The Lady Doth Protest Too Much: should you take children to protest rallies?

We’re five minutes into Mary Poppins and I’m crying already. Katie Nanna’s storming out the door. Ellen and Cook are catching ornaments. Mrs Banks is marching round the hallway singing ‘Sister Suffragette’ and the Banks children are looking bemused (as are mine at the unexpected waterworks). What, I hear you say, is there even to cry about?

I'm a weeper. The minute anyone stands up for a cause my tear ducts open. I’ve been known to single-handedly reverse hosepipe bans while watching animated ants stand up to grasshoppers and Mrs Banks' noble face always has me snooking back snot. 

It was always going to be this way: although the street where I grew up  is a universe away from the affluent Cherry Tree Lane where Poppins finds employment, the children’s campaigning parent strikes a chord. Protest concerts, demonstrations, marches and the Bobs (Dylan and Marley) were the lifeblood of my childhood. There was even a poster of Che Guevara on the back of the toilet door in case I decided to undertake a little capitalist dreaming whilst having a pee in the months leading up to my birthday.

Before I hit nine, I’d Banned the Bomb, Saved the Whales, Rocked against Racism, Greenpeaced and told Margaret to stand down more times than I remember. I knew catwalk models wore coats made from baby seals, what a UB40 was, and that the government had a bunker they could run to in the event of nuclear attack.

I was unhappy for the whales and the sad-eyed seal pups, but it was the bunker that really got my eight year old goat. Why should the ones that caused the trouble get the safe place to hide? I trailed behind my mother through crowds of shouting protestors scared to death about the end of the world.

Today, as I prepare for the People's Climate March on Sunday with my own children, I reflect on how they feel. Saffy is excited - she wants to paint her face yellow and dye her hair blue like the poster. And Talitha wants to dress up as a Save The Arctic polar bear. They're not frightened about the end of the world; they believe they can stand up for their future. They see opportunity and hope. They believe people, countries, the world can change. They've made changes at home (eating less meat, using the car less, turning down the heating in winter) and they believe governments can. They're post Suffragette children, post Apartheid, post Berlin Wall, post CFC's in everything. They know we can change.

It’s easy (and comfortable perhaps) to look at current protest movements and reject them as misguided or extreme, to focus on fringe violence or controversial actions, but hindsight has a way of revealing the truth.

I cry at Mary Poppins because I know the end of the bigger story. I know women will suffer. I know women will die. I know women will be spat on, imprisoned, abused. And I know I have a voice because of them. And so do my girls. 

The People's Climate March is billed to be a historic event, a turning point in the history of the planet. I'll be there (with my children). Weeping probably. How about you?

Emma is a columnist and feature writer for Liberti Magazine.

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