I'm Proud To Teach My Children To Advocate For Themselves And Others

by Mariangela Abeo
Sarah Morris / Getty Images

In the first decade of the 20th century, we had the Suffragettes’ protests for women’s voting rights. The ’30s was the decade of the Great Depression. The ’50s and ’60s had the Civil Rights Protests. The ’70s was mainly known for the student-rooted Vietnam Protests. The ’80s had the Iran-Contra affair and the Cold War. The ’90s was known mainly for the WTO riots based here in the Northwest. The first decade of 2000 was when the longest war in U.S. history began, the Iraq War. It was also full of protests involving Occupy Wall Street and the big banks.

Now as we near the closing of our second decade into the 21st century, it seems history is repeating itself. We have Black Lives Matter protests, which are being sparked by events that are reminiscent of the horrible acts displayed back in the ’50s, but now we have the internet and social media to bring these acts of injustice to the pubic eye as they happen.

The protest to halt and ban the continuation of the Dakota Access Pipeline that is drilling into sacred land and violating a treaty made between the U.S. government and the Great Sioux Nation back in the 1850s. 11 million people world-wide participated in the women’s rights marches the day after the swearing-in of our 45th president, the first person to hold that office who has been both a reality TV personality and accused of multiple acts of sexual assault and harassment prior to taking office. The first week of his time in the White House he has signed executive orders banning immigrants from Muslim countries entry into the United States, stopped funding for various arts and nonprofit organizations while also imposing gag orders on federal employees.

People are scared of what their government is becoming. They are scared that history is repeating itself. But one thing is different now than it was 60 years ago: We, as a people, are more educated in our rights and right to protest, and have found our voices. We will not back down.

So, as parents, how do we teach our children about not only their right to assemble granted by the First Amendment, but also how to incorporate that behavior in every part of their lives, to not be afraid to question anything? This is not just about their rights, but also the rights of others. To be courageous and vocal on the behalf of people who may not have a voice or are having their rights violated. To teach them not to be selfish and have the “it doesn’t affect me” mentality, but rather to realize it affects us all, and that whatever level of privilege they are born with, to use it for good rather than evil.

“Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence.” –Leonardo da Vinci

I recently saw an acquaintance’s social media post that stated, “Children should be in school, not protests.” This affected me so deeply. I found this — the insinuation that parents who let their children protest are bad parents — insulting both as a mother and a human. Even worse, is the shaming of children who protested. It was then that I realized I had to break down our process and how we taught our daughter to fight for both her rights and her voice, to show people that exercising that right can be, in fact, the best teaching tool you ever give to your children.

I was raised with a “Don’t speak unless you are spoken to” mentality. I didn’t have my own beliefs or things that I truly fought for until I was over 18 years of age. I had never done a lick of community service or fought for anything that didn’t directly involve me. Then I moved out and realized the world did not revolve around me — shocking — and there were things that my voice could help with. And more importantly, I could fight for what I believed in.

When our daughter was very young, she often stood up for those around her being mistreated because of racism or classism. She heard our voices early on, but the power and importance of protests wasn’t introduced until a bit later. Her first march was on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. We talked to her about the real things Dr. King stood for, and not just what was taught to her in school. We joined the march being organized by people locally and not large organizations. The march started in south Seattle, not a parade downtown with bells and whistles. We then began the process of unlearning her from what school taught her that was exaggerated and fabricated.

It is important to note that “protest” isn’t just the act of gathering in groups and chanting in the streets. We must teach our children to protest daily. To respectfully but firmly stand up for what they believe in, in all aspects of their lives. These are some of the things we taught our daughter to have a voice about as she grew up:

– Is a teacher mistreating a minority student? Stand with that student. Be vocal.

– Is there a community event but you have to go to school? Tell us why you want to go and how you can help; we will not only support you but also get you out of school the correct way. – Do you feel like you are being mistreated by someone in a public place? Make eye contact, raise your voice, find support, call us. – Are the police or other city officials misusing their power to intimidate a minority in your presence? Take video, call us, do not loose your cool or be disrespectful, stand by the side of the person being victimized. Normalize the discussion. Be supportive. Make eye contact.

– Are men around you sexualizing you or being sexist in their behavior? Have a voice, be strong, do not ignore it, and do not allow it.

– Is your school teaching things about history that are fabricated and false? Raise your hand, respectfully question and disagree. Be informed. Inform your peers. Stand up for the real truth. – Are you angry about something that’s happening in the world? Take a breath. Don’t be reactive. Do your research. Don’t believe everything on the internet. Once you know your facts, organize and assemble, do not be impulsive and reactive. Be informed, organized, and intelligent in your actions. – See something that makes you sad, e.g., homelessness, animal cruelty, racism, xenophobia, homophobia? Find out what you can do in your immediate surroundings to join the fight. We must work from the inside, out. Donate, march, volunteer, etc. – See someone who is homeless or hungry outside of a store when you are going in? Buy them a bottle of water, and something warm to eat. Make eye contact, smile, and learn their name. Then make plans to volunteer at the nearest shelter.

These are the things that I wish were said to me as a child and teen. These are the things that would have not only helped empower me as a young adult, but also helped me figure out who I was as a human being, earlier in life. It of course helps the immediate issues at hand, but there is an underlying effect on the human condition, on our souls, that happens when these things are implemented at a young age. It shows us the depths of ourselves as people, and shows us the power and potential we have to change more than ourselves, to change the world.

So in response to those who think children should be in schools not protests, I say, the world is the best education system for our children. In school, my child was taught math (kind of), geography, biology, and a very biased and fabricated history. In the world of protest, rallying, marches, and social justice, she was taught compassion, kindness, fierceness, realness, government power, civilian power, amendment rights, LGBTQ and women’s rights, religious rights, human rights, animal rights — shall I go on?

We as parents raise our children with the lessons they need so they can turn them into tools when they grow up and go into the world, properly prepared for being confronted with all kinds of injustices.

My hope for you as a parent is that you can be that support for your child as they figure out who they are and struggle to find their voice in fighting for what they believe in, regardless if it aligns with your beliefs.

My hope for you as human being, is that you are able to use the things happening in the world as a syllabus of sorts for your parenting, and use it to create a level of compassion that sometimes is hard to find.