What Do We Tell The Kids?

On November 6 I was canvassing for Hillary. It was my second day (I wrote an article about it for LocoMag) and the weather was starting to turn chilly for good. I juggled a clipboard and notice stickies to place on people’s doors. It was a Sunday.

Sundays always feel ominous to me, like you’re on the precipice of something – Monday, usually, but in this case, something more chilling. Still, though, I chose to feel hopeful, wearing my Hillary sticker proudly on my jacket. I had a few nice conversations with people who planned to vote. I ran into some kids who said their parents liked Hillary; I thought that was nice, that their parents talked about politics around them.

It was a solidly middle class neighborhood in a county that normally votes Democratic. I was only knocking on the doors of registered Democrats who were “unreliable” – that is to say, they hadn’t voted in at least one out of the last few elections. It was the final push in what will always be known as a historical campaign.

Towards the beginning of my route, I climbed the steps to a front door and knocked. The girl listed on my sheet was 19 years old – a first-time voter, the only one in her house. This could mean one of two things: either her parents were reliable voters or they weren’t registered Democrats. There was only a screen separating me and the darkened living room, but I saw a toddler wander forward, look at me, and say, “Someone’s here.”

From further into the darkness of the room, I heard a woman say, “If they’re here for Hillary let’s set the dogs on them.”

I glanced back at where my aunt was filling out the voting address on one of the notices, halfway down the driveway. She couldn’t hear. I had to decide whether I should leave quickly before the older woman came to the door, or if I should stay and try to speak to the younger girl. I didn’t believe that they’d really set their dogs on me, but I did know that this woman would have a negative reaction to me when I told her that I was actually “here for Hillary.”

She didn’t open the door, just rudely said “Who are you?” Instead of telling her, I asked if the girl who was on my list was home. She ignored me and said “Who are you?”

So I told her, “I’m Helen and I’m out here knocking on doors for Hillary Clinton.”

She scoffed. “No. No.”

I thanked her and turned to leave. As I was walking down the stairs, I heard a man’s voice from inside the house yell, “We don’t vote for criminals!”

My heart was racing. I gripped my pen tighter. I thought of the boy inside the house and what he’d just heard his parents say. If anything, this strengthened my resolve; as someone had said during the training that morning, “I’m here because the alternative is unthinkable.”

Two days later, we were plunged into the unthinkable. And now here we are. Every day since the election has brought with it news of swastikas drawn on buildings, hate crimes, cabinet appointments that threaten the rights and lives of millions. I don’t need to list these things, I don’t need to say why they’re chilling.

But I will say this: we need to find a way to respond to people who threaten to attack someone with dogs. People who shout vague and uninformed insults at someone’s retreating back. People who do these things in front of their children.

Kids absorb what they see and the next four years will shape some of their views of this world forever. We don’t need to hide it from them, nor do we need to brainwash them with our own ideals. As Margaret Mead said, “Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.” Our country is divided; it always has been. I grew up knowing that we were at war throughout my childhood and adolescence. But Obama was elected the year I turned 13. Even though there was dissent, and loud voices on the other side made it known to many that they didn’t like him, I didn’t see it. That never came into my life. But this one is different in that it’s put on display the bipartisan tension between the two Americas. There is the America who believe that the way to Make America Great Again is to exclude people based on the color of their skin and their religion. Then there is the rest of America, who I believe make up the majority, who believe that everyone deserves equal rights and opportunities no matter what.

We need to make sure that kids know that good still conquers evil, that love does trump hate, no matter what the government does or what their parents say. No matter what they see drawn on the side of a building. No matter how many people they see die because of their skin color, religion, sexuality, gender, class.

It’s disturbing to think of kids who live in bubbles where they’re taught that African-Americans are dangerous, Muslims are terrorists, gay people are sinners, etc. We (being that second half of America which believes that everyone’s rights are equal and everyone should be protected by their government) need to find a way to teach these children, as well as our own children, that they can choose what to believe. And then we need to show them how good kindness feels and how rewarding it can be to be open-minded. We need to educate them (in a time when education will probably be under attack). We need to make sure the next generation is a group of smart, strong-willed free thinkers.

We have to find a way into those bubbles of kids who are taught how to hate when they’re taught how to talk. We have to give every child a glimpse of the good in the world and let them draw their own conclusions about it. We have to keep our own children, and our friends’ children, from becoming cynical.

I don’t know how to do that. But I do know that it’s our responsibility to try. Because the alternative is unthinkable.

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