Mama Madison: School's out...for civics

On-the-spot lessons in democracy

Up until this week, "fighting for something you believe in" has been little more than a sanitized history lesson for my children -- an after-school special on the suffrage movement, a "Time for Kids" article on Egypt. Yes, they know the stories of Rosa Parks and Nelson Mandela. I think they may even know in whose memory Gompers elementary is named.

But if you'd asked me this time last week if I'd be actively encouraging my 8th grader to attend the Capitol protests each day, to document this epic moment on the Flip video cam he got for his birthday last year, I'd probably have said no. I thought I'd be telling him to do his homework (a point that is moot as we are entering day three of MMSD school closure).

I thought I'd be telling him to clean his room (which I did, and he surprised me by doing bright and early each day to race down to the rallies). I thought I'd be telling him to feed the cats--who have no food anyway because I can't pull myself away from coverage of the protests long enough to get to the store. But mostly, I thought I'd be telling him no because I'd be worried that it might be scary or dangerous or somehow inappropriate for him to take part.

Man was I wrong. This has been the civics lesson of a lifetime. He and his buddies have spent the last three days witnessing and recording and chanting. They've spoken to TAs, state Capitol custodians, DNR wardens and, get this, even snagged a private interview with State Senator Lena Taylor in her office less than 24 hours before she and her fellow Dems hit the road to Rockford. You can't learn this in a book, or watching a History Channel documentary. Experiencing these peaceful protests has been like a middle school internship in political activism.

Yes, I hope that my kids get back to school soon; work is mounting on my desk and my sanity is being put to the test by my third and fifth grader. They've been down to the protests too, and are getting schooled in graphic design (sign making) and 20th century folk music. We are all partial to Woody Guthrie's Union Maid -"my 11 year old can't stop humming "I'm sticking with the Union." But if I'm being honest, the highlight this week for my 8-year-old may have been the hamburger she had at The Great Dane Wednesday evening or the cookie she snagged in a legislator's office.

This week though, my oldest, thirteen and old enough to grasp many of the larger issues at stake, is being taught, first-hand, what fighting for our rights really looks like. And for that I am praising others"all the educators, police, firefighters, nurses, etc."who are teaching him a most valuable lesson in democracy.

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