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Raising democratic children

datePosted on 09:08, May 26th, 2009 by Anita

One of the right’s responses to the Hikoi yesterday has been to complain about the presence of children on the march which disingenuous comments like “Why are there school children there?”. One could criticise these comments for relying on barely hidden stereotypes about Māori, or for gross hypocrisy given the “family values” movements “family friendly” week day marches, but anyhow … what I actually want to talk about is why it is important that children are politically active.

As a child I attended many demonstrations, protests and marches: some at the suggestion of my parents, some off my own bat. I remember, as a 14 year old, asking my parents to write me a note for school so I could attend a rally at parliament in support of the Homosexual Law Reform Bill; I attended in school uniform with no school friends or family members. I also remember being in Parliament the night it was passed  and realising that we had done it – I was a very very small part of that “we”, but  I was a part of that “we”. I grew into a politically engaged young adult, and now adult. I know that one can make a difference, I know that my voice matters and that I can make it heard.

That is an amazing thing to know, and that is at the heart of democracy – knowing that our opinions are respected, and that raising our voices is worthwhile.

I hope that, when Key and Hide back down, every child on that march is told “you did that, together we made that difference”, I hope that when they get old enough to vote they will vote in the seats they created, I hope that when they see something wrong in the future they say “I know I can do something about that”.

Raising democratic children is about way more than school, it is about raising children who know they have power and know how to exercise it.

14 Responses to “Raising democratic children”

  1. r0b on May 26th, 2009 at 10:06

    Bravo Anita, what a thoughtful and positive post, and what a perfect response to this particular right wing spin.

  2. StephenR on May 26th, 2009 at 10:19

    You’d give the same support to children in the ‘Enough is Enough’ marches?

  3. Lew on May 26th, 2009 at 10:21

    Does the question as to whether children ought to be involved in protest rest on the fact of its role as part of the democratic process, or is there an embedded judgement based on the cause being protested?

    I’m thinking of the various section 59 protests where parents (in my view cynically) brought their children along to demonstrate in favour of their parents’ right to assault them. I think that’s perverse, but the parents (if they weren’t as cynical as I think they were) would argue that since discipline is good for a family, and their kids want their families to be good, it was quite reasonable. So while we might object to parents bringing their children along to those protests, aren’t they engaging with the wider democratic process, and isn’t that a good thing? I don’t think it necessarily is; I think there’s a political judgement involved.


    SR, snap :)

  4. StephenR on May 26th, 2009 at 10:25

    Shot Lew. I couldn’t be bothered with the rest, but on ya!

  5. Matt on May 26th, 2009 at 10:32

    I suppose the main argument against bringing the kids is that they’re too young to understand the issue, and therefore can’t make an informed decision. Yet we let talk-back callers vote, so why shouldn’t children have just as much right to express their beliefs as you or I? In the case of “enough is enough” kids, along with the feelings of “being part of a mob is exciting and scary at the same time” at least they’ll have been exposed to the fact that there are many people who disagree with their parents.

  6. Lew on May 26th, 2009 at 10:39


    I’m not sure whether it’s more insulting to compare talkback callers to children or the reverse, but the key difference is that the former can make an informed decision but don’t necessarily do so, whereas the latter can’t generally do so.


  7. Anita on May 26th, 2009 at 11:39

    Yes, I support children attending the anti-anti-smacking marches and even anti-abortion actions.

    I think the are two different issues here : children being engaged, by their parents, in democratic participation; and the use of children for propaganda purposes.

    While the propaganda aspect makes me really uncomfortable I think that parents who genuinely went to engage their children in their own attempts to change the world to promote this own beliefs are doing the right thing.

    While I may not agree with a parent’s beliefs I believe they make our society more democratic an inclusive when they teach their children that one can take action and make the world different.

