The whole family volunteered at a street fair a couple weekends ago. Left to right is my wife Jen, Liam, Dallas (the program coordinator of Animal Rights Coalition, the organization we volunteer for), and Anna. We were handing out samples of Beyond Meat, telling people about it and explaining why and how one can go vegan.
Dallas asked me if we would like to volunteer as a family and I told her I'd have to get back to her. I talked it over with Jen and the kids and they all agreed that it would be fun. When we got there, it was decided that Anna would tell people what the samples were made out of (she memorized some of the ingredients). While she did that, Liam would sort of sneak in and hand out a pamphlet about veganism.
Parents as Activists - Bringing the Kids Along
Parents of all kinds find themselves with less time to do the things that are important to them. Raising our children becomes of the utmost importance, of course, but we all came into parenthood with passions, and those passions don’t evaporate when we start changing diapers.
Maybe you leafleted every weekend before you had kids. Maybe you were a rabble-rouser at community meetings. Maybe you spent all your free time doing online activism.
Regardless of what you did, you have less time for it after you take on the responsibility of raising a child or children. But this doesn’t mean you have to give up activism. While it’s tempting to get someone to babysit the kids so you can go out and do your adult-world volunteering, the reality is that there’s often no reason you can’t just pack the kids up along with your placards and pamphlets.
Plus, getting a sitter costs money. Just bring the kids along. As long as it’s safe, bring them along and then they can see what their parents are passionate about. And maybe they’ll ask to join in once they realize what you’re fighting for. Or maybe they’ll choose to sit and watch. Maybe they’ll be embarrassed beyond words. Doesn’t matter.
Maybe your friends and family will accuse you of using your kids to advance your cause. How do we respond to the idea that we’re using our kids to support a cause, instead of simply exposing them to that cause and letting them join in if they want? Fortunately, this judgment of parenting likely isn’t anything of the sort. It’s a veiled judgment of the ideology of animal rights.
I saw a lot of children at the protests leading up to the Iraq war and I thought the parents probably just brought them along because they (the parents) really wanted to go and didn't want to have to pay for a babysitter. Those parents also probably wanted to show the kids what community involvement can look like and that standing up for something you believe in is something worth doing. The kids may have held signs, but I doubt the parents were intentionally using them as props.
And more importantly, no one was accusing them of doing so. Anyone who did would rightfully be criticized as grasping at straws. Searching so hard for something to criticize that they set their sights on children. In addition to calling into question our parenting abilities on the face of it, the critics also negate our children’s obvious ability to grasp arguments and form opinions about issues. Yes, of course, very young children almost always believe what their parents believe, act how their parents act, do what their parents do. But for some reason, their ability to do even this is called into question when our kids are handing out a vegan pamphlet, or holding a sign critical of the pet trade.
We may not bring them to the protest with the intention of them holding a sign, or maybe we do. But no one can make a child hold a sign. They choose to do it, and their choice should be recognized as just as valid as any other choice a child makes.
Plus, how adorable is Liam handing out that literature? He doesn't look it, but he said he was a little nervous. I know the feeling.