Farrah Alexander Featured in Oprah Magazine and Swaay

Farrah Alexander, author of Raising the Resistance, has written an article for Oprah Magazine on talking to your children about voting and has also written an article for Swaay on moms and the resistance, read both articles here!

Teaching Your Children About Voting Might Just Help Save Our Democracy

Civic engagement begins in the home.

Candidates running for political office tend to focus on blocs of eligible voters—Democrats, Republicans, women, Evangelicals, and Latinos to name a few—by tailoring campaign ads and messaging to reach them. But there’s one bloc that even the most experienced candidates can’t seem to reach, and it stands nearly 100 million strong. This group of eligible voters massively outnumbers those who voted for Trump, Clinton, or a third party in 2016. The group with the most potential to influence our elections are the ones who don’t vote at all.

One solid strategy for promoting civic engagement in the next generation of voters? Start at home by engaging your kids in the democratic process. While this unprecedented time can rarely be considered perfect, it is perfect for teaching your kids about voting—especially as we’re spending more time at home with them than ever before.

Voting is the most accessible and fundamental method of activism we can engage in, and the most effective way to bring political or societal change. Simply encouraging our children to vote, and giving them the basic tools to do so—like showing them how to register—increases their likelihood of growing up to be dependable voters. The more children who eventually engage in our democracy, the more reflective our politicians will finally be of the people they represent.

As an author of a book about motherhood and political activism, it’s been impossible for me not to incorporate political engagement with my parenting. To introduce my kids, ages seven and five, to the basics of voting, I simply try to lead by example. Come November, we’ll repeat a tried-and-true election routine, one that’s changed as they’ve grown.

Back when they were younger, I’d pull them away from their hundredth episode of Blue’s Clues to explain that it was election day and I would be taking some time to exercise my right to vote. Now that they’ve aged out of the stroller stage, I can broach the significance of casting a ballot. This is more than an errand—but the product of fights furiously fought by previous generations. They may have been more excited about the cute “I voted!’ stickers than the history lesson, but I’ll take the small victories.

“Teaching our children about civic duty can make them active participants in our democracy.”

What we do with our children has the potential to affect democracy in the year 2032—or whenever your kiddo is eligible to vote. Studies indicate that what our children learn before reaching voting age has an impact on lifelong voting habits. Data from Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement of Tufts University shows that one in four young people who weren’t taught about voting before they reached the age of 18 choose not to vote because they don’t feel knowledgeable enough about the process.

Conversely, young people who were taught the basics of voting and encouraged to vote were much more likely to talk to their friends about political issues, volunteer on campaigns, register others to vote, and advocate for policy change. They were also more likely to serve in leadership roles at community organizations and help others in need. Teaching our children about civic duty can make them active participants in our democracy.

But how to broachthe conversation about the fundamentals of civic engagement, without encountering eye rolls? Based on my experience, kids tend to understand as long as you keep it a little less Ken Burns, and a little more Schoolhouse Rock.

In her new illustrated children’s book Everyone Gets a Say, bestselling author and late night comedy writer Jill Twiss introducing the concept of voting to children—using a saga of woodland creatures. The forest-dwellers can’t agree on whether to choose the fastest or the fluffiest leader, and so turn to voting.

“There’s a lot kids don’t need to know about politics right now, but one thing they do need to know is that their voice matters,” said Twiss. “I wrote Everyone Gets a Say to help kids learn what I think is most important for them to know about voting: That it’s a system where the quietest voice matters just as much as the loudest voice. Voting is the one time in our lives where the most powerful among us get exactly the same say as the least powerful, and that’s what makes it so special. We’ll…um…get to the electoral college when they’re older.”

You don’t have to dive deep into the nuances of our electoral system. Explain elections in a way that makes sense in your child’s world. When I ran for a local political office, I explained to my kids how I want to, among other things, make some improvements to the local parks. With that, they understood that behind problems they see in their community, such as the playground’s broken swings, are elected officials with the potential to resolve them. Citizens can use their voices to advocate for the issue they care about by casting a ballot.

They may not understand the Affordable Care Act and tax breaks, but they understand that that playground needs work. Meet them where they are.

They may not understand the Affordable Care Act and tax breaks, but they understand the playground needs work. Meet them where they are.

To demonstrate how voting works beyond election day, I introduce a little dinner table democracy. What movie are we going to watch tonight? What restaurant are we getting takeout from tonight? Are we going to the zoo or the park today? Let’s take it to a vote. Even if one kid is disappointed their preferred choice wasn’t chosen, they understand that it was a fair system. Hopefully, this prepares them for future electoral losses.

As we’ll see this November, and as we’ve seen before, elections have consequences. Voter suppression and foreign interference notwithstanding, every single one of us has a voice and the duty to make our voices heard on Election Day. Let’s invest in our future by striving to raise future voters empowering our children to make their voices heard.

