The kids were yelling into the microphone. Incoherently. The crowd of Occupiers grew restless and detached under the cloudless sky in downtown Denver.
“Mic check!” “Mic check!” “This is Aaron…” “He is two years old…”
And that’s where I checked out. Seriously, who the hell brings a two year old to a protest? They are far below the age of awareness, much less the age at which we begin to be able to make our own opinions about the world. Later on, a father let his (admittedly awesomely-dressed) baby crawl through the crowd in front of the Fed and caused a minor traffic jam of shoppers trying to sidestep him.
Frankly, it was offensive. Children are important to the future, of course. They are also easily influenced, and even more easily exploited. What I saw on Saturday was not exploitation on par with recruiting child soldiers, but it didn’t feel right.
I’m an English teacher, and I worked with children from ages 4-17 when I was teaching in a high-risk Chilean public school. I had over 200 students, and observed them through several large political and social upheavals in their country, including the ongoing education protests. When I went on strike with the other teachers in solidarity, I spent a long time trying to explain in child-friendly terms. They didn’t get it. They were just happy to be out of school.
I question the fairness of bringing children into ANY political or social cause. They’re too young to be able to make an informed decision about supporting or repudiating a cause (need more support for this idea? Check out the kids of the Westboro Baptist Church), and they can easily get too riled up. I saw that in the march on Saturday, in the distressed face of a nine year old who had to be pulled aside by his parents to calm down after a little too much time on the People’s Mic.
I know that children are able to have strong opinions, even political ones. It can be a part of their very nature. How do I know this?
Bam. I am four years old in this hippy-tastic picture. My true nature is that of an activist, hungering for justice. When I was a year older, I decided that I wanted to join Greenpeace instead of being a boring old mommy or fireman like all my classmates when we chose our future careers. While marching on Saturday, I realized that it was ten years ago that I began writing to Senators and pleading with them to stop the War on Terror from escalating. I predicted our current conundrums in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the rise of unaffiliated “lone-wolf” terrorism. I recall describing the invasion of Iraq as a hydra…cut one head off and three grown in its place. I know more than most that children can have opinions and that just because someone is young doesn’t make their voice inadequate.
I know that people wanted to include their children in the Occupy movement. I know that they just wanted to give them an outlet. I know that they just wanted to be original by having kids lead the march.
But it just didn’t work. It killed the energy of those assembled. It made the concerns voiced feel less legitimate. It made me uncomfortable that someone had told a seven year old that if she didn’t march, she might grow up to be a slave.
Occupy Denver, I love you. I just want you to be revolutionary. I want you to take action. I want you to vary your march route a little bit. I want you to change tactics. I want you to occupy the libraries, the colleges, the big box stores. The crumbling highways. The failing healthcare system. The culture of consumerism. The food industry. The big banks.
And yes. I want you to leave the kids and dogs out of it.
We need change now. We can’t wait ten or fifteen years for them to be the new lost generation. And we can’t legitimize our opinions by pushing them on children.