What It’s Like To Be an Activist Parent, Post-Election

by Sharon H. Chang

ON ELECTION DAY I had every intention of getting my 7-year-old to bed on time. But we stayed up late glued to the TV. It felt critical. Eventually he passed out exhausted on the futon while my husband and I continued to stare horrified at the screen. After our worst fears were confirmed, my husband carried our boy downstairs and laid him in bed.

ON WEDNESDAY my son awoke and asked immediately, “Who won?” When he heard the result his face fell. “Did all the Muslims get kicked out of the country?” “No,” I assured him, “It’s okay for now.” He asked how long Trump would be President and I told him four years. “That means I’ll be eleven years old when Trump kills me.” I was shocked. “Whoa whoa whoa! Trump isn’t going to kill you. You’re going to be fine.” He looked back at me a little shamefaced, “But I feel like he’s going to kill me.”

ON THURSDAY I needed community. I was experiencing the worst insomnia of my adult life and knew my fears and anxieties were running deep. Got Green was holding a post-election conversation for mourning, healing, and to talk about impacts upon communities of color. Of course I was going. At the conversation I stayed upstairs with the grownups. My son went downstairs to childcare. I didn’t have time to feed him. He didn’t like the food at the event and ended up eating potato chips and chocolate for dinner.

ON FRIDAY I needed to get active. I helped organize a family/child-centered post-election dialogue in collaboration with Families of Color Seattle. We drew monsters to help children outlet their feelings and superheroes to tap into their power and strength. I sketched a flaming monster and myself sitting small and sad next to it. My son’s monster looked like a tiny blue octopus. “Look mom! I made a germ. And I’m going to draw myself big so I don’t have to look at it.”

 

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Our Drawing [Photo: Sharon Chang]

THAT NIGHT I was photographer for a Women and Trans People of Color Healing Cipher; part of a national #our100 movement to bring forward the voices of survivors of color in response to the gendered violence of Trump’s campaign. It was a small sacred space and I didn’t want my son interrupting while people were grieving together. So I sat him in a corner with the iPad and he played games by himself for hours.

ON SATURDAY at home there were no groceries, laundry wasn’t done, the house was filthier than it had been in months. I still wasn’t sleeping. I was ragged, on-edge, raw. I went to an equity training for work where (of course) we talked about the election. My son went to childcare. Again. When I picked him up he was so hungry he cried. I gave him a bagel and grapes I’d grabbed at the training.

ON MONDAY I got a press release that Seattle students were walking out in protest. Even though Monday is our family day, I had a gut feeling I needed to get out there too and photograph. My husband picked up our son at school while I was marching. When I was done the two of them came to get me. But I was tired and distracted. Later that evening my best friend, who is trans and part of our chosen family, was verbally assaulted by transphobic men. They cited Trump’s presidency as license for their violence.

ONE WEEK POST-ELECTION (the following Wednesday) we were driving home from school when my son solemnly said, “Mom, do you like me?” “What do you mean??,” I exclaimed. “I love you! Why do you ask me that?” “Because,” he answered frankly, “you never play with me.” He whimpered sleeping that night; had a nightmare about cavemen; woke at 2:30am; went back to sleep; had another nightmare about giants; woke again and couldn’t go back to sleep.

My heart fell a million miles and shattered into pieces on the ground.

TONIGHT we were supposed to go to the Youth Speaks Seattle Poetry Slam Series kickoff with my best friend. I couldn’t do it. Instead I texted my friend what had happened and that I felt like a shit-awful mother. They instantly wrote back, “You’re not a shit-awful mom! Shit is fucking complicated right now. We are all doing the best we can.”

For sure. These last weeks have been terrifying for so many of us in similar and different ways. The Southern Poverty Law Center has collected over 400 (now 700) reports of hateful intimidation and harassment since the election. The vast majority of these post-election hate incidents have been anti-immigrant and anti-Black and have occurred at K-12 schools and universities. That report alone would be enough to send any parent into a tailspin. And certainly the question “What do we tell our children?” has loomed incredibly large since fateful election night as epitomized beautifully by Van Jones’ impassioned CNN commentary. I have seen a maybe an unprecedented but telling increase to reach out to families with resources, support, space for how to deal with bigotry.

 

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Courtesy of Southern Poverty Law Center

As hate rises and the President-Elect continues to announce alarming appointment after appointment including climate change deniers, far-right figures and nationalists (earning wide praise from white supremacists and neo-Nazis) – it is absolutely right and important to feel worried, scared, scattered and energized to fight.

But as you can see the formula for family resistance is, well, complicated.

Certainly my son is frightened and wants equity as much as me. But I can skip meals if I need to get something done. As a growing young person, he can’t. I can have sleepless nights and say “oh it’s insomnia.” But he can’t. I need to talk, and talk, and talk about it some more. He can talk some but then needs to talk about other things like stories, jokes, Pokemon cards and Minecraft. I need to organize. He needs to play. With me. Simply put, he needs me to take care of him to be strong in his resistance.

It all begs super important questions about how we sustain being active and political when we are caregivers. Not only are there many forces encouraging depoliticization of families in this racist, sexist, classist, xeno-, islama-, trans-, and homophobic country, but that push to depoliticize is compounded enormously when there’s meals to be made, cleaning to do, errands to run and so much to lose if the caring of our loved ones falls to the wayside.

I am an author, scholar and activist. Understandably I kicked into hyper overdrive post-election as many activists have. It’s a lot. Still I’m proud of and honored to do the work I do. I feel an urgency to do it now of course more than ever and plan to propel forward. I’m also the mother of a young child and partner to a husband who works long self-employed hours. I keep moving by taking my son with me to a lot of things. I have always believed firmly that it was good for him. That remains true. We’ve had incredible conversations before, during and post-election.

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In the end it’s been my 7-year-od-son who has sage wisdom to give me [Photo: Sharon H. Chang]
Yet it can and does take a toll. While every working mother feels the heart-pull of work versus family, the context of my political efforts are very specific. Especially now. I still lie awake middle of the night and worriedly scroll my Facebook feed to see what new awful appointments have been made, what actions are being planned, how people are doing. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, fatigued, spread thin, short-tempered. At the same time there’s the conviction to keep going hard because the stakes are so high. So where is the solution to this seemingly impossible equation?

In the end it’s been my 7-year-old son who has had sage wisdom to give to me. Yes it’s crucial to get out there. However balance matters. Sometimes staying home and re-energizing is the revolution. It’s important to care but it’s important to care for ourselves too. That, I think, must be the key to plugging in and sustaining. Being a politicized family (whatever that family looks like) means we daily work to make change and – no matter what’s going on in the world – we simultaneously work to be together, break bread, and have fun whenever and wherever we can. With our love for each other nourished solid in place – I suspect we can never be broken. As my son said, “Get frustrated. But don’t get too frustrated.” And you know what? I believe we’re really going to need his advice to dodge hopelessness in the days ahead.

Thanks for keeping it real, son. Let’s have a playdate today.

2 thoughts on “What It’s Like To Be an Activist Parent, Post-Election”

  1. Thank you for sharing your story. You are doing a tremendous job with your activism and it is much appreciated. I understand your concerns as I have similar ones – regarding the current political/societal landscape as well as balancing family life. All you can do is the best you can and be proud to know you’re making a difference.

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