How To Prepare For Children At Protests: Vice Versa Is Not Possible
By Kirsten Anderberg (www.kirstenanderberg.com)
Protest zones are important classrooms for all people, adults and children. Yes, attending protests with kids is different than attending protests without kids. But going to a protest with an affinity group, or as a street medic, is also different than going alone. You prepare for protests according to your function at that time. And so what would one do, in particular, to prepare, to take kids with them to a political protest nowadays?
I interviewed a group of street medics and activist parents, and all felt it was most responsible to do basic research about a protest (organizers, permits, police trends, etc.) before attending with a child. It is also important to note that different children have different comfort levels at political actions, just like adults do, and we need to respect that. But beyond basic preparations, parents should take time to explain the protest’s meaning, and protest etiquette, so to speak, before arriving at an action. Explain why we block traffic with a march to oppose the war, why we are masked up, why people are yelling at protesters, and how there are different factions of protesters serving different necessary functions. It is also important to tell kids why YOU, in particular, feel a need to be there. A protest is an excellent opportunity to take your child to a library and study protest and political dissent before the fact, in preparation. Show kids political protest is older than America.
Groups of parents have banded together in protests, worldwide, over the last 2 years. Baby blocs showed up at Feb. 15 anti-war rallies, as well as FTAA protests last Nov., in Miami. Families are protesting together, from “Babies, Not Bombs” anti-war rallies in Melbourne, Australia, to protests in France, with signs displaying children’s drawings and their words, “Porquoi la guerre! Faites la paix!” People with children care greatly about their futures, enough to raise kids, and enough to protest bad international policies with their kids. And god knows war does not just affect adults, children are very much affected by wars. Today one can find some radical parenting comradery at websites like www.mamaphonic.com (“balancing motherhood and other creative acts”), www.hipmama.org, http://yomamasays.org, and NYC’s MAMA/Mothers Alliance for Militant Action (http://mama-nyc.org). “UK Radical Mums,” (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/UKRadicalMums) email list has the right idea, as does the “Anarchist Parenting List” (http://lists.mutualaid.org/mailman/listinfo/a-parenting). A group called RAMBL, Revolutionary Anarchist Mom and Baby League formed in Minn., and Austin, Texas, has hosted a radio show called “Radical Mother’s Voice.” In the 1930’s, they had a term for kids raised by radical activist parents, “Red Diaper Babies.”
It is important to stress to kids that protests are a special situation and they require special rules. Explain to children that police sometimes get violent preemptively, and indiscriminantly, at protests, and thus are not the persons to go towards, for help, during protests. Discuss riot police, and riot gear, with children. My child was more frightened by police in riot gear on horses, than anything else, during the 1990’s Gulf War protests. He was less afraid when I explained their purpose was to intimidate and scare us, like “bad guys” in cartoons. Explain fighting for your rights. Kids are not dumb. They understand things. My son was later frightened by riot police in March 2003 at protests, as an adult, but he knew that was part of their game, and he had seen them as a child before, and survived. I was a kid during the Vietnam War era and I understood what was going on at protests. One woman I interviewed said her young child tells her child friends that if they grow up to be cops, they will have to pepper spray her and her mommy someday for protesting. Give your child a clue about what riot police might look and act like.
Adults prepare for protests in many ways. How would that differ if the adult was bringing children too? Some said they would bring food, water, a basic first aid kit, wipes (which is a great idea), weather appropriate clothing for the child, a hat, entertainment, and a cell phone…while more radical (or realistic?) parents added a change of clothing in case of pepper spraying, vinegar-soaked rags for 2, goggles, etc. One person interviewed said to bring a map of local bathrooms, among the other things, and your feet, to leave, if it gets bad. A support system of 1-2 childless friends was recommended, with the example given of some moms in a mama-baby bloc, who got separated from the bloc, but who had buddies with them to help when they got separated from the main group. Keeping abreast of the mood of the police, and the crowd, was recommended also.
But one parent said she would practice getting away from a chaotic scene together before the day of action with her child, and THAT IS TRUE WISDOM. Why not? We rehearse that as adults, and within our affinity groups. Why not with our children? This same wise parent recommended taking the child to the area where the demonstration would be BEFORE the action to scope out escape exits, the layout of the area, the bathrooms, a safe place to meet outside the area if separated, etc. Again, brilliant advice. The more realistic people interviewed recommended “contingency plans,” or plans for emergencies if things get “out of hand.” All agreed reading the situation, and leaving with kids, is preferable to kids being pepper sprayed. But short of never taking kids to protests, which would be too much power to give the Powers That Be, we need to try to keep our kids as safe as possible WHILE taking them with us to protest. And protests can include random police violence.
An EMT/street medic I interviewed referred to Brady’s Emergency Care (a standard EMT textbook), which says children react to trauma differently than adults do. Kids under 6 tend to associate pain with doing something wrong, and then they need reassurance. While teens center on the scarring aspect of injuries, and need to be told it will heal. Also, young kids have big heads and are top-heavy, so are more prone to head injuries than adults. Younger kids have smaller air passages, so airborne chemical weaponry can affect them in a more pronounced way. They are also more prone to hypothermia, burn complications, and they cannot hemorrhage for long, as they have less blood to lose than an adult, so when they go into shock, it is quick and sudden. This medic recommended street medics read Brady or something similar to prepare for children at protests, and that parents do not hesitate, for even one minute, in taking a child who has been even slightly injured at a protest, IMMEDIATELY, to a hospital emergency room. Children react to trauma differently than adults, and do not have the critical time that adults do.
One street medic/activist father said as his kids have gotten older, “they also have with them a fanny pack with some first aid supplies (basic as well as chem weapon stuff) which they have been taught how to use, some money, water, a snack and other essentials. That way they are as prepared as can be. The understanding is that my primary role (or that of another adult if I have medic responsibilities) is to ensure their safety and enjoyment. If they get scared, cold, hungry, bored, and I cannot address that effectively in the protest and they want to leave, then we are leaving. They always know that their needs come first. That doesn't mean indulge every little desire, but they do know that their attendance is neither mandatory nor coerced. With my oldest, now that she has been in a few actions and has a better idea what she is getting into, the agreement is that if she comes, then she must have a pretty good reason to ask to leave. It is a way for her to take responsibility for being part of a larger group, and to understand that asking someone to leave with her puts a strain on others. She has the right to do that, but she should not exercise it lightly or irresponsibly. The only time she complains any, is at the end of an action when everything is done, and she has to hang out while we help take down medic tents, sound systems, etc, but she at least understands that organizing an action involves work, not just chanting and dancing.” This statement is a great description of the compromises required between a teen and activist parent when protesting.
And as one activist pointed out, police brutality is one thing. But Child Protective Services (CPS) can be another form of brutality, and people who bring kids to protests could be targeted by CPS. So, solid networking and support is recommended for radical moms and dads. Affinity groups seem to be the way to go. United we stand, divided we fall.
(This article is the 3rd in a series on kids and protests. The 1st article discusses “Parenting Versus Protesting: Are They Mutually Exclusive?” (http://www.angelfire.com/la3/kirstenanderberg/pagekidsprotest1.html). The 2nd article in the series focuses on a community response to accommodate protesting teens, in “Teens and Protests: Is There A Legal Age for Political Dissent?” (http://www.angelfire.com/la3/kirstenanderberg/pageteensprotest.html)