When children follow in their activist parents’ footsteps

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Nov 28, 2007 When children follow in their activist parents’ footsteps

Bill of Rights. (From the public domain.)

A few years ago, an ACLU staffer told me that her son — already a Republican — surmised aloud that she probably would be pleased if he grew his hair long and wore an earring. She confirmed he was correct; he responded that this was the reason he did not do it.

I took to activism when my family members were not activists (and at least one counseled several times to “play the game,” although I have never thought there was just one game, and have thought the notion strange of being expected to follow the rules of a game I had nothing to do with creating), aside from an uncle who talks passionately about justice and a brother whom I joined for two protests against Gulf War I ten years after I became active with Amnesty International. For me, making such decisions was about figuring out what was right, rather than reacting against or in favor of any family members.

When they deviate from their parents’ political paths,. children seem to do so sometimes as a way to feel independent, sometimes for reasons divorced from the parents, and sometimes after having had a chance to observe, experience and dislike the parents’ political path. Interestingly, the three children of famous peace activists Elizabeth McAlister and the late Phil Berrigan (a good friend and teacher) all admired their parents’ activism very much, and joined in it to a substantial extent. The three children grew up not only to activist parents, but within the Jonah House non-violence resistance community in Baltimore, which I have enjoyed visiting several times.

Liz and Phil’s eldest daugher, Frida, discussed the activism of her parents, and her own activism. Aside from their overall optimism — tempered by their deep sorrow over the violence saturating the world — one thing in particular that inspires me about Frida, her parents, and the Jonah House community members is their absence of fear about death, and about achieving financial security, let alone their disinterest in accumulating massive wealth. The Jonah House members are singleminded in the pursuit of peace.  Jon Katz.

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