“You’re not going to bring the kids to homeless shelters are you?” asked my husband, several years before we had kids. “Probably. We need to teach them how to help people.” He most likely rolled his eyes. But now after being married to me for a decade and living in the Age of Trump, he understands. Which is why all four of us were out in the sweaty heat this past Saturday walking in the Washington D.C. People’s Climate March.
This was the first time either of the kids had been to a march. While Little Bird is way too young to understand, I talked to Sprout about it ahead of time. “We’re going to be telling the people who make the rules for the country that we want the Earth to be healthy so all of the people on it can be healthy. That we want clean air and clean water for everyone,” I said to Sprout. He nodded and said, “Yeah.” For a kid who asks “Why?” about everything, he seemed to accept the fairness of that statement on face value. I also played up the fun aspect of it, mentioning that there would lots of people, including marching bands.
Even though I meant to do it the day before, we ended up making our signs that morning. I always forget to bring a sign, but I really wanted to express our own messages this time around. After the Women’s March, I showed Sprout the photo of the kid holding a “I Love Trains” sign, so he wanted one like that. I wrote the words while he colored a Thomas the Train coloring page for decoration. For my sign, I emphasized the idea that we need climate action for everyone, right now. For me, it’s not about the polar bears. It’s about people who are already vulnerable being hit the worst by climate change’s effects.
Thankfully, the organizers of the Climate March agreed with me. Unlike the Women’s March or March for Science, they purposely worked with a huge variety of groups from the beginning. Indigenous people and those most affected in environmental justice communities led the march, both in planning and the physical set-up. They also had a section just for kids, families and youth activists.
As we got on the Metro, we saw a hint of that diversity. Sitting ahead of us was a Middle Eastern woman with an American flag head covering that framed her cheeks decorated with stars and stripes. She held a sign painted with a variation on the scene from The Lorax, with the White House spewing out smoke. We chatted for a few minutes, talking about how Trump has mobilized people. Like my mother-in-law, she voted for Bush and now is marching against so much of what the Republican party supports.
Exiting the Metro, we saw lots of other families. There were kids walking with parents, in strollers, in carriers, in wraps, and up on their parents’ shoulders. An older man asked us if it was our kids’ first march. When I said yes, he nodded in approval. It made me feel better about bringing them. Even though my mom offered to take Little Bird, I just felt like they needed to be there. Needed to be part of this bigger movement that will so deeply affect their futures. I suspect I’m not the only parent who felt that way.
At the Capital, the crowd filled the street and spilled out onto the sidewalk. Protestors carried signs of all messages and types, from the simple and angry (I saw “F*** Trump” a couple times) to the creative. There was a whole Lorax contingent, holding cardboard cut-outs of truffla trees. A number of people had spinning windmills. A giant paper-mache version of EPA Administrator and climate denier Scott Pruitt waved its arms. Later on, we saw a giant barrel of “oil” roll by, labeled “Oil Trojan Drum – Climate Activists Inside.”
I took as many photos as I could, but didn’t have the luxury to just look after myself like at the Women’s March. This time, I had two small people to take care of, one on his own two feet.
Thankfully, Sprout and Little Bird were fantastic activists. The sheer number of people seemed to instill real admiration in him. I expected him to ask “What’s that say?” or “What’s that mean?” about every sign. But he spent much of the time watching and listening. He even carried his sign a surprising amount, considering it was almost as big as him. He was proud of it! It helped that several people complemented it.
Besides the few signs with questionable language or topics, the march was incredibly family-friendly. I expected it to be angrier than the March for Science, but the mood was rather upbeat. The one moment of real sheer anger was the cries of “Shame!” as we passed the Trump International Hotel, but that was a given.
The heat was the only real problem. Between my monitoring of the weather and my mom’s text messages, I was well-aware we were going to have a high of 91 degrees. But even though we slathered on sunscreen and brought plenty of water, it was still damn hot for two little kids.
It didn’t help that Little Bird refused to keep his hat on. He’d snatch it off as fast as we’d put it on. Several times, people ran after us to return it after he dropped it off the side of the backpack. One well-meaning but nosy lady said she was worried about him getting burned. In response, we sighed and pointed out that we couldn’t force him to keep it on. Even marching, you can’t avoid parenting advice from strangers.
Considering our lack of control over Little Bird’s hat aversion, we changed our behavior instead. We maximized the shade by walking on the sidewalk instead of the road, even though we had to dodge tourists. After a while, we started stopping for water and snack breaks. We even poured a bit over their heads. As the walk continued, I hoisted Sprout up onto my shoulders.
Finally, everyone was so worn that we realized finishing the march wasn’t going to be on our agenda for the day. About a block before the turn to the White House, we ditched. As we stood on the sidewalk, Sprout’s drum-sense must have tingled. Next to us stood a young man with a standing hand drum. He saw the look in Sprout’s eyes and offered, “Would you like to play it?” Sprout hardly waited for him to finish before banging away. All of his tiredness seemed to lift.
Nonetheless, it was still time to leave. On the way back to the Metro, we stopped at a restaurant for some well-deserved milkshakes. Other families who had attended the march were there too, with their kids running around. Even in the sandwich shop, there was something deeply communal going on.
After we were home, I asked Sprout, “What was your favorite part of the march?” He took a second and then responded, ”The cheesy bunnies were good.” Not exactly what I was looking for.
Despite his lack of appreciation for the bigger picture, I think the march had an impact on him. As a parent, one of the hardest and most important things you can do is act in a way that is true to your values. Kids see through hypocrisy in a heartbeat. Marching and bringing my kids was one way for me not only tell my kids what I believe in, but show it as well.