Last week, my husband and I dragged my 6-year-old son and our 17-month-old to the Women’s March in Santa Ana. The night before, a friend of ours (who also has a 5-year-old daughter) expressed her misgivings about what we were planning on doing. “What if it gets violent? What if you get separated? What if they get hurt?” She offered to watch my kids so the grownups could march for our beliefs peacefully. “I want to play with my friend!” my son whined. I told him it wasn’t an option: “It’s very important for you to see that when we don’t agree with something the government does, we can get together with everyone and protest. It’s what makes us Americans.”
I have to admit those thoughts went through my mind as we were preparing drinks and snacks to stuff into my daughter’s diaper bag, but I feel extra privileged to be able to protest in America because I grew up in the Philippines, during a dictatorship. During the 1986 People Power revolution, my mom brought my sisters and I — all under 10 — to rallies to protest the Marcos regime. It was there that I learned: There is power in people banding together and taking the streets to express your beliefs. It is one lesson I want to impart to my kids.
So on Jan. 21 my family headed off into a sea of 20,000-strong protesters, armed with posters and pussy hats, clutching our American flags. It was amazing — especially in Orange County, which has never voted Blue until this election. Plus, my friend’s fears were unfounded: It was a very peaceful rally filled with positive vibes and high fives for all. We even bumped into other children from my son’s kindergarten at the rally. It was a real teaching moment for my son, who, outside of the classroom, enjoyed yelling “This is what democracy looks like” as a response to organizers with megaphones.
He got to see and read all the signs, and the many concerns people had about Trump’s governance — “Women’s Rights are Human Rights”/ “Hillary Won By 3 Million” / “A Woman’s Place is in the Resistance.”
I got to tell him about our family history of dissent, and why his gay godparents were marching alongside us. By modeling what it means to be a citizen in a free society, it showed him that protest should come naturally to Americans who cared about their country.
“Just remember," I told him. "You can protest your government, but you can’t protest your parents at home!”
In the middle of it all, my son asked me: “What does democracy mean?” I told him it was the way our government was run. “Democracy allows for us to march on the streets because we — the people — are the bosses of the people we elect, like President Donald Trump.” He then asked, “Did he get more votes, is that why he’s president?”
My husband and I laughed, and said, “Unfortunately not. Hillary got three million more votes.”
“WHAT!?” He exclaimed. “That doesn’t even make any sense.”
Kenneth Braswell, who wrote a book explaining why we protest to kids titled “Daddy, There’s a Noise Outside,” told NPR, “Our children deserve to understand the society in which they live. … At young ages they begin to develop a framework of their community based on how their community impacts them. Six- to 9-year-old children need 6- to 9-year-old answers about what's happening in the community around them.”
And the best way to do it? Through music. (Especially since, with Trump's slew of Executive Orders on immigration, the wall and oil pipe lines passed this week, it doesn't look like we'll be off the streets anytime soon.) Luckily, throughout my son's life, music has been an easy way to explain hard concepts. Here's a list of songs I use to explain political ideas to my son.
"This Little Light of Mine," Odetta
Here's a good song to explain why your opinion matters even when you're only one person. It's also a great song to explain how powerful it is to band together and protest as a group.
"Everybody Knows," Leonard Cohen
As Cohen fans, we had played this song around the house since our son was a baby. Now it's a good way to teach him about inequality in the world.
"Redemption Song" and "Buffalo Soldier," Bob Marley
My son and I couldn't choose which Marley song to highlight; he said both these songs were cool and talked about freedom.
"Sleep Now in the Fire," Rage Against the Machine
Rage Against the Machine is a band that has to be monitored around kids because many of their songs have profanity, but "Sleep Now in the Fire," especially with its factoids about poverty and healthcare in the video (that was FILMED TO BLOCK THE ENTRANCE OF THE NY STOCK EXCHANGE) is especially great. Prepare to answer so many questions after watching!
"War Pigs" Black Sabbath
My son fell in love with Black Sabbath after watching School of Rock. (Thanks, Jack Black!) Luckily, "War Pigs" is an anti-war song.
"This Land is Your Land," Woody Guthrie
"This Land is Your Land," Woody Guthrie
Guthrie wrote this song in 1940 because he was sick of hearing "God Bless America." Now it's a staple in my kids' school. Yay!
"Which Side Are You On?" Ani Difranco
Ani Difranco reworked this Pete Seeger song written to support the union workers. When she wrote it, she said,"
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They stole a few elections,/Still we the people won/We voted out corruption and/Big corporations /Now there some folks in washington/ Who cares what's on our minds/Show 'em which side are you on now/ Which side are you on." So it's not entirely true anymore — time for a lyric overhaul!
"Talking About a Revolution," Tracy Chapman
My son asked, "Why is she playing guitar all alone without a band?" I explained that protest songs originally came out of single artists, with just a guitar, so you can sing and protest anywhere you wanted without setting up. "Besides," I said. "Sometimes it's just cool to know you can touch thousands of people just as one person."