By Melanie Samaroden
Isabella’s first protest march was when she was four months old. At the time, then MP Gary Lunn, was planning on lifting the 30 year ban on oil tankers coming through the west coast. There were many of us who disagreed with that point, so we banded together and marched into Sidney to his office to let him know exactly what we thought. The air was crisp with the hint of autumn near the ocean and we merrily sang anti-tanker songs along the way. Madeleine’s first foray into politics was while she was an active eight-and-a-half old fetus and I was door-knocking in late September with my belly far ahead of me. Since Isabella’s first protest, both girls (while I was pregnant or not) were toted along to protests at the Alberta legislature, have had the chance to meet such politicians as Stephane Dion, Jack Layton, and Thomas Mulcair, and in the process have learned that they too, have a voice that must be heard.
I have certainly heard the arguments for leaving children at home during a protest: they can become violent (which I think parents can determine the level of caution they must use in this circumstance) or they can “brainwash” your child into thinking only the parents’ way, unable to think for themselves.
Although the first argument has some merit, especially if you have any kind of inkling the police presense won’t be of the friendly sort, I have a lot of trouble with the second. The reason is, children are heavily influenced by their parents and what they learn at home. If there is any “brainwashing” going on, that will be the place for it, not at the odd protest or political event. These peaceful actions may be exciting for your children and seem larger than life, bringing home to them the lessons they have already learned while sitting at the kitchen table.
However, bringing your children, at any age, to a protest will teach them greater value than you may realize. In our household, speaking one’s mind is incredibly important. It is a lesson that is used to teach my girls about conflict resolution, and about changing what they know is wrong into a right. When they participate in a peaceful demonstration, they are watching their parents and other adults successfully voice their concerns without aggression. They also learn that politics are important to how we want our lives to look like, because it is the government that decides how much taxes we pay and how those taxes are used, such as ensuring a public health care system. I also think that the second argument underestimates our children’s ability to process information and make choices about that information.
Children are flexible, intelligent, and extremely fast at absorbing the information around them. When they are raised in an inflexible, close-minded environment, they become inflexible and close-minded. It is possible to approach demonstrations with a zealotness that could be counter-productive, but I think that is the exception, rather than the norm. Rather, approaching these events with a thoughtful and informed outlook allows children to understand that this is a choice. It also becomes apparent to children that it is possible to disagree with someone in power and that it is okay to ask them to do something differently and have another point of view. In the short term, this may be frustrating when you toddler starts to speak and questions your every decision, but in the long term it pays off when a child can stand up to a bully, or question a grade from a teacher. They have confidence and grace.
Melanie Samaroden lives in Edmonton with her husband and two daughters, Isabella who is 5, and Madeline who is 1. Melanie spends her free time knitting, sewing and gardening when she isn’t running for MLA.