Helping Activist Parents Protect their Children

Guest blog by Jenn Meeropol, RFC Associate Director

We often talk about the families who receive our grants as part of the “RFC community.” I was reminded of the strength of the connections and compassion within this community this week as I reached out to several of our current families for help responding to a request for assistance from a new set of parents under attack.

These activists have been involved in peace and Occupy efforts and are experiencing increased targeting and harassment. Several of them are parents of young children and they’ve been struggling with how to talk with their kids about the repression and any possible repercussions (including potential arrest or jail time). They also want to make sure their children know their own rights (that they don’t have to answer questions about their parents, including from police or other government agents; that they can ask to have a parent present with them if someone tries to question them and they feel uncomfortable, etc.).

We’ve received similar requests for resources from parents in the past so I have an initial set of resources upon which to draw, including an experienced child therapist who is also a long-time RFC supporter, and some books and music for young children recommended by a trusted author. But one of the things that these parents most wanted was an opportunity to learn from others who had faced similar challenges. They wanted to ask their peers, “What helped you explain this situation to your children? Are there concrete things you did to ease fears or to make the situation a little less scary?” As a result, I promised to contact several of our current beneficiary families myself and see if they’d be willing to pass on any thoughts.

Within 24 hours I received at least a half dozen responses. Our activist parents thanked me for the opportunity to be part of this important discussion, shared lessons learned from their painful experiences, admitted what they wish they’d done differently, volunteered to talk with new families, and offered their love and support to people they had never met. 

Their suggestions ranged from the practical to the creative. One parent shared advice offered to her by a movement veteran, whose parents were involved in the struggle for Puerto Rican independence and faced significant political repression. She explained that “When he was a child, his parents always had a plan for him, he knew they had a plan and what it was.” She took this lesson to heart and suggested that parents concerned about possible arrest should, “Draw up a plan and Emergency Guardianship papers with the assistance of an attorney… In the context of so many unknowns, being able to share a plan with the kids and execute the legal paperwork, to ensure that the plan we made would be respected, gave a sense of peace of mind to us and a sense of stability in an unstable situation to [my child].” Another mom remembered that when her children were young, “We had a little sign posted by the door, which could even be done with pictures: ‘You don't have to talk to the FBI.’” And yet another suggested, “These situations are calling out for some sort of a traveling workshop/playgroup team.  I would love to see something like that happen.”

I think about what it would have meant to my own family if they had had a plan in place to care for their children. Instead, my grandmother left my dad and uncle with a babysitter when she was called to testify before the grand jury investigating my grandfather. When she was arrested after her testimony and never went home again, the boys were bounced from household to household, eventually spending time in an orphanage.  I take great satisfaction from the fact that more than 60 years later, the organization my dad created to honor his parents’ legacy is part of a community committed to supporting families struggling with balancing activism and parenting.

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Jenn, Thank you for sharing. I can also tell you how important a plan for guardianship is. I wish I would have known that years ago as Aedan was separated from me for 31 days. Luckily he was placed with my parents, but it was such a difficult and trying time for us both.

Thanks for all the work you do on behalf of the children. You have truly made a difference in our lives.


I know that RFC families find the grants and services offered to be life lines.
Now, it is a stroke of genius to offer RFC families the chance to share their experiences, concerns and advice for dealing with the issues of raising their children. Even "average" families, who do not face the pressures and threats that activist families do, grow and benefit from sharing their questions, problems and solutions. The suggestion...'have a plan for child care continuity' is so simple on the face of it. But, a simple plan for continuity and for stability are so key to security and peace of mind for both parents and children. Children have worries about monsters, and even about Mommy and Daddy dying...But, RFC families and their children have many fears and worries based in reality. It is a great idea to open the gates to helpful community building /peace of mind discussions. Many try to protect their children from scary what ifs. But, even young children benefit from knowing that there is a plan.

As parents of eight children, my wife, Mary, and I are committed to exposing our children to the work we do for peace and justice. When we are part of various protests, we bring our kids along, even when we face likely arrest as part of the action (I was arrested at the Pentagon Dec. 28 in a nonviolent witness against war, and six of my children were there with me.) While we do not expose our children to gratuitous violence, we don't want to "protect" them from the reality that lives lived for justice include consequences. If children see their mothers and fathers taken away in handcuffs, they know this is a serious matter, and they learn that living out one's faith includes suffering and sacrifice. We take stands against oppressive systems. My hope is that my children will also live lives committed to making the world a better, more peaceful place. I want them to have examples of this work for justice within their own family. We also have always taken our children to our soup line for the homeless in downtown Raleigh. I think relationships with others -- especially the oppressed -- helps all of us remember why we do what we do: to serve as a voice for the voiceless. Patrick O'Neill, Garner, NC

Great article and very useful even here in UK. Made me think of my lost children and hope that other activists avoid this. Thanks

To Jenn Meeropol

Thank you for the opportunity to give back to others and the RFC, I am responding to the request for "feedback". It has been a concern of my family about retaliation from hate groups, the KKK, the Nationalist groups, Area Nation Skin Heads, as well as the Police Departments themselves. I have taken my children as well as grandchildren with me to protests and educational workshops, and have taught them it is our responsibility to come out of our comfort zones when it comes to defending peace, justice and the pursuit of happiness for others.

