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CompassionateKids.com are compassionate about the Earth, People and Animals.

Activism with Children
By Kelly Palmatier, CompassionateKids.com*

*Permission is granted to reprint in this article in its entirety with credit & link given.

Activism is a logical outlet for our children's ever-increasing sense of compassion and desire to make a difference in the world. Activism, by definition, simply means taking action - standing up for our beliefs and helping to spread the word.

And there are many different ways to spread the word:

  • Writing letters to targeted decision makers
  • Entering compassionate messages in art and essay contests
  • Setting up information tables
  • Making displays for library bulletin boards or store windows
  • Putting on compassion-themed shows
  • Giving speeches or making presentations

So what about protests and demonstrations? Are they safe to take children to?

Protests can be fun and educational for children. Click to enlarge photo.Yes, fortunately, most protests are peaceful, uneventful gatherings with people holding signs and handing out literature. They are typically intended to initiate enough negative publicity and fear of a boycott that corporate decision makers or politicians are pressured into making more compassionate choices. Of course, peaceful events don't get as much news coverage as controversial ones, so be sure to talk to the event organizer first about what to expect and whether it's appropriate for children to attend. The most important thing to consider is our children's safety, so only attend protests and demonstrations that will be peaceful and law-abiding.

Children at a demonstration against the animal abuses at Petco. Click to enlarge.I have personally taking my children to lots of protests, starting when they were ages 3 and 7. Without exception, these events have been peaceful and law-abiding as well as fun and educational.

There are a few tips to keep in mind that will make your participation in a protest the most successful and enjoyable:

  • Park legally - You cannot park at the business you are protesting against. Their entire parking lot is private property. Plan to arrive early enough to find a legal parking space and walk to the location of the protest.
  • Protest legally - Stay on the sidewalk or designated public property area only. (If a sidewalk is attached to the building, it may be private property.) Keep in mind some counties or towns will have special ordinances about protesting. For example, they may require a permit that your event coordinator should have already filed and picked up, or they may require you to keep moving on the sidewalk rather than stand still. In no case will it be legal for you to block entrances or exits from buildings.
  • Be courteous and peaceful - If people don't agree with your message, just keep your tone of voice and actions pleasant. Just hand them the literature (if they want it) and politely say you're just trying to do what you believe in. If a situation becomes angry or unstable, just remove yourself.
  • Be prepared - Adults don't mind being a little uncomfortable, but when you bring children along to a protest, it really helps to be organized. Protests will usually be at least an hour long, and may require a good deal of walking or standing, so remember to wear comfortable shoes. Be sure to bring your charged cell phone, camera, water and snacks, sunscreen, sunglasses, rain gear, jacket, hats, gloves, scarves, and keep a towel and set of warm, dry clothes in the car. Carry your items in a comfortable backpack or use luggage wheels.
  • Costumes make protests fun for children. Click to enlarge photo.Remember safety - If you have small children, you need to take every precaution around the cars driving by. Very young children should not be trusted to stay on the sidewalk far enough from traffic. They need to have constant supervision. With my youngest, we had a rule that he had to hold my hand during the entire protest unless he was sitting down. When he sat down next to me, I was never more than a couple feet away and kept a constant eye on him. Of course, always make your children's welfare your highest priority and don't let your discussions of the issues or other distractions let your guard slip on safety!
  • Have fun - Although not mandatory, it's a great idea to do something special for your kids for each protest. Here are a few ideas I have implemented:
    • Create t-shirts related to the event or subject matter. T-shirts could be iron-on designs printed on your computer, handmade with markers or fabric paint, or even just stickers adhered to the shirt.
    • It's great fun for the children to wear costumes and role play. Click to enlarge photo.Let the children wear relevant costumes. This is especially fun when the protest is animal-related.
    • Let the children bring dolls holding their own signs or stuffed animals wearing their message on their collars.
    • Make small hand-held signs, large posters, or banners. Very young children can color cutouts that will be glued onto the sign or banner made by a grownup.
  • Be flexible - Most protests are simple and fun, but there are some days when the weather just doesn't cooperate, or someone missed naptime, etc. Don't be so concerned about the protest that it makes anyone miserable. If things really start going badly, don't worry about taking care of the children first. There have been plenty of times I've had to leave early or take a break and come back later. The children are still learning that activism is fun and educational, not torture!

Protests and other forms of activism can be immensely rewarding, and it is wonderful for children to know they can make a difference in the world.

*Permission is granted to reprint in this article in its entirety with credit & link given.


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