Having children at protests gives us hope. Hope that the next generation cares about animal rights too and will continue our fight for justice. It gives us extra drive to change things for the better together, and most importantly it gives children a voice.
The right protests and animal rights events can be really positive and empower children to show change is possible, and that they have a right to demand better, no matter how little they are.
As a mini vegan, it can be isolating at times in a meat-guzzling world, especially if their peers don’t understand their compassion towards animals, so to be surrounded by others who share your views is wonderful, shows your kid(s) that they are really part of something amazing and gives them a chance to meet like-minded children. Last year, when Ruby and I marched with the big animal rights march in London, we were two of almost three thousand vegans. The atmosphere was electric and unforgettable; at just five years old she was part of something truly great – she was so happy and energised by it and often talks of the day.
Many parents are unsure whether bringing kids to protests is the right thing to do – after all, they can be noisy, crowded and, at certain types of protests, clashes with counter-protesters and/or police can break out. Personally, I have a mental checklist (see below) which I run though to determine if a protest or event is suitable for my now six-year-old.
If there is something on and she wants to be a part of it, we will spend time together in the run-up talking about why the event is taking place and what we hope to achieve for the animals by attending. We will then make up a placard or mask as my daughter is very creative and it’s lovely to see her express her feelings about the subject through art.
Unless you are taking a baby or toddler, I feel that explaining the reason for the protests is key for kids to be able to understand and fully engage in the day. Fox hunting or the dairy industry are dark subjects, but explaining them in an age-appropriate way and then drawing the focus on us all coming together to campaign for change gives them the positivity of playing our part in changing attitudes, awareness and laws. It is reassuring to them as well that lots of other people care too. Children are so often muted and unheard – give them a chance to fight too!
As a parent, my primary concern is my child’s wellbeing, so not all events are suitable or safe for children to attend – it’s your call as their parent/carer to make that judgement. Each child is different emotionally and has their own level of maturity. However, sometimes they may think they are ready to see things but as their parents or carers we know that a few more years of maturing is needed. For example, I don’t feel that my daughter is ready to attend a Save Movement vigil – she desperately wants to come to Essex Pig Save but I am not sure if she can process seeing those poor pigs up close yet. Even though she understands what they are about and has seen some of the photos I’ve taken, being there in person is a different matter. Other kids come, deal with it very well and are great campaigners – but each child is individual, and only you know your child.
When I consider taking Ruby to a march, protest, event or animal rights gathering, my mental checklist includes the following:
- Who is organising the event: I only attend those organised by reputable organisations, or individuals I know have a solid reputation and promote peace and respect to all – human and non-human, and are inclusive of all.
- Distance to walk or time hanging around: my daughter is a good walker, but for really little ones either bring a carrier or pram as it’s not fun to try and balance carrying a tired, teary toddler and placard!
- What time does it start and finish: anything past bedtime is a no-no and it will usually be late for a reason. If something is going on all day we may just pop along for a few hours because organisers appreciate any support.
- Location: is there a safe space to walk or wait away from busy traffic?
- Number of protesters: I don’t like being stuck in massive crowds and neither does Ruby. If it’s a big event we just stay to the side so we can leave or take a break when we want.
- Threat of violence on either side: protests happen for a reason. People are passionate about change or deeply disagree with something, and this heightened emotion can lead to confrontation. Just be aware. For example, as much as I hate fascism I would never take Ruby to counter-protest the EDL. It’s simply not safe for her to be near such violent, hateful lunatics!
- If you are not sure if the event welcomes families or is appropriate, just ask the organisers and they can let you know what to expect.
Talk to your children and explain what they need to do if they get separated. Point out police officers or stewards – go up to an officer and talk to them with your child so they know not to be scared and how to approach them – it may seem simple to us, but for a child it could be scary so give them that guidance. Tell them they can go into a shop too and ask for help to find you. Explain what they need to say if they get lost.
I write my and her dad’s telephone number on her leg which she finds very amusing (and ticklish), but it means she can’t lose it. I put business cards in her backpack with our details on – that way if she does ever get lost we are easily contactable. You can get wrist bands personalised with your details on but I’m a pen and leg kinda mum!
I always give Ruby a little talk about some of the inappropriate behaviour and language we may hear and that it might not be very nice at the bigger events. Some vegans can be as rude and offensive to non-vegans as non-vegans are to us. They may use terminology we don’t agree with. She knows that just because we are all vegans it doesn’t mean we all feel and act the same with how we want to achieve animal rights. However, as with all large groups of people made up of many individual views, we don’t let the few we disagree with stop us from doing what we can to promote change and compassion to all. She knows we try our best to set the example we looked for when we first became vegan. If there is anything she hears and doesn’t understand or like, she knows she can talk to me about it and we can move away from those people. The same applies to the images of animal abuse used on placards she may see – I am aware they are upsetting but necessary to show what animals endure. I approach her with the view that no one likes to see these things, but by showing them it helps people learn they need to make better choices that don’t hurt animals. I remind her too how amazing it is that she can hold her head up high knowing her choices do not cause the harm shown, and by being here she is helping the animals in those photos. That is what we are trying to stop and why it is so important to speak up for them. Turning the negative in to a positive gives her better control to process things. Again, if something is really in your face just move away from it.
If there are speeches I ask her to respect the speakers and those who want to hear. We can always move further away if need be.
Things to bring
- Water: it’s thirsty work walking and chanting
- Lots of snacks that are easy to eat on the go and not messy to clean up
- Sensible footwear
- Suitable clothing: check the weather report
- Their placards
- Chalks (see below)
Make it fun
- Ruby loves to dress up as an animal, as do most kids. It’s a great opportunity to dress to impress
- Put on face paint: kids love a face paint so she asks for something related to the protest. Vegan-friendly face paints are available here
- Create artwork: keep it a sensible size for them to carry or for you to pop in your bag
- Bring a whistle or little drums if it’s appropriate: kids love noise!
- Practice some animal rights chanting: “There’s no excuse for animal abuse!” “What do we want – ANIMAL RIGHTS – when do we want it, NOW!”
- Arrange meet-ups with other vegan families and attend events together
- Bring some wash-away pavement chalks: children can write messages and draw animals at the start or end of the march
Most all of all, embrace the freedom we have to protest, to share our knowledge and plea for a kinder world towards all living beings and our Earth. There is nothing more inspiring and hopeful than seeing the younger generations caring and getting involved. Let the voice of the next generation be heard loud and clear!
This year’s Official Animal Rights March is child-friendly and will be held on 2 September in London – come and be part of another incredible march for peace, kindness and liberation of our animal friends – they need us more than ever! It is the perfect protest to bring your little vegans too on their first animal rights peaceful protest. For full details click here.
For other family-friendly activism ideas please click here