  8. squirrel on May 26th, 2009 at 12:17

    Thanks for posting on this, like you I started attending protests off my own bat at the age of 14, I knew why I was there, had done research into the issues and enjoyed meeting people that shared a similar view point. I think that many of the young people on the Hikoi yesterday would have chosen to come along, most would have been given a choice of going to school or heading to the Hikoi with friends and family. As is clear to anyone a day in town at a political event is far more of an education than any school can provide.

    From the other side my parents took me as a child to some of the right wing christian marches in the 90s. Whilst now I would be on the other side I dont have any problem with them taking me. They took me because it was an issue they felt strongly about rather than any cynical plot to get better media. I think for most parents the rational would be the same.

    Ps my sister wanted to go on the Hikoi but chose to stay in school because she had an exam. I’m sure many teenagers made similar choices.

  9. Lew on May 26th, 2009 at 18:07


    I think the are two different issues here : children being engaged, by their parents, in democratic participation; and the use of children for propaganda purposes.

    I think it’s necessary to weigh the one up against the other, and that weighing is usually going to be a matter of evaluating the cause being protested and the means of protesting it – necessarily political judgements.

    While I may not agree with a parent’s beliefs I believe they make our society more democratic an inclusive when they teach their children that one can take action and make the world different.

    I agree entirely this this.


  10. SPC on May 26th, 2009 at 22:59

    Given the whole point of the hikoi was related to Maori in Auckland having a past, present and future there, it would have been quite odd if children of Maori were not engaged in the protest.

    The children of the Maori are no doubt being raised up to claim the right to be represented and to exercise that right when it is obtained.

  11. J on May 27th, 2009 at 20:00

    “I am now again involuntarily living under yet another authoritarian regime”

    Don’t worry Pablo, National is in the process of repealing/amending the Electoral Finance Act so will will soon be right.

  12. George D on May 28th, 2009 at 18:01

    My first political action I can remember was walking round Papatoetoe putting leaflets against the South Pacific nuclear-free zone in letterboxes. I would have been about 4 or so. This was only the first such engagement in political action, and like Anita said, these things empowered me to think that yes, I do have a right to participate and have my voice heard in substantive ways.

    I have no problem with parents involving their children in their political endeavours, with the substantial caveats that they have a choice in doing so (of a level appropriate to their age). Teaching children to think about politics, and how they can affect it, is incredibly powerful, and incredibly democratic.

  13. Pascal's bookie on May 28th, 2009 at 20:59

    Anita said:

    I think the are two different issues here : children being engaged, by their parents, in democratic participation; and the use of children for propaganda purposes.

    Lew said

    I think it’s necessary to weigh the one up against the other, and that weighing is usually going to be a matter of evaluating the cause being protested and the means of protesting it – necessarily political judgements.

    Thanks guys, I’ve often seen children at protests and wondered why sometimes I have opposite reactions, that don’t always align with my feelings about the issue of the protest.

    For me I think it’s mostly the categorical imperative coming in to play, and you’ve helped clarify that. I’m not much of a Kantian, but some things certainly resonate.

    Where the child is simply there, taking part but not as an object of propaganda, I get all misty eyed on it in good way. The child is there with the end to education and invovlement. Their person is being enhanced. Whether or not I agree with the protest.

    But when the child is present, at least as much, as an end toward propaganda, (paraded for the cameras, or having their childhood itself used as a symbolic prop) that’s when I get the angry/queazy reaction.

    The extent that the child’s ‘childness’ is being used as a prop beyond their mere participation is, I think, what clinches it.

    Sometimes the issue itself leads to this happening to a degree, and that’s where the political angle comes in for me, but as long as the propaganda effects of child participation are incidental rather than deliberately emphasised or exaggerated , I think it’s ok.


  14. Pascal's bookie on May 28th, 2009 at 21:47


    But when the child is present, at least as much, as a means toward propaganda, (paraded for the cameras, or having their childhood itself used as a symbolic prop) that’s when I get the angry/queazy reaction.


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