Parenting and Civil Disobedience


The alarm went off at 6:31 am (I like to think that extra minute of sleep makes a difference). It is Friday, October 2, 2009. It is time to get Charley up for school – she is five and started Kindergarten in late August. Amy will be getting up too to feed Lucy, she just turned two-months old and is already sleeping through the night (hells yeah!).
Since it is Friday and our week with her is over (she goes back to her mother until next Friday – per our custody agreement I get her every other week, pay no child support, rotate holidays and claiming her as a dependent, and pay half of her health insurance and medical expenses) we get donuts for breakfast.
We are driving past a convenient store on the way to the donut shop and Charley sees a sign advertising cigarettes.
She knows they are bad for our health and that tobacco kills lots of people. Since she can barely count to twenty – she has trouble remembering “sixteen” – she has no idea of the magnitude, but any amount is enough to warrant her disapproval.
“Daddy, I want to tear down that cigarette sign. Smoking is bad for you.”
A smile reaches across my face from ear to ear and I say, “Let’s do it, Charley. Who cares if we get arrested, right? It will be a nonviolent act of civil disobedience and it will be our symbol of protest.”
A look of horror washes over her face.
“Daddy, I don’t wanna get arrested. When you get arrested they make you sit still and they don’t let you play… And, Daddy… I love to play.”
She says this in complete honesty.
I tell her that getting arrested for doing good things – which does happen sometimes – does not make you bad. We briefly talk about how it is silly to get arrested for civil disobedience when the act is intended to not hurt anyone but to stop the hurting of others or to bring attention to it.
The conversation comes to an end just as it was getting good. I pull into the parking spot of the donut shop. I have a ham and cheese croissant and she has a cake donut with chocolate on top and six donut holes with white frosting and sprinkles. We also had orange juice and I bought one glazed donut for my wife – she would not be happy if I stopped to get donuts and didn’t get her anything.
But this got me thinking about the responsibilities of being a parent and civil disobedience. Now, I live paycheck to paycheck like most of us. I am not a trust fund baby, or in much of a financial position to get arrested. I am one disaster – be it medical expenses or a blown tire – away from ruin. On top of it, my wife and I got a newborn baby and infant daycare isn’t cheap.
If I did have the extra money I would gladly use it to bail myself out of jail. It would be my nonviolent revolutionary legal fund.
I would love to take my daughter with me and teach her the ropes. True, there is more to being a revolutionary then getting arrested. I know, but the point of this piece is that the louder and more disruptive we want to be against unjust systems the more likely doing so will be illegal.
Shit, some guy is facing jail time for using Twitter and his cell phone to assist protesters in Philly last month.
The sad truth is that laws are just as likely to be created and/or used to contain and control us in benefit of oppressors and unsavory institutions as they are to serve and protect us. Unless you were born yesterday you probably know that politics is the shadow cast by big business, that campaign funding and lobbying by moneyed interest has created an unelected dictatorship of money. We get this. If you want a law passed in Congress and signed into effect by the President then you best have lots of money to make it happen because we live in a deeply undemocratic democracy. It’s the Golden Rule: He who has the gold, makes the rules!
And if I took my daughter with me to participate in nonviolent acts of civil protest then not only would I find myself in a position of getting arrested but I might find my parental rights challenged by the state.
So those of us on the far left who are parents need to balance our priorities, but we also must find ways of including our children into our activities. From organized care to activities in direct action to “arts and crafts time” (someone’s got to make our propaganda).
It’s funny how children can really get you thinking about things.
After donuts we got back into the car and are headed towards her elementary school. We are almost there when the mouth of babe opens again, “Daddy, when something comes alive how does it know the rules of life?”
Not only is she a revolutionary, she’s a philosopher. She is also cute and will be an attractive young woman. My hands are full.

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