When I was in high school I wore a pin on my winter coat that featured Audre Lorde’s quote, “Your silence will not protect you.” Yes, I was far more idealistic then and while I wouldn’t wear a button with a slogan on my coat these days, I find myself thinking of Elie Wiesel’s words almost every day of my adult life: “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
I am trying to raise children who know how to use their voices. I know someday I won’t agree with everything they say, but I will be happy to listen to their voices and thoughts so long as they are well-reasoned and rooted in fact and not only opinion. Going back to Wiesel, it’s the taking the side that matters instead of just being a bystander.
To that end when I was invited to a rally in support of reclaiming the Muslim narrative– and US political debate for that matter- from radicalism (organized by my neighbors) I thought this might be a good opportunity to expose my almost-four-year-old, Carston, to a rally. I liked that this event would be focusing more on the positive and less on “anti-” anything and I knew people we know would be there.
I invited some of his nursery classmates and when another mom expressed interest we made it into a fun morning (brunch out, rally, Starbucks treat). I thought hard about how to best prepare him for the event and in the end kept it simple. I said that this was a gathering of people who want to remind everyone that we are all the same on the inside. To which Carston replied, “Well, of course!”
When we arrived we saw materials to make posters. I wrote simply, “Tolerance,” while Carston got to work writing his name (which he can do well, just not always in the space allotted!). On his own he came up with his own slogan, which he attempted to write: “Be nice!”
Along with his friend, Tristan, the boys climbed up on the steps of the monument across from Providence City Hall and started chanting their words before the rally formally started. “Be nice, everyone! Be nice, everyone!”
I suppose little people with such a simple message were interesting, so they both chatted with a reporter from The Providence Journal. They were pretty sanguine about it all, simply not understanding what the big deal was.
We stayed through three speakers. I found it really interesting that when the onlookers cheered for a speaker Carston would respond, “You’re winning!,” which I can only imagine was because he participated in a Turkey Trot after Thanksgiving and so he associated large crowds and cheering with “winning” a race… [This may also be the result of having a parent who studies competition?!]
When the rabble rousers got fidgety we decided it would be a good time to leave– if you have a preschooler you understand the “leave on a high note and don’t wait for a meltdown” sentiment.
The next day it was exciting to see their simple message in digital and actual print:
This actually wasn’t Carston’s first time being around a diversity-related protest-related activity. Last month the two of us went to Michigan, where I grew up. If you regularly read my website or Facebook wall you know that last fall I was involved with a situation at my high school. A quick summary is that a science teacher (whom I not only never had, but whom I had never met) was fired after revealing to school administrators she was pregnant, and married to another woman. While all situations like this are complicated, I, like many other alumnae, was concerned about the message this sent to young people about acceptance, love, and diversity.
In the end over 81,000 people signed our petition that we stand with Barb Webb online, over 4000 joined our Facebook group, and we raised nearly $6000 to support students at Marian High school now. It was for the latter reason that Carston and I flew to Michigan where we both attended the mandatory professional development training for faculty and staff on Valuing Differences led by the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion and paid for with the funds raised through the Indiegogo campaign.
In any case, the day for the grown-ups was spent thinking about cultural awareness, the cycle of socialization, what an ally is, etc., topics we were told had not previously been discussed in a group setting. It appeared many people learned new facts about their individual colleagues, and their community (for instance, about changing demographics). Overall it was worthwhile, impactful, educational, and at times emotional.
Somewhat unbelievably right now the all-boys’ school next year (Brother Rice, where I took Latin for two years and whose students did plays with us Marian girls and took both AP Biology and AP European History with us) is making national news for an issue related to both of these situations. For the past several years the school has made space available for its Muslim students to pray during the day. Now some (Catholic) parents are contacting the media about this, very upset.
So long as everyone is following the school’s rules (attending school mass, but not taking communion, etc.) this type of diversity only adds to the overall school setting. In the 1990s I had many classmates who were not Catholic, and some who weren’t Christian. And, again, assuming people follow the rules, everyone’s tuition money looks the same… I love what the Brother Rice school president said, especially in response to a parent who called the prayer room “unconscionable:” “We are Catholic in the sense that we share the good news, we are not Catholic in the sense, ‘Hey if you’re not Catholic don’t bother coming here.'”
It is somewhat jarring for me when I compare situations like this to active fall protests on various college campuses with which I have been affiliated over the years. While all may nominally be about diversity, the ways in which that diversity are expressed, or the level at which they are expressed, are quite different. Even the language is quite different at times (a reminder that words like cisgender are far from mainstream). Part of this is generational, surely, but other factors are at play too.
In any event, it’s the taking a side that matters, standing up for those you know and love, along with the “being nice.” I hope this is a priority for everyone in the new year, regardless of age, religion, race, geography, etc.