If you’ve watched anti-Trump protests in the news or seen people marching in the streets in your own community, your kids have probably taken notice. Maybe they’ve already asked you, “What are those people doing?”
No matter who you voted for, the first thing everyone who respects our Constitution ought to tell kids is that protestors have the right to protest. The First Amendment prohibits Congress from enacting any law that restricts the people’s right to peacefully assemble. And the Fourteenth Amendment makes that right applicable to state governments. Nearly all fifty states include that right in their state constitutions. If you know which ones don’t, please tell me. We can work with them.
So, there’s the first piece about talking to kids: U.S. citizens are guaranteed the right to peacefully 1) parade and gather or 2) demonstrate support or opposition of public policy or 3) express one’s views. These are guaranteed by the freedom of speech and the right to peaceably assemble.
If your child asks, “What are they marching against?” You might frame your answer this way, “They’re marching for the right to be heard. You see, sweetie, our form of government is a democracy. Democracies stay healthy when we tell our elected representatives how we feel about the choices they’re making in our name. Voting is one way of talking to our representatives on the local, state and federal levels… all the way up to the White House. But voting doesn’t happen very often. That’s why we it’s very important we’ve got other ways to communicate with our representatives, through email, phone calls and peaceful protest.”
Our kids should learn from us that making our voices heard is a good thing. So is direct civic and political engagement. That’s a family value we can all embrace. Tell them that democracy is like a garden. If you ignore it, it will become overrun with weeds, but if you tend it and stay alert and actively involved, it will thrive.
Whether or not your beliefs align with the protestors, use the demonstrations as springboards for ongoing conversations about your family values. Either way, celebrate the fact that our country’s government protects people who protest peacefully. Let your kids know that’s a very cool thing and not every country does it.
And remember, elected officials are temps. We, the people, are here for good. If we want our country to reflect our values, including really important ones like how we treat other people and how we care for the Earth, then we need to fight for those values. And march in the street, if necessary.