This Is What Democracy Looks Like
When my kids hear "Show me what democracy looks like," they know what to shout back.
They know that we use the special permanent markers to make protest signs because their regular washable markers will come right off if it rains. They know that they have to be quiet while someone is at the microphone at a rally, and they know I have snacks in my bag for when they get bored. They know that there will be singing and shouting and clapping, and that sometimes there are other kids to play with.
They helped me make pussyhats in January, they held "Science is real!" signs in April, they ate snow cones at a health care protest on the sweltering Fourth of July, and they held LED candles at a vigil for Charlottesville in August.
Most recently we went to a march in support of a local human rights commission. The bigots have been circulating a petition to try to get rid of the commission, using reprehensible fearmongering about lecherous men in the shower with little girls. As if trans people being able to use the bathroom safely had anything to do with men taking showers with little girls. As if sexual assault, or kidnapping, or whatever we’re actually supposed to be afraid that these imaginary men are going to do to these imaginary little girls, had anything to do with strangers in public bathrooms. As if the human rights commission was ever even about fucking bathrooms.
I told my kids we were there because we love everyone, and there are lots of different ways to live, and lots of different kinds of families, and it’s wrong to treat people differently because of who they are, or where they’re from, or what they look like, or what kind of family they want to make. I told them that one of the great things about America is that we have the right to say what we believe. In public. With lots of shouting. I didn’t tell them about men taking showers with little girls, and I didn’t tell them about the petition. I didn’t use the word bigot.
We marched around the center of town, 70 or 80 of us, with enthusiasm and clever signs and cheers for the drivers who honked their horns as they passed. Then, as everyone was standing in front of the courthouse and the speakers were finished and somebody started playing “Blowin’ in the Wind” (we’re old school, apparently) on the guitar, it occurred to me that this is not how I imagined parenting would be.
For one thing, I’m indoctrinating them. Hard. That has been hard for me to accept but it’s true. I own it. I need my kids to understand what our family believes in, and the only way to do that is to live it, visibly, concretely, in a way that makes sense to them. Calling my senators about Graham-Cassidy on my lunch break didn’t tell my kids anything; showing up to that Fourth of July protest to tell our Congressman that everyone deserves to be able to go to the doctor when they’re sick--well, they could see that. They were there. They ate snow cones.
But the other side of that is, the people who stand to be hurt if the human rights commission is killed, or if they lose their health care, or because of the travel ban, or . . . (I can’t even fucking keep up) . . . well, they’re not props in my children’s moral education. And I fear that sugar-coating the causes as I have been (“there are lots of different kinds of families, and we are here because we love all of them” doesn’t really mean the same thing as “bigots want to make sure that this town continues to discriminate against LGBT people”) erases the pain and the urgency of what’s at stake.
Also I have no illusions about what we’re actually accomplishing. 70 people marching around a town square in the heart of Trump Country is not going to save any lives. Yelling at our garbage Congressman didn’t change his mind. But maybe somebody saw our little human rights march and realized they’re not alone, even in a small town. Maybe our little Charlottesville vigil added to the lights that were shining all over the country that night when we were all shocked and grieving. All I’ve got is the message: I need my kids to see me standing up for what’s right, and to paraphrase somebody a lot smarter than me, I’ve got to do all the good I can, for all the people I can, in all the ways I can, for as long as ever I can. And right now, that means showing up. I’m not blazing any trails, I’m not organizing a campaign or even a letter-writing campaign, but we’re going to keep getting the special markers out. We’re going to keep showing up.
This is what democracy looks like.