How do we teach our children about politics when it’s not safe for them to participate?

I’ve been following my Twitter stream this afternoon as more news comes in about the shooting of Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords and 17 others at Giffords’ first “Congress in Your Corner” event of her third term.

One of the 5 we know are dead is a 9-year-old child.

I know that some people will look at that, and will ask themselves, “Why would a parent bring a child to a political event in the first place?” Wouldn’t a better question be, “Why would someone think it was okay to bring a gun to a political event?”

I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to teach my children about the democratic process, about our right to speak out for what we believe, and about how to engage politically in order to make change. I don’t know if, a decade into this parenting schtick, that I’ve got any answers.

I take them with me to polling stations when I vote. I tell them who I vote for, and I tell them why I choose those people over others. Both have been to more Pride parades than I can count, though arguably those have become less political and more commercial over the years. The boy’s first Pride parade was when he was three weeks old. He also participated in a women’s march at 4 months.

Even though it’s so important to me to raise them as kids who have an understanding of how the world works, and want to expose them to the amazing collective power that can come out of rallies and protests, I know it’s not safe for them. I sent them out of Toronto during G20. The entire week, they were out of town with their father, because I had no idea how bad things might get. But I remembered Quebec City, and the stories a friend of mine with a toddler at the time told me about how even in the safe zone, they were gassed.

Today’s incident, though? I’d like to believe that attending a session where constituents get to meet their representative and have a dialogue would be an amazing learning opportunity for young people. To be able to see politics in action instead of just learning about it in a classroom makes it mean something.

We should not have to fear for the lives of our children when we try to teach them how to be better world citizens.

My heart goes out to the families of those who were murdered today, and I have great hope that Giffords and the others who were injured pull through.


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