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MICHAELS: Do children belong in protests?

November 19, 2019 - 7:30 PM

 


OPINION


During much of the RibFest protest in Kelowna on Monday, I couldn’t help but look at a little boy holding up a ghastly picture of a pig that was awaiting slaughter.

He was solemn — the boy, not the pig — and refused to answer questions from reporters. He continually sought eye contact and silent reassurance from the adult who accompanied him to the protest. It was an interesting sight, even more compelling than the women who had chained themselves to the door of the downtown credit union to protest its support of the fundraising barbecue.

As an obsessively-questioning-my-judgment breeder, watching others’ parenting choices has become a bit of a torturous/joyful pastime. At the lighter moments, like when I was shopping a week earlier, I get to ponder lesser questions like “is that woman’s decision to let her child have a mullet constitute child abuse?”

Or worse, “are mullets coming back? Am I going to have to pay for one and then pretend to like it?”

At other times, as was the case at the protest, the questions have to do with what it means to be both a responsible citizen and a parent and wondering where the two should best intersect.

So, I wondered, as I froze and took photos, should children be involved in protests of this kind, particularly when you know the law is being broken?

Does my child care about anything this passionately? If he doesn’t before sprouting some currently-coveted-by-him armpit hair, is that my failure or my success? Should he carry the weight of poor choices by generations past before he’s been given the luxury to make any of his own?

Greta Thunberg, who seems to inspire and infuriate in equal measures, is an obvious example of how passionately and successfully young people can advocate for change or challenge inertia.

When she looks back on 2019 from the perspective of middle age, I sometimes imagine her wearily telling the tales of today in a fashion similar to the story every child has about realizing something is amiss in the adult realm and then sparking change.

In this imagining, young people all around her will roll their eyes, as they are wont to do, because the planet has averted an environmental crisis. She’s simply reminding others of why we must always be vigilant, be open to challenging our own beliefs and comforts and resolute in speaking for those who can’t.

It will sound a little like the story I have about the time I soaked my dad’s cigarettes and shoved them in the freezer to save him from himself. He stopped smoking … a decade later, but still. Not all of us are a wunderkind.

Back to the kid with the sign, though. Whether or not he will be a Thunberg in the waiting remains to be seen, but I appreciated that this small human was willing to speak his truth to power, respectfully, when he asked the RCMP on site why they arrested the women for doing something that was aimed at helping animals.

The response offered something else to appreciate.

Sgt. Greg Woodcox reminded me of that old Hillary-ism from long before I became a breeder — it takes a village.

While Woodcox was the reluctant villain in this story, he took on that role as a modern-day Maleficent. (In case you haven’t taken in a lot of children’s shows in the last four decades, that means a villain from one perspective being a hero from another. From Sleeping Beauty’s nemesis to the hero to nature she currently is.)

He wasn’t arresting these women because he wanted to see more animals condemned to an unpleasant future. He explained that he was doing it because his job was to enforce the rules and the women broke the rules when they barred entrance to a business. He added without even a hint of condescension, that that doesn’t mean the rules around slaughterhouses can’t change.

There’s no reason why the kid couldn’t take his concerns to the political sphere, Woodcox said, and effect change there. It’s unclear whether the youngster was picking up what was being put down, but the exchange was informative and respectful.

In fact, it was pretty heartening and probably better than anything this fellow would have learned in a classroom. He learned about how government works and the role of police. He learned that conflict can be peaceful, if not overly productive. He also learned that you can have a difference of opinion without having a major meltdown and that standing up for what you believe in, as was the case with the protesters, sometimes has consequences and you have to go into those situations with your eyes open.

And I learned again that we're lucky to be in a place where all of this can play out peacefully, even if sporting a mullet is part of it.


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