12/29/2012 09:26 EST | Updated 02/28/2013 05:12 EST

We Should Be Proud of Pint-Sized Protestors


Do your kids march around the living room with picket signs when they want a later bed time or an increase in allowance? A colleague from Buenos Aires tells me that this is considered normal childhood behaviour in her community. While the children on the domestic picket lines may not always succeed in having their grievances addressed, they have clearly learned something by observing the effective strategies of the adults among them.

We, as the adult authorities, may not be delighted by having such tactics applied to us, particularly where we feel a possible loss of control. In fact, we might feel downright annoyed by the application of organized civil society's strategies to minor league grievances. Are the kids trivializing our serious complaints? Or are they practicing to exercise their rights in lawful and legitimate ways, as they grow and develop into the democratic citizens we hope they will become?

Argentina is not the repressive country it once was. Hearings by that country's National Commission into the Disappearance of Persons into the torture and disappearance of tens of thousands of people during its dark history have shown to the world that democracy can change things. Constant demands for accountability made during the courageous and persistent demonstrations by the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, among others, created a tradition that has gone on to inform protest and process around the world.

What are our children in Canada seeing in the streets of our cities and towns? Idle No More, Occupy, protests in Ontario and Quebec by teachers and students -- and remember the G-20 protests in Toronto in 2010? While some of us looked the other way, the children are still watching.

Recently, I heard a Grade 6 student explain to a radio interviewer that he and his friends had walked out of school to protest against a government measure that they believed had resulted in their teachers' rights being taken away. The students outside the elementary school said the teachers were not being treated fairly -- and they called the media themselves. The principal was not impressed.

I think we should be very impressed. We don't have to agree or disagree with the content or the objective of the students' protest to understand that these children have learned something about rights and their exercise. The kids have something to say and they feel they have the right to be heard.

When I see the very heated debate about gun control that followed this month's horrific school violence in Newtown, Connecticut, and hear young people's voices on many sides of the issue, I feel great relief. Young people are asking hard questions and they are doing it out loud and in public places. This is in the best tradition of democracy.

Not very long ago, and certainly not at all far away, children wished for gifts of toy weapons and war play was a part of normal childhood behaviour. But in some communities, picking up a picket sign, and chanting slogans while marching around the living room is perfectly normal.

So, as a holiday treat for the pint-sized protesters in our families, I offer a small gift. Here is a downloadable do-it-yourself "That's Not Fair!" sign suitable for living room protesters of every age and ability. Just add colours, glue, and a flat stick and join the movement for peaceful and lawful democratic engagement everywhere.

Idle No More: In Photos