Does our vision for how we get to justice include more violence?
After the DC #ClimateStrike yesterday I was in the grocery store and a man stopped me.
“I love your shirt,” he told me.
I had overlooked that I was still wearing a bright pink t shirt that read, “Belief, not enough for survivors, and not enough for climate change.”
We started to talk over produce about our relationships with our nieces, and how we are engaged with them. We discussed the influence our actions and modeling can have on their behaviors and attitudes.
I left the grocery store and went home, falling asleep before dinner.
When I woke up in the middle of the night, I thought about my experiences bringing my youngest niece to protests over the last two years, and specifically another conversation I’d begun yesterday.
In a grassy corner of the protest site in front of the Capital, a little less populated, my two year old niece walked back and forth between two babies brought there by their caregivers.
Tenderly she grazed their cheeks with a blade of grass to make them laugh as they shared food and absorbed the energy and the messages around them.
I thought to myself that it is a missed opportunity even in youth led spaces to fail to center simple language. How we still underestimate what children are capable of understanding, and consequently, how their understanding might impact us.
How does their presence and modeling influence our behavior in activism differently?
What attitudes do we need for them to keep challenging?
After my niece fell asleep on my shoulder, I put her in her stroller and sat down with two dear pastors.
One of them asked me how I felt about the amount of violent language in our activist rhetoric.
I paused, not because I haven’t thought about that question deeply and repetitively, but because I have compassion for many different answers within myself and others.
Is a bar of nonviolence too much to ask in the face of state violence?
Is a framework of consent beyond the timeline of beseeching crises?
Could both a rhetoric and behavior set of nonviolence make us more vulnerable to being ignored and overstepped?
Do we really want to be in relationship with those who ignore and diminish boundaries of all kinds?
I berate myself with questions like these and then I pause to remember my sleeping niece watching me.
I think about her consciousness of my trauma responses, and her own reciprocal responses to others.
I think about the inaccessibility of many protests to caregivers and young children.
I think about the lost opportunity and the lost represented challenges to attitudes and actions.
I think about toddlers demonstrating tenderness with those still younger than themselves.
I think even about two conversations I had with my niece leading up to the protest.
Before I pulled into a parking lot she pointed out the window at a mural of Dorothy Day and said, I need to go see her.
After I parked and we walked over to the mural she asked further, “what grade is Dorothy in?”
I explained that Dorothy Day had died, and she asked me if she was in heaven.
“I believe so,” I answered her. We walked over and she looked at Dorothy and said, “thank you”.
We walked inside and she spotted a second mural depicting a Black Jesus in multiple images. She pointed to one of them and asked me who that was and I told her. Our conversation continued and we talked about Jesus dying and she asked me, “How did he die?”
“He was killed,” I told her, “the government felt challenged by a lot of his ideas and actions”.
She asked me further, “Who killed him?”
As I was answering she noticed her Pastor calling to her, and she walked towards her.
This routine way of asking and answering describes an expectation she has formed.
She expects that events will be translated for her, and that information is worth questioning.
Later she came back to the mural and she touched a picture of Jesus and said, “we will keep you safe”.
She listened as I told her that he will keep us safe too, and she nodded, believing me.
In her two and a half years she has begun to internalize an ideology of mutuality and care. She brings that tenderness into her encounters with harm, her responses to harm doers, and her engagement with those most affected.
She saw an image of a Chevron CEO with horns drawn on and she walked over to it, asking me about it.
What are these for, she said, pointing towards the horns?
“A lot of people think he has been selfish, not caring towards the Earth.”
She didn’t say anything, she just collected that additional piece of information, before asking me to twirl her.
Play and curiosity go together for her, neither more important, and neither a solo activity.
Each encounter builds in how she questions and responds to it, and she compares these pieces of information to her core value of mutuality and caregiving.
I desire for that integrity to be one that I can reflect as well, which is why I am challenged by violence as a primary tactic in change work.
I am challenged by crisis as our only explored backdrop for motivation and mobilization.
I am challenged by a lack of simple language, and ongoing narration of events and attitudes.
A year earlier my niece and I came to protest Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, and my niece walked in circles trying to take in the posters she couldn’t yet read.
She walked away from me, and towards the signs, taking one handed to her and holding it up.
Her buy in came from her impression of the space.
Do I see myself reflected?
Do I feel safe here?
Do I feel affirmed here?
She could say yes to those questions because we had many conversations before that moment about consent and body autonomy.
She had been exposed to that conversation, and could recognize messages that were familiar.
That foundation of exposure prepared her to want to be included, and to seek for herself to explore in order to understand.
At one and a half, and at two and a half, she centered her autonomy of thought and right to question, and placed herself in a sphere of participation.
That unspoken foundation of consent applied to her experience of being introduced to public life, protests, and visible resistance to decisions made that affect more than ourselves.
Her experience is not the same as mine, but it is just as layered, and the debrief and preparation are essential to accessibility and consequent buy in.
Each of these steps are influential, and that influence is a reflection of both of our forming beliefs.
Do we lean into our beliefs and values when they are tested?
Does what we believe align with our behavior?
Does the way we engage consider the needs of others?
These are all questions she is determining answers to throughout these encounters.
She will have a starting point modeled for her that wonders about the relationship between consent and organizing and activism.
That isn’t something I can say is true from my childhood exposure, and I suspect that is similar for many of us.
And yet, her vision challenges and stretches mine, and asks me to align my decision making with what I tell her I value.
I never forget that, and I am accountable to that every time I participate in a way that prioritizes the influence and messages I am sending to children watching and learning with me.
What alternative tactics might an alternative vision include?
Sharing of snacks?
Attending to the visionaries who influence us, and expressing our gratitude?
Attending to those who died violently, and committing to their safety?
Acknowledging that you are not alone in this experience?
Asking your questions, and listening carefully to how you are answered.