Sunday, at the age of 32, I went to my first demonstration. My husband and I took the kids and gathered with about 500 neighbors for a peaceful, family-friendly vigil and march. Our goal: to come together in response to acts of intimidation and intolerance in Columbus. We wanted to show that there’s no place for hate in our community.
Whatever your political views, here’s why you should seek opportunities to speak up, create, and act with your kids to affirm diversity and take a stand against racism and hate.
Kids need context. As in other moments in history, present economic and political tensions have combined with racism to cause some people to blame shared problems on specific groups and to take this moment as an opportunity to lash out against them. Tell your kids that this is wrong, and that when we hear it or see it directed at ourselves or others, we speak up.
Kids need to know we stand against racism, scapegoating, and hate. With the talk and images that are circulating, we need to name racism and intolerance as real, dangerous, and unacceptable. To stay silent, even with our kids, is to normalize hate. We need to make plain that it is not “just words.” Now, more than ever, we are seeing that words can do damage, both directly and indirectly, and that’s something to talk about. At home, we have been talking a lot about how respecting a political office does not mean accepting hateful speech from the person who has achieved that office or his supporters.
Kids need to know we stand for diversity. We’ve been making a point of talking with the boys about faith traditions and cultures different from our own as well as sharing the range of stories that can exist within any particular community. This matters especially for those groups that have been maligned and targeted, including Muslims, Latinxs, immigrants, LGBT people, and victims of sexual assault.
Thanks to hearing chants at the vigil, including “Education, not deportation!” and “No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here!” Liam Miguel had great questions about what it means to be an immigrant. That was an opportunity for us to share that, with the exception of American Indians, all family stories in America began with immigration. Talk about the numerous motives for immigration and the still more numerous reasons for welcoming others into our communities.
Kids need to know that we are not alone. We can come together in support for each other and in commitment to protect the rights of the most vulnerable. My older son was beaming as he marched, and I know that part of that joy was that he had a chance to join his classmates, teachers, and neighbors to send a powerful message.
Kids need to know that they can act. Creating positive posters might seem like a small thing, but it gave Liam Miguel and me time to talk about what has been happening. It was one of the most powerful experiences I’ve ever gotten to share with him. We talked about things we might write or draw, and he was able to understand how some things we might agree with wouldn’t work (e.g. the regular American flag) because right now they are also being used by some folks connected to hate speech. And he got it–that a message is not just in the text but in the context as well.
Working on something together that has a positive goal or helps others can give kids—and us—agency at a time of overwhelming uncertainty.
Kids need words of strength. By seeing the beautiful signs promoting diversity and love—and challenging injustice—kids at the march saw the power of words for positive change. Liam Miguel stood with me when one of the organizers asked me to speak at the beginning of the meeting. The speaker wasn’t loud enough to reach the back of the crowd, but I know that my most important audience, the little guy beside me, could hear. Here’s what I wrote to share. I hope it gives you strength, too.
Words from a First-Time Demonstrator
Many of us are working through grief and disbelief and anger.
Some of us are stunned and frightened by what we are seeing in our communities, reports of hate, intolerance, and racism. Others of us knew and heard and felt this ugliness long before the election season.
Some of us are new to this fight. Others have never had the luxury of not fighting.
For all of us, it is clear that we have a lot of work to do.
There are people out there now who see this election as license to injure and demean.
We will stand up to them, and we will stand with all those who have been vilified and scapegoated. We reject hatred and blame. We reject verbal and physical attacks. We reject all efforts to demean or diminish or terrorize.
We may be angry, but we will not hate. Instead, we’re here to show what we embrace. We affirm the beauty of human diversity. We honor all kinds of love, all kinds of families. We believe that deep differences enrich us instead of dividing us.
There are also people out there now who are blind to the injury they inflict or that is being inflicted around them.
I believe—I have to believe—that they have hearts capable of growing and minds that can change. These are the people we want to win over. These are the people we talk to and listen to with as much patience as we can muster.
In this work, we need to be passionate… and compassionate. We need to be outspoken for what’s right while also being capable of listening, guiding, making a path into new ways of being in community. We need to remember that we’re working on ourselves, too. We need to learn from people who’ve been doing this work longer than we have.
We need to answer human brokenness with human connection.
Let’s walk together.
Let’s care for each other.
Let’s reach out to our neighbors here and beyond our town.
Let’s be a place of sanctuary, because the need is already there, and it’s going to get bigger.
Let’s organize, advocate and act.
Let’s keep showing up, keep standing up, keep speaking up because there is no place for hate in our hearts, and there is no place for hate in our community.