This is what democracy looks like

Mother and daughter who participated in an Oct. 15 Occupy Wall Street march in NYC

It’s a chant commonly heard during “Occupy Wall Street” marches, which have been branching out from Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan to other parts of NYC.

My daughter Lizabeth ran into them Saturday night after catching a subway from her university near Ground Zero to Times Square in the heart of NYC’s theater district.

That morning, I’d walked alongside several marchers as they made their first stop of the day — to a Chase bank in the Wall Street financial district. At one point, I turned to see four college-age women chanting “This is what democracy looks like!”

One, a student named Taylor from Mt. Holyoke in Massachusetts, told me they were protesting to show that “young people have a voice.” I don’t disagree, but I’m guessing that some of the folks who are marching have yet to exercise another fundamental right — voting. I hope they aren’t overlooking the one in their zeal to embrace the other.

I also chatted with a man originally from Australia, who now calls Canada home. I asked Joel about the role art seemed to be playing in the movement, noting that I’d seen several protest-inspired paintings and sculptures during my many visits to Zuccotti Park.

We agreed that art and social justice are often “intertwined,” but Joel took the observation a step further. “In a military dictatorship,” he told me, “art is one of the first things crushed” — noting when I pressed him further that although America has a strong military presence in the world, it’s not a military dictatorship.

Still, he’s concerned about the country’s future — and America’s youth. He’s pleased to see parents bringing their children to “Occupy Wall Street” events, hoping it’ll raise youth awareness about freedom of speech and critical thinking. Too often, he told me, children simply do what they’re told without considering the consequences — even when they disagree.

Joel hopes that even parents who disagree with the “Occupy Wall Street” movement will spend some time with the families at Zuccotti Park, showing their children what exercising freedom of speech and citizen activism looks like. My own children, now grown, have attended plenty of rallies for issues we care about right here in the Valley.

Farther along in the march, I asked a woman named Penny to stop and talk for a few minutes about why she’d chosen to participate. Turns out Penny is a professor of labor studies at a New York university. We spent several minutes standing on the corner of a street together, and she told me about her two children, ages two and five.

Penny says her daughter has “come to a lot of rallies,” convinced that they foster “learning the importance of working together with other people.” She’s also eager for her daughter to experience the “collective joy of standing together.” The woman’s own joy was evident as we spoke. “I hope that she feels connected to other people,” Penny added.

Soon Penny was on her way, passing out flyers encouring people to consider using local credit unions rather than giant banks like those affiliated with Wall Street. So I turned to three women and a young girl talking nearby, and asked if they’d share their reasons for making that morning’s march.

A third grader from New York, who shared that her mom is unemployed, didn’t hestitate in offering an explanation. “Me and my mom are here to change the world,” she told me. “We’re here to occupy Wall Street.” At the time they were just a few blocks away from literally doing so.

“If one person doesn’t like something,” Sofia told me, “then it doesn’t matter.” Seems she’s wise beyond her years about finding strength in numbers and solidarity with fellow citizens. So I asked what she’d say to other children who might be thinking about getting involved.

“They should come out,” Sofia told me. “It’s fun, it’s freedom — and you never know what is going to happen.” Later that evening, of course, protestors numbering 6,000 according to reports by ABC News, took to Times Square, and a small number were arrested.

She’s right about the unpredictability of such things — but I’m hoping everyone involved will remember the children standing alongside them as the movement marches on. They’re watching, listening and learning. And they deserve peace — on not only a global level, but in their everyday lives as well.

— Lynn

Note: “Parents for Occupy Wall Street” is holding a “Family Sleep Over” at Zuccotti Park Oct. 21-22 (4pm-11am). Click here to learn more.

Coming up: NYChildren exhibit featuring photographs by Danny Goldfield, A graphic biography on the life of Anne Frank, “The Big Draw” at NYC’s National Museum of the American Indian

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