Wednesday, November 16, 2016

How children can help after the election: 16 ideas for family-friendly activism

We've just finished a U.S. election. No matter how you lean politically, it is fact that the outcome has caused distress and grief to vulnerable populations who now fear losing their rights, their livelihoods, their family members, their legal protections, even their lives.

You and your kids don't have to just feel bad. Here are some practical ways to help fight the good fight.

1. Contact your government officials.

Here's a link for how to find contact info for all your representatives, from the president on down to city council members. This is a great idea for homeschool kids especially to practice reading, writing, telephone manners, and civics: Follow along with each new policy and appointment, and then call or write in to the appropriate officials to tell them what you think. This former staff member for two Republican representatives explains why it's better to call than write, if possible. Not all kids will be up for calling, but it's great real-life practice for adulting. Contact your representatives often. Encourage friends to do the same when it's something very important. Attend city council and neighborhood meetings, and rehearse beforehand with your kids so they can read prepared statements of their opinions. Let your voice be heard.

2. Protect human rights.

Join or form an Amnesty International student group to campaign for human rights. Amnesty's page "The America I Believe In" has a video featuring kids talking about their beliefs against torture — older and not-too-sensitive children could appreciate viewing it. On the same page is a sign you can download and print out to say what the America you believe in looks like. There's a toolkit below that with ideas for future steps to take to protect human rights and take a stand against anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant discrimination.

3. Be kind to the environment.

Double down on your family's commitment to sustainable living. Save water, turn down the thermostat, walk and ride bikes, and break out those reusable bags and containers. Start composting at your own house, and organize composting, rainwater collection, or other environmental initiatives at school or businesses where you spend a lot of time. Pick up garbage at the playground or out in nature. Volunteer as a family to become naturalist guides at a local beach, park, or wetlands — you'll learn more about nature and then get to help others do the same.

4. Stop bullying in its tracks.

The best way to stop a bully is for a bystander to say something. Teach your children what bullying is, how to treat others with respect, and how to respond when they see someone being picked on. A generally safe way to defuse a situation is to talk calmly to the person being picked on and ignore the attackers until they leave. If your kids don't feel safe speaking up in the moment, tell them they can and should find a trusted adult to intervene, even if it's after the fact. It can take so little for a kid to feel like an outcast — and then so little again to turn that around. Encourage your kids to seek out lonely children for playdates and lunch seats. A little kindness can affect someone positively for life, and your children can be a good memory that stays in that person's heart forever.

5. Encourage hope.

Teach your kids to take talk of suicide seriously and let a trusted adult know if a friend is in crisis. They can also post crisis contact information on social media along with a video offering love and a listening ear. Some national hotlines are 1-800-273-TALK for suicide prevention, 1-866-488-7386 for LGBTQ youth in crisis, and 1-877-565-8860 for transgender people in need. Teens can volunteer at some local teen-to-teen helplines; do an internet search for opportunities.

6. Welcome immigrants.

Check with your local organizations to see what opportunities there are for volunteering with recent immigrants. Some could use a conversation partner to practice English. Some might need more intensive work getting acclimated to a new country and culture, and your family could help be that bridge.

7. Consider the poor.

Organize food drives, coat drives, and sock drives. Hand out homeless grab-bags of needed supplies for those sleeping on the streets. Every time you shop, if you can afford it, grab a few extra canned goods to pop in the food pantry barrel. (Do stores near you have one of those? Ours do, anyhow!) Buy diapers and other baby supplies to donate to a local organization helping children and families in need. Participate in toy drives and giving trees over the holidays. Children love helping other children, and helping others to the extent your family can afford it will be a no-brainer to them.

8. Give power to women.

I can't tell you how disheartened I am that the U.S. has still not yet successfully elected a woman to the highest office. It sends a clear message to women and girls in this country that we're still not fully respected or taken seriously. Let's keep on keeping on, sister suffragettes. Elect qualified women to other offices. Listen to their voices, take what they say seriously, and shush people who want to shush them. For parents of girls, get them into a self-defense class that teaches them they have value and power and the right to scream "No!" at anyone who tries to take that away. Teach your kids, no matter their gender, to understand consent and stand up against rape culture and misogyny whenever and wherever they see it.

