It was one of those moments that I wish I’d captured on film. My 10-year-old son was sitting on the family room floor with huge eyes and a wide-open mouth, a look of astonishment spread across his face. It was priceless. He had just asked me a question–did I ever participate in a protest? The topic came up because he was telling me that in Sunday school that morning his class discussed social justice and his teacher shared that when she was younger she had participated in a sit-in.
Previously, she had mentioned that she spent a few years working in the Peace Corps. Her Peace Corps stint had apparently established her make-a-difference bona fides because my son was not surprised that she had engaged in social protest. But by the look on his face, he clearly did not expect his mother to say she had done the same.
“Yes,” I said. “During high school, I marched on Washington on behalf of Soviet Jews with other members of my temple youth group.”
As the image of me as someone who did more to affect change than vote on Election Day sunk in, he asked about Soviet Jews and why I would march on Washington D.C. in order to help them. I explained that the Soviet government made life extremely difficult for Russian Jews after World War II. It closed synagogues, published anti-Semitic material, imprisoned Jewish leaders, and wouldn’t approve emigration visas for thousands of Jews who wanted to leave. The reason for marching in Washington was to get the attention of the President and Congress and encourage them to pressure Russia to treat Jews better and allow emigration. It also helped to raise the issue in the press and with Russian officials at the Soviet embassy.
My son thought that was pretty cool, but what really interested him was what I said next: “I also lobbied in Washington.”
I explained that lobbying was what you did when you wanted to influence decisions made by government officials. I told him how, along with other members from my synagogue, I met with senators and representatives to discuss issues to try to get them to support certain pieces of legislation. As I spoke, I saw my son’s eyes sparkle with excitement.
“I want to do that,” he said.
I smiled and added, “While being your mom is the most important job I’ll ever have, I also did some important things before I became a parent.”
Our discussion about what happened at religious school turned out to be an opportunity for my son to get to know a different part of me. No longer was I just “Mom.” I was now a person who took to the streets carrying signs. A person who didn’t just talk about community responsibility and making the world a better place, but someone who raised her voice to do so.
These days my social activism takes the form of organizational volunteer and lay leader. But that doesn’t mean I won’t dust off my protest shoes if an opportunity for a cause I care about presents itself. I might even take my son with me.