Politics… for kids?

“No!” a coworker told me. “Children shouldn’t be taken to rallies or marches where their minds can be manipulated. They aren’t old enough to make decisions about these issues on their own and forcing a belief system on them is completely unfair.”

“You take your children to church,” I said. “How do you justify that?”

It wasn’t a fair question. One gathering consists of rational and caring adults modeling decent, civic-minded behavior.

The other serves communion.

A family rebelling together, stays together. Political and social movements put democracy on display for our youngest citizens. What’s wrong with that?

When they sit in a classroom and learn about women fighting for the right to vote, or civil rights for black Americans, the lessons hit home if they have their own experiences with which to compare. Involvement comes in many different shapes and sizes, whether rallying against unhealthy air or corrupt campaign contributions, or gathering signatures for a more humane prison system.

Just by being involved in social action or politics, kids experience a collective action, including all the positive and negative aspects of such, live and in person, rather than reading about it in a history book. Groups sometimes have internal struggles and members learn the art of compromise to reach goals. This empowers our kids, helping them to see how important we all are and what everyone can accomplish when we put our voices together with others and make a difference.

When my children were in strollers, our involvement was limited to marching for gay rights or fewer factory farms. As they got older, I took them to rallies for candidates and they benefited from getting out of the house, participating in something greater than themselves, and making friends with like-minded kids.

In elementary school, they went door-to-door with me to spread the word about upcoming elections. They learned how to talk to adults and make eye contact. They grew to be self-assured and very comfortable meeting and talking to new people.

As they grow older, they comprehend ideas like voting with their wallet and understand the value of researching companies so only the ones with the best practices get our hard-earned money.

That’s some important shit.

Admittedly, political topics can get complex. Society’s problems took decades to create and solutions might take longer. This is the analogy I’ve used when my sons want to know what we’re fighting for:

Some people are gathered in a kitchen. They purchase ingredients, mix and measure everything together with pride, care and attention. They toil over a hot stove for hours and finally produce the most delicious, mouth-watering apple pie.

Afterwards, those who own the kitchen arrive and take the pie away. Workers who created the culinary masterpiece are now requesting a slice.

That’s it.

They don’t want the whole pie. They simply want one slice, and perhaps a fork with which to eat it.

Children have an amazing sense of fairness and this idea that the majority of people should benefit from the system they helped create resonates with them. They also learn patience, because change takes time.

Let’s impress upon our kids the importance of self-advocating, self-defense and taking a stand against bullies. Those who bring their children to rallies or protests are modeling that behavior, showing how our actions truly speak louder than words.

Activists provide all our families with a living example of what happens when we get involved. Sometimes we bring picnic lunches and stick around afterwards to socialize. The kids play games and then we all go home.

It’s not a bad way to spend the day.

Participating in a community movement with our kids, where neighbors gather to talk about solutions, where the powerful are humbled by the people, is good for them and us. At the very least, it’s most certainly an American ideal.

As American, you might say, as apple pie.