These days it feels like there is a march, vigil, or rally every other day depending on the latest executive action issued. As politically active parents, we struggle with how much of the current climate we should share with our 4-year-old, Ravi, though we know she soaks up way more than we think.
What do rallies and protests accomplish? I often hear that question from my more reluctant or cynical friends. I agree there is value and even a need to transform the energy of a moment into a movement. But as a rabbi and a parent, I also believe in the power of moments and that those moments’ merit is enough.
I remember marching as a child for gun control in Washington DC and countless rallies for the State of Israel during the intifada; while both those endeavors still haven’t reached optimal political resolutions, attending those rallies planted a seed within me: the value of showing up.
On January 21 my family joined hundreds of thousands of our fellow New Yorkers to take to the streets in a march for Women’s rights, protesting the inauguration of a president we believe to be a hateful and childish bully.
We brought our children along even though we knew it wouldn’t be the easiest of days for them, standing and walking for miles. As we marched on and the throngs of people became heavier and denser, Ravi grew frightened. She started whimpering.
“What’s the matter munchkin?” I asked.
“I’m scared,” Ravi said. “I feel like Donald Trump is here.”
If I had the power to silence hundreds of thousands of people immediately, I would have. Instead I held her hand, as I stood crouching down to be at her eye level, and said,
“Donald Trump isn’t here, honey. He’s in Washington DC. And he’s just one person. Look at all the people here. He can’t hurt you.”
I felt guilty as I said these words for multiple reasons. The president’s policies could very well affect and hurt Ravi and the world she inherits. But having brought her along for this once-in-a-lifetime experience of standing with hundreds of thousands of people, I felt like we had uniquely contributed to this fear of hers in exposing her to the chants, the anger, and the real fear so many people shared of the current administration.
But soon, Ravi helped us lead our group in songs. “If I Had A Hammer,” “This Little Light of Mine,” and “This Land is Your Land” accompanied us as we walked with Ravi, smiling now, leading our group. “Small girl—big feminist” read Ravi’s sign. Hearing her shout “my body, my choice” reminded me why we showed up in the first place, even if she doesn’t fully understand why she’s there.
I can’t quell Ravi’s fears and I can’t change the president’s mind. But I can mobilize my own community, stand up for causes that feel just, and teach my children the value of doing so.
So when she saw her father rush out after havdalah on a Saturday night to protest the president’s ban on Muslims from seven countries, she knows I’ll bring my tallis, my prayer shawl, because that’s what her tati does.
And when her mother explains to her that she’ll be taking the kids to a rally for refugee’s rights at the State of Liberty this Sunday, Ravi is learning to engage intellectually.
Protests and vigils shake us out of our routine and have the potential to serve as memory markers for kids. At the very, very least, we know for ourselves that we’ll be able to answer our daughter and son one day when they ask us, “Where were you when the president tried to keep out an entire religion from the United States?”
We’ll be able to answer, “We were protesting, Ravi, with you.”