9. Run for office.

Kids in school can run for student government, where they can give a voice to the causes important to them. They might be able to spearhead safe spaces, an anti-bullying campaign, or an environmental initiative such as planting a school vegetable garden.

10. Tutor.

Schools and community centers often offer peer-to-peer tutoring on a volunteer basis. This is a great way to lend a hand to someone who needs help taking the next step in education.

11. Tell companies what you think.

Kids can and do see the biases when companies advertise and promote products and lifestyles. If they see something they don't like, encourage them to tell the company so. Help them write a letter or email, send a Tweet or Facebook message, or create a YouTube video expressing their concerns.

12. Volunteer as a family.

Be on the lookout for volunteer opportunities that are open to families with young children. You might all enjoy sending care packages to service people, adopting a "grandparent" at a local home for the elderly, walking dogs for a neighbor who needs a hand, sorting donations at a food bank, or loving on pets at the shelter.

13. Donate.

Kids can save up allowance and holiday money, run errands and do chores for neighbors and relatives, and collect donations to give to organizations that match their convictions. Here's a list of nonprofits currently seeking help, and here's another.

14. Understand what others are going through.

There are so many people feeling vulnerable right now. If you're not in one of these groups, seek to understand what they're saying (not just what you think they're saying based on vague Facebook posts by sources biased against them) and talk about what you've found out with your children. There are too many causes to list all of them, but here are some highlights and ways to connect:

15. Speak up for the groups who need it.

No matter what your background, you have a mix of privilege and not-privilege. You might be white, or you might be cisgendered, or you might be able-bodied, or you might be middle-class — there is always some way you have a power and responsibility to speak up and take action for those who lack that privilege and are hurt by the systems in place that work against them. It's not for disadvantaged groups alone to bear the burden of fighting the system. Those within the system must also work to tear it down. Share on social media, speak up when people you know spout false information and harmful stereotypes, support groups that support the people involved, and find ways to volunteer. Maybe you could run a 5K as a family or organize a donation drive. Consider whether it's safe and appropriate for your family to attend demonstrations together, and craft signs to bring with you. Something as simple as wearing a safety pin can signal you're a safe ally for anyone who needs help that day.

16. Make friends.

I've been thinking a lot about how fear of the unknown is what drives hate, and how knowing people makes us realize we're a lot more alike than different, and then that compassion and love for each other drives the fear away. That was a mix of philosophy from Yoda and the Bible, by the way. My point is that children don't learn to be tolerant by osmosis. Work at it. Talk with your kids about the issues going on in the world and your stance on them. Learn together about other cultures in respectful ways. As a family, read books and watch movies created by people who are in minority groups (not just about them, but by them). Seek out friends for you and your kids who are not like you, not in some weird pandering way but because it's always a good thing to broaden your friend base. Don't wait for other people to come to you — you all go where they are and meet them within the places that make them comfortable. Meet your neighbors. Talk respectfully with people who disagree with you (if you have the privilege to do so). Help your children be the type of citizen you want to see in this country.

Addition from Facebook:

From Rachel: "Teach your kids to be critical media consumers. Considering the role fake news and social media filter bubbles played in creating our current cultural predicament, it's important to help our little digital natives learn how to distinguish good information from bad and how to seek out diverse perspectives." Consider also supporting investigative journalism by using real munz to subscribe to a newspaper and read articles as a family.

Leave other ideas for action in the comments!


Shelbey said...

Oh man, I just linked back to your post about talking about race with kids (which is still excellent, I needed the refresher because my daughter is 3 now and I need to do better) and was reading the comments. It was like a punch in the gut to see at how giddy we all were that we had a black president and maybe race relations would get better...and now here we are with the president elect bring white supremacists into the white house. I can't even express the sorrow. Thanks for this comprehensive list; it does help to have something to do!

Lauren Wayne said...

@Shelbey Frias: I hear you. Sigh. Here's hoping we can make a difference!

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