12 Ways You Can Be an Activist Mama
Recently, I was chatting with a friend who I consider an activist. She cares deeply about diversity and inclusion for all children. She speaks out about the importance of real food for kids. I’ve learned so much from her about how to teach kids about global cultures.
But then she told me, “I don’t consider myself an activist, but I aspire to be one.”
When I asked her why she said, “Activists are brave, and outspoken, and knowledgeable. They’re willing to be a leader.”
I think those are assumptions a lot of people make about activism. As someone who’s been an activist for almost twenty years, I say “Nope!”
There are so many ways to influence elected officials and corporations. Some of those ways involve protests and marches. Other ways do not.
Some people are very comfortable speaking to a large crowd or confronting an elected official. Other people work behind the scenes.
Are you a parent who believes in justice? I’m here to tell you that you can be an activist no matter your personality type or your experience. You don’t have to be an expert on the issue you’re passionate about. You just need enough knowledge to take the next step.
In this post, I’m sharing 12 ideas about how to be an activist mama (or daddy). Several of them are things that you can do with your children.
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How to Be An Activist Mama (Even if You’re an Introvert)
1. Talk to your kids about bias
As parents, one of the most significant ways we can change the world is by raising kids who are prepared to resist racism, sexism, xenophobia, transphobia, and other forms of oppression. I know that can sound like a pretty daunting task. You can start simply by pointing out bias and talking through it with your children.
If you’re watching a cartoon with your child and you notice that all the animal characters are male, say something. You might say “Hmm, all the animals on this show are boys. That’s weird because there are just as many girl animals as boys. I would like this show better if it had boys and girls, just like in real life.”
Talk to your child about a bias that you’ve held at some point in your life, and how you worked through it. If you need help on how to talk about issues of race, you’ll love one of the free resources I’ve got in my guide, Top 10 Free Resources for Activist Families.
2. Make diverse books and toys that defy stereotypes a priority in your home
Continuing on the theme of expanding your child’s worldview, take a look at your kid’s toys and books. Are they culturally diverse (a lot of them, not just a few here and there?) Do they defy stereotypes about what girls and boys do? Do you have any books about social justice heroes, or that show people working for change?
These posts can help you diversify your bookshelves:
3. Teach your kids about the difference between justice and charity
Typically, when schools and families teach kids about compassion, we focus on charitable or service activities. In many ways, it makes sense. These activities, like canned food drives, are tangible and easy for kids to participate in.
But if we only focus on charitable service, we’re (accidentally) doing something else. We’re shaping kids to ignore the root causes of issues like poverty or damage to the environment.
One way to start a conversation is through this “two feet of service” activity, which helps kids understand the role of justice and the role of charity in healing our world.
4. Volunteer behind the scenes at activist events
Have you ever thought about all the tasks that go into getting a large number of people to show up at a City Council meeting for an important vote? Contact community organizations in your area and ask if you can help with data entry, staffing a registration table, making reminder phone calls, creating signs, or doing publicity. Depending on their needs, you might find you can bring your children with you.
5. Be a warm body at meetings
When the organization I directed was fighting to get a living wage ordinance passed locally, I can’t tell you how many times I needed people to show up at hearings and City Council meetings. We always needed a few people to speak, but more than that we needed a large recognizable group of people who would wear tee-shirts or hold signs while those speakers gave their testimony. Stay at home parents, with their kids in tow (as well as retirees) were often part of that group, since many of the meetings happened during the day time.
If you’re not sure how your child will behave, find another friend to go with you. You can tag team going outside or into the hallway with the kids if you need to.
6. Raise questions in one on one conversations with people
I was raised in the South by two parents who do not enjoy confrontation. So believe me, I understand any hesitancy you might have about getting into a debate with someone. Or perhaps you’re uneasy about having these conversations because you fear you don’t know enough.
What I’ve found is that often, just raising a question with someone else can be enough make them re-consider their position. You might not realize it until weeks or months or even years later, but your questions can be powerful.
If you feel like you don’t know enough about the issue you’re most passionate about, google “myths about _____.” You can also look for stories of people who’ve been impacted by the issue in news articles or on advocacy groups websites. We usually remember stories long after we’ve forgotten the facts.
7. Be an activist within your child’s school
Have you noticed policies at your school that discriminate (subtly or overtly)? Does your child’s history textbook present events only from the perspective of people in power? Start a conversation with other parents, and then take it to the school. As the daughter of a teacher, I recommend that you start with the teacher first, so that she or he is not caught off guard. If that doesn’t resolve the issue, take it to the principal or the PTA.
Sometimes a more creative response may be appropriate. Mother Tremeka Greenhouse was alarmed when her daughter was asked to “dress like an Indian” for a school program. She considered her daughter skipping the assignment, but was afraid she would get in trouble. So she talked with 5 year old Nyemah, and they decided she would dress like a water protector taking part in the NODAPL protests at Standing Rock.
8. Tell your story to activist groups
Activist organizations need money and staff and people to take action. Do you know what else they desperately need? Stories from people who are directly affected by the issues they campaign about.
Your story about how Medicaid was the only way for you to have insurance while you were pregnant can help the fight against healthcare cuts. Your story of racial profiling could move a local campaign against police brutality forward.
Have a story to tell and not sure where to tell it? Share your story on the Facebook page of an organization campaigning on your issue. If you’d rather be anonymous, send it by email or private message and ask that only your first name be used.
9. Write a letter or make a phone call
With all of the frightening proposals and budget cuts floating around Washington right now, I’m focusing on the activities that have the most impact. I don’t tend to sign online petitions much, because it’s my understanding that Congress doesn’t pay a lot of attention to these.
I do sit down to write short, handwritten letters (sometimes with my 5 year old.) I also make phone calls when I get emails from activist groups telling me they’re needed.
If you have phone phobia, let me reassure you that the calls are very simple. A receptionist answers the phone, you give your name and state something simple like “I live in ____ and I urge Senator ____ to vote no on the Better Care Reconciliation Act.” The person on the other end of the phone is not going to ask you any questions or comment, other than perhaps to ask for your address.
If you want to try letter writing with your child, head to this post:
10. Make conscious choices about how you spend your money
I want to start off by saying this is about progress, not perfection. We all have different obstacles to overcome when it comes to spending our money with socially responsible companies. Your constraint may be a very tight budget. Mine is often convenience (needing something right now, or not wanting to make more than one stop to do my shopping.) That’s ok. Look at what you can do.
You could start by switching a couple of your staples, like coffee or tea, to a fair trade source. The next time your family is eating out, you could choose a Black owned restaurant. For more ideas, read this post:
11. Write a letter to the editor
If you’re more comfortable with a pen in your hand than a bullhorn, write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper about an urgent issue. Elected officials and corporations still pay a lot of attention to print media. Your letter doesn’t have to be lengthy or address every point to get published. In fact, if you’re brief you’re more likely to have your letter chosen for publication.
12. Join a local chapter of an activist organization
From the Women’s March to the ACLU to Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, more and more social change organizations are organizing local chapters. There are also plenty of groups that have long had local (and campus) chapters, such as the ACLU and Bread for the World.
Attending one of these meetings is a great way to find community, as well as sign up to do behind the scenes work (if that’s more of your thing.)
Do you consider yourself an activist? Tell us why (or why not) in the comments!