We Need Moms in the Resistance

After I exchanged enough information with the Uber driver to confirm that neither one of us was likely a serial killer, the spotless sedan was quickly filled with enough small talk to occupy the brief ride.

“What do you do?”

“I’m a writer.”

“Ah, what do you write?”

At the time, I was deep in writing my debut non-fiction book, Raising the Resistance: A Mother’s Guide to Practical Activism, and had been busy typing away about feminism, reproductive justice, antiracism, and other topics that don’t normally come up during a short Uber ride with a stranger but had consumed my work and much of my life.

“I’m writing a book,” I responded.

“Oh! About what?”

“Motherhood and political activism.”

In response to this revelation, he promptly drove us into oncoming traffic. No, not really. He just wrinkled his nose and said, “Well, that’s an odd combination.”

This wasn’t a completely isolated incident. Many people express a bit of surprise about the intersection. As I explored other books in the parenting genre, I saw many titles about the stages of parenthood—pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, sleep training, etc. There were lots of books about a mom’s journey to postpartum weight loss, but none about a mom’s journey finding her role in a political uprising.

If we want the future to be kinder and more just, the next generation must also be kinder and promote justice.

I understood it might seem strange, because our culture puts impossible pressure on mothers and it’s rare to empower them. Being apolitical is presented as the safest, most neutral option for women to take because it doesn’t anger anyone or make things awkward. But choosing not to engage in politics is in itself a political stance. There is no true neutral option. Just like Desmond Tutu famously said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Of course, I wouldn’t assume oppression is the goal of any mom who just wants to avoid Facebook arguments and keep the peace at PTA meetings. But as we face injustice, we cannot avoid neutrality.

It doesn’t help women to embrace apolitical stances either. Maybe one mother doesn’t like to get involved in politics, but everyone around her does. The bank managing her mortgage does. Her boss paying her less than her male colleagues does. The insurance company determining her healthcare options does. Decisions affecting our lives are being made all the time. Women are already severely underrepresented in elected offices. We cannot simply sit back and trust our self-interest will be represented when we don’t have a seat at the table. That hasn’t worked out for us so far.

I was inspired by so many other women who realized they needed to be the ones to step up against bigotry and injustice. As a young mother of a toddler and an infant after the election of 2016, I also noticed that those leading the newly minted resistance were also mothers. I rode a crowded bus to Washington, D.C. from Louisville, KY to attend the inaugural Women’s March which became the biggest single-day protest in the history of the United States. And who did that? Mothers. Founder Bob Bland gave birth to her second daughter shortly after the 2016 election and joined fellow moms and co-chairs Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour on stage with her baby in tow.

Maybe one mother doesn’t like to get involved in politics, but everyone around her does.

Since then, I have continued to see women juggling their roles as mothers and political activists. In the ongoing uprising against racism and police brutality, my city—Louisville, KY—has become an epicenter of protest in the wake of Breonna Taylor’s killing. Many of the Black leaders who have been fighting racial injustice locally for years are also mothers. I watched them braid their daughters’ hair while they discuss the need for an end to structural racism in our community on Zoom calls. Many of the protestors who have been filling the streets for over three months and facing rubber bullets, tear gas, and arrests kiss their children good night first. When it’s time for protestors to be released on bond, you may even see a line of minivans outside the jail with moms volunteering as part of the community bail fund to help the released protestors get back home.

Even moms who lived previously apolitical lives and sought not to create waves have found their place in political activism as they feel morally compelled to take action. The resistance is filled with new activists who you can catch saying things like, “I never expected to be here.”

Of course, I wouldn’t assume oppression is the goal of any mom who just wants to avoid Facebook arguments and keep the peace at PTA meetings. But as we face injustice, we cannot avoid neutrality.

Motherhood and political activism should be viewed as a natural pairing.

So much of our lives are not only determined by political decisions, but we have the enormous responsibility of shaping the future. If we want the future to be kinder and more just, the next generation must also be kinder and promote justice.

Moms fix their kids’ skinned knees, hurt feelings, and broken hearts. Our country is looking largely hurt and broken right now and we, as mothers, need to rise up and help fix it by the way we raise the future.

Raising the Resistance

A Mother’s Guide to Practical Activism

On the intersection of feminism and motherhood. Mothers are a force to be reckoned with. And after the Women’s March and midterm elections, moms have surely secured their spot in today’s feminist movement. But for those who aren’t ready to make a bid for the presidency, the way forward can seem daunting and unclear. Whether it’s correcting a misinformed family member about gender equality or running for political office, this bold and accessible primer presents active parents with different types of activism they can incorporate into their parenting, no matter how big or small.

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