I have written a book about our efforts to desegregate a housing project in the south, it is due to be published very soon. I have spoken to my children and my grandchildren about the possible backlash, that may come from the book being published and we will take further precautions in all our activities outside of our homes, at that time.

I think it is very important to protect our children and grandchildren from any and all dangers associated with being children of Activist Parents and Grandparents. That protection can vary from, protecting them at protests or rallies you go to, keeping them close and making sure you talk to your children about being safe when it comes to seeing injustice and what their response will be. It has been my experience that "children" sometimes don't have as much control of their emotions and can take it upon their selves to use little restraint, when confronted by the "other side", and parents of children need to know this. You have to have a plan as to what would be except able behavior and reactions to confrontation of them or others, in order to keep them safe from being harmed, arrested, or even killed.

This has always been a concern of mine for my children and my grandchildren, as to what their reaction could be. Because of this concern, I have went to extreme lengths to "role play" with my children, so that I'm aware of any actions they may not be aware are inside of them, as I personally am very passionate about reacting to injustice. We have also talked about and role played how they would respond if I weren't around. And I must warn you parents, safety should be considered "key" at all times. Being every situation is different, and how would you respond, since I have found out they will often follow our examples.

I have try-ed to convey to my children and grandchildren that it is important to live through an event to be able to go on to help others with our efforts. There are degrees of participation that I feel are good to talk about, and it has saved my children's lives.

I have taught my children and grandchildren to respect and honor the fund, as I have told them, people have lost their lives so that you have the opportunities of the the fund, and it is vital that you realize that they never take lightly what the fund means and how it came about. To me it is very important that they understand how the fund came about and what it means and that the fund be aware of how much we appreciate it.

Thank you for allowing me to share my views on this matter and once again as always we deeply appreciate the fund and all it has done for our family and continues to do. Respectfully, LM

Dear Jenn,

I am brought to tears thinking back when my small community went through such a difficult time and the situations each child faced. The children felt so helpless because of the lack of any rights whatsoever. There was no one to protect them while all the parents were "fighting" for their homes, they had to hide and watch as 15 to 20 "Nation Police" forcibly "inspected" our homes. Some parents went to Jail 300 miles away! Not even the local "Police" would help!
What an insane time and yet there is still the threat of this happening at anytime. RFC has provided a greatly needed "salve" for our children and a morale boost for the parents. Over the years RFC has sponsored so many wonderful things for our young people. Thank you for your kindness and generosity you've helped restore their own self worth and esteem and renewed some of their faith in mankind. It is such an important element to remind children going through these types of situations the need for forgiveness and the awareness of their own actions if faced with similar situations. Peace must prevail above all adversity. Thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts.

In peace and friendship,

Diane L. Schenandoah

My father was investigated by the House Unamerican Activities Committee back in the 1950's. This resulted in front page coverage in the local newspapers. At the time, my sister and I were students at the local high school. I actually was in Grade 8 and she in Grade 11. I am sorry to report that my parents did not have a plan for empowering or protecting us. This was an oversight. All activist parents need to have plans about what to do if and when something untoward happens. Children need to be armed with what they can do to protect themselves and other members of their family. The onsalught from other children who are fed hateful stuff by their families is very difficult to bear but would be a lot easier if how to deal with them were discussed in advance. I am not in favor of cowering in fear with such attacks, but for that reason, I do urge activist parents to be ready and to be certain their children are also!

A big thank you to everyone who responded to my initial request for resources, shared the email with friends to open the conversation to others with thoughts to share, or responded to this blog. I've already been back in touch with the person who first contacted me with the request for resources to share some of the early recommendations with her and let her know how much support there is for her, her family and her community.

As you can see from the comments, a number of parents who have lived through similar experiences had ideas to share. I also received emails from parents and supporters who read the blog but preferred to share their thoughts in a less public setting.

I've been collecting all the comments into one, semi-organized document which I'd be happy to share with everyone as soon as it's organized. And I've started talking with my co-workers at the RFC about ways that we can help respond to the clear need for these types of resources, maybe in collaboration with some of you.

Until then, thanks again for being part of this conversation and for being such a generous, supportive community for parents facing these challenges.

All my best, Jenn

PS I've also heard from a few former RFC beneficiaries who are now young adults and willing to share their thoughts on how it felt to have a parent in prison and what helped them deal with the repression their families faced. I think this is an incredibly important additional resource and look forward to hearing more from them.

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