At six months old my daughter started to attend protests with me. Tucked safely into her little pouch, she would sleep blissfully through boisterous chants and speeches, her little head nodding off as we marched through the streets surrounded by hundreds, sometimes thousands, of noisy people.
If only she slept that well at home.
Since then she’s attended countless demonstrations, pickets, sit-ins, vigils and public meetings. At age three she was an active participant in the Occupy Melbourne protest.
Along with other kids and their carers, she was part of the “Teddy Bears Protest Picnic” as it occupied foyers of government departments and cluttered up reception areas with homemade placards, prams, nappies, snacks and soft toys.
We even paid a short visit to the premier’s office, delivering a novelty-sized report card on the state of public education and cuts to child care. The kids joined in on a “mic-check” and sung their little lungs out about why the 1 percent should learn to share.
Security called for backup as two three-year-olds skipped their way into the lobby.
According to Andrew Bolt, right wing columnist for the Murdoch press, this makes me a terrible mother, guilty of child abuse. Apparently no other crime is as heinous as subjecting a child to collective, organised protest.
A multi-billion dollar industry has been created that provides advice to parents about how to raise happy, healthy children; the focus being the urgent need to protect them from a frightening and dangerous world.
An abundance of books, DVDs and websites feeds off the deep sense of isolation and confusion that many first-time parents feel when confronted with the enormity of bringing a child into the world. They confirm what you already suspected – you are woefully and hopelessly under-prepared and under-qualified ever to be a good parent.
Advice about how to “build emotional intelligence through silence and stillness”, and handy hints on how to reduce your little ones’ “stress and emotional overload” abound. But absolutely none will guide you to including your child in progressive political activity.
So, in the spirit of fast and accessible info – a must for busy parents – here is a top five list of reasons why you should involve your kid in left wing politics:
1. Children are not passive objects. They are active participants in the world and are able to engage with complex ideas, even at a very young age. For example, my daughter has witnessed police attempting to intimidate and harass Aboriginal people on the street. She recognised very early on that if you are Black, you are treated differently, and she didn’t like it at all. No one is born a racist.
2. Children are often confronted with information about why the world is a horrible place but rarely about how it could be changed. Teaching them that they have agency and the capacity to change the world is a powerful and important lesson, and one that the state will take great steps to ensure they don’t learn.
3. Going to left wing protests can foster a sense of community and solidarity. I’ve spoken to my daughter about how the government locks up little children in detention centres. It’s a difficult subject to broach with a five-year-old, but virtually impossible to avoid – after all, the government has spent millions of taxpayer dollars on advertising to make sure we all know about their “tough love”. By being included in the rallies, she has learned that there are good and decent people willing to take a stand for these kids. And she’s one of them.
4. Society is not impartial. Dominant capitalist ideology is so pervasive it has almost ceased to be noticeable. The status quo is unquestioned and made to seem “natural”. There is no such thing as “unbiased” – everybody is operating in the frame of some ideology or another. The question is whether it is acknowledged or not. School teaches kids that there is no other option than the system we have now; to think otherwise is deviant.
At the same time violent and sexist images and information bombard them from every angle. It’s your duty to help them make sense of the world. Abrogating this responsibility is just acquiescence to ruling class ideology.
5. Kids learn by example. If you can, you should provide a good lead. In 1911 thousands of schoolchildren in the UK and Ireland, some as young as three years, staged a mass walkout. Their demands were fewer hours (so they could work and help support their families), free pencils and erasers and the end of corporal punishment.
The children organised themselves into strike committees and flying pickets and drafted statements to the media. These kids took control over their lives and brought about positive change. All this was learned from their parents, who worked on the docks and were also on strike for better wages and conditions. This is the kind of organisation that we will need if our children are ever to live in a world free of oppression and exploitation.
I’m sure this article will draw criticism and I welcome it, because I want to teach my daughter another lesson: it’s important to stand up for your principles and to fight for what you believe in, even if you are told you are wrong to do so. If that make me a bad mum in the eyes of Andrew Bolt, then I say, “Good!”
[Get your kids along to the Marxism 2014 conference School of Rebellion this Easter. Visit marxismconference.org for details.]