in the library, walking down the hallway—they will not be able to get back in. Let that sink in for a minute. In a lockdown, Jane could be left alone. Totally alone to fend for herself.
I sat in stunned silence during this meeting, trying to hold it together. Then the dread crept in. Because I knew that I couldn’t put off it off any longer: I had to talk to my 7 year old about active shooter protocol. It doesn’t matter that, statistically, it’s unlikely to happen in her school. That statistic didn’t protect the kids at Sandy Hook or Marjory Stoneman Douglas. But even if the worst never happens (and I pray, like every parent, that it doesn’t), I didn’t want her to be completely unprepared for her first active shooter drill and be alone and afraid. Even during a practice drill, that thought was more than I could bear.
Jane and I talked about what lockdown meant. I told her what to do if she was away from her classroom. She cried, while I tried valiantly not to. No matter how age-appropriate the conversation, the idea of a stranger coming into Jane’s school is just plain terrifying to her. I held her while she cried. We talked about the unlikelihood of a shooting ever happening at her school. We’re just being prepared, I reminded her. I also took the opportunity to praise her ability to feel things and let them go. Nothing was helping.
Then, out of sheer desperation, I offered: “You know, these kids from Parkland, they’re planning a march.” She perked up a bit. I continued, “They want to tell people that they don’t want guns to be easy to get anymore.”
“Like gun control?” she responded. I forget the kid is always listening.
“Yes, like gun control. And they’re going to march and tell the world that being scared at school isn’t okay.”
She looked me dead in the eye. “I want to go to that march, too.”
And, so, we did. We marched to give Jane a voice about the violence that impacts her world. We marched so that she could say, loudly, “Not One More.”
Jane should see first-hand the power of the people. Kids sometimes feel powerless. The world is big. They are small. And the systems that oppress people feel monolithic. Our government officials seem to be bought and sold by the likes of the NRA. Our president calls people names and bullies anyone who stands up against him. Truthfully, sometimes I feel powerless against this huge mess we’ve created.
But people in action have power. Together, all of us—kids, too–can fight our way towards justice. When people unite, big things can happen. After yet another school shooting, the kids from Parkland refused to let this be our norm. They organized with other gun control activists (namely, people of color who’ve been doing this work for years and years) to say #NeverAgain and #NotOneMore. And hundreds of thousands of people turned up all over the country. Even though they’d like to, politicians can’t ignore these kids anymore.
Together we can do big things. I wish I’d know that when I was 7. And I’m thankful that my daughter gets to witness the power of the people now. The leadership of the kids from Parkland and the myriad of black activists that are—and have been–speaking out against gun violence in communities all across the nation are awe-inspiring. They remind me what our democracy can look like. And, as we chanted “Tell me what democracy looks like. THIS is what democracy looks like” while we marched, Jane learned how powerful a people, united, can be.
Jane needs to know how many people care. She’s 7. What she knows is complex yet breath-takingly simple: 17 people went to school one day and never came back. She knows that she is afraid. She hears murmurs from other kids. She imagines what it would be like for a stranger to be in her school. And then she stops. She doesn’t know what to imagine next. For that, I’m grateful. Jane needs to see that adults—the people who are supposed to look out for her—do care that she is frightened. And we plan to do something about it. We will march. We will vote. We will not let up until things change. But most of all, what I want her to know is that other kids care enough to make sure that this never, ever happens in her school. That is powerful. For her and for me.