How 3 Activists Talk to Their Children and Communities About Politics in the Age of Donald Trump

On the occasion of their new “Daring Discussions” campaign—and Mother’s Day—Sarah Sophie Flicker, Paola Mendoza, and Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani reflect on the conversations they’ve had with their families and communities.

Women's March

In January, just weeks before the historic Women’s March on Washington, writer and activist ShiShi Rose made the promise, “The work doesn’t stop just because we stop marching.” And now in May, more than two months after Donald Trump was inaugurated as president, the leaders of the Women’s March have made her words true. First came the “10 Actions in 100 Days” campaign, a series of suggested efforts like writing postcards to elected officials, holding community meetings, and registering to vote. Aimed at maintaining the momentum of the march itself, “10 Actions in 100 Days” made taking action accessible even for newly galvanized marchers and demonstrators; each of the 10 actions was bite-sized and feasible, acting as an entry point for the thousands of women who found themselves mobilized by the Trump administration’s hateful, xenophobic rhetoric and policies.

Earlier this week, the Women’s March announced another new initiative: “Daring Discussions,” launched in time for Mother’s Day and honoring what activist and Women’s March organizer Sarah Sophie Flicker described as the “radical history” of the holiday. “Daring Discussions” provides a toolkit to help individuals have tough conversations with their family members and community, the kinds of discussions that have been obscured by the circus that has taken hold of Washington, D.C., and the partisan nature of the election.

Meet the Women Who Are Making the Women’s March on Washington Happen

The executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, Linda Sarsour — a Brooklyn native, mother of three, and now one of the national co-chairs of the Women’s March on Washington — has been working at the crossroads of civil rights, religious freedom, and racial justice for 15 years. Once an aspiring English teacher, she joined the Arab American Association in its infancy, succeeding founder Basemah Atweh, her mentor, as executive director with Atweh’s death in 2005. “I grew out of the shadow of 9/11,” Sarsour said. “What I’ve seen out of bad always comes good, is that solidarity and unity, particularly amongst communities of color who feel like they’re all impacted by the same system.”

Photo by Driely S, Produced by Biel Parklee.

Tamika D. Mallory’s roots in community organizing and activism extend back to her early childhood: her parents were two of the earliest members of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network nearly 30 years ago, an organization for which Mallory went on to act as executive director. But it wasn’t until the death of her son’s father 15 years ago that Mallory found her niche in civil rights and flung herself headlong into activism. Now, she’s one of the four national co-chairs of the Women’s March on Washington, balancing organizing the march with her day job as a speaker and civil rights advocate. “We’re centering this march by having women to be at the helm of it, to organize it, and to be most of the speakers,” she said. “At the same time I think it’s very important that we never forget the fact that our men, our brothers, our young brothers particularly need this support.”

Photo by Victoria Stevens, Produced by Biel Parklee.

Fashion entrepreneur Bob Bland was nearing the due date of her second daughter, now seven weeks old, when she posted a Facebook event calling for a march on Washington during inauguration weekend. Nine weeks later, she’s one of four national co-chairs at the heart of the Women’s March on Washington — where she’ll march with her infant, her six-year-old daughter, and her 74-year-old mother. “We’re activating people who were previously content with sitting behind their computer and posting on Facebook,” she said.

Photo by Victoria Stevens, Produced by Biel Parklee.

For Carmen Perez, executive director of Harry Belafonte’s Gathering for Justice and one of the four national co-chairs of the Women’s March on Washington, work permeates everything else: “There’s no real life outside of activism,” she said. Just over two decades ago, Perez’s elder sister was killed — the anniversary of her burial coincides with the march, and with Perez’s birthday — and navigating the justice system motivated her to work with incarcerated young men and women, first as a probation officer and then with The Gathering, operating on the intersection of race, criminal justice, and immigration. “Oftentimes, when I’m in spaces, I am the only Latina and I have to speak a little louder for my community to be part of the conversation,” she said. “The work that I do around racial justice, it’s not just about Latino rights. It’s also about human rights.”

Photo by Hannah Sider, Produced by Biel Parklee.

Californian ShiShi Rose, 27, moved to New York a year ago to develop her activism and writing. She previously worked at a local rape crisis center and assisted in educating therapists and counselors before turning her focus more squarely towards race, first via her Instagram account and then through public speaking engagements and writing. As part of the national committee for the Women’s March on Washington, Rose runs the group’s social media channels, from Instagram (where she has a substantial following) to Facebook. “Women encompass everything,” Rose said. “If you can fight for women’s rights, you can fight for rights across the board.”

Photo by Tyra Mitchell, Produced by Biel Parklee.

A law student-turned-actress-turned-activist, Sarah Sophie Flicker was born in Copenhagen, the great-granddaughter of a Danish prime minister who has been credited with bringing democratic socialism to Denmark. She grew up in California before moving to New York to found the political cabaret Citizens Band, eventually joining the production company Art Not War. “Once you start breaking it all down, you realize the most vulnerable people in any community tend to be women,” she said. “All our issues intersect, and something that may affect me as a white woman will doubly affect a black woman or a Latina woman or an indigenous woman. So when we talk about a women’s movement, we need to be talking about all women.”

Photo by Victoria Stevens, Produced by Biel Parklee.

Vanessa Wruble, a member of the national organizing committee, is the uber-connector of the Women’s March on Washington. She’s also the founder and editor of OkayAfrica, a site connecting culture news from continental Africa with an international audience. It was Wruble who first messaged Bland on Facebook to connect her with the women who would eventually become her co-chairs: “She said, Hey, you know, you need to center women of color in the leadership of this so it can be truly inclusive,’” Bland recalled. Within a day, they were meeting for coffee; now, they’re marching together in one of the largest demonstrations in support of a vast array of causes in United States history.

Photo by Amber Mahoney, Produced by Biel Parklee.

Paola Mendoza, artistic director of the Women’s March on Washington, is a Colombian-American director and writer whose work has focused on immigrant experiences, particularly those of Latina women. “Women have never convened this way in our lifetime,” Mendoza said of the march, “and it’s being led for the first time ever by women of color.”

Photo by Victoria Stevens, Produced by Biel Parklee.

Janaye Ingram, who Michelle Obama once described as an “impressive leader,” is Head of Logistics for the March, in addition to being a consultant for issues like civil, voting, and women’s rights in Washington D.C.

Photo by Kate Warren, Produced by Biel Parklee.

Cassady Fendlay, communications director for the Women’s March on Washington, is a writer and communications strategist whose clients include The Gathering for Justice — the organization helmed by Women’s March national co-chair Carmen Perez. As the spokeswoman for the march, Fendlay is tasked with acting as its mouthpiece, ensuring its message is accurate, unified, and coherent.

Photo by Victoria Stevens, Produced by Biel Parklee.

In addition to being a producer of the march, Ginny Suss is the Vice President of Okayplayer.com and the President and co-founder of OkayAfrica — she does video production for both. Her background in the music industry runs deep, and she’s worked closely with The Roots for the past 13 years, serving as their Tour Manager for some time. She’s also produced large outdoor events like The Roots Picnic, Summerstage, Lincoln Center Out Of Doors, and Celebrate Brooklyn — vital experience for organizing a march of this size.

Photo by Amber Mahoney, Produced by Biel Parklee.

Last year, Nantasha Williams ran for the New York State Assembly as a representative of the 33rd district — which encompasses a region just east of Jamaica, Queens. Though she lost to Democrat Clyde Vanel, she’s putting her organizing skills to good use in the aftermath of the election, working on the logistics team for the march and assisting national co-chair Tamika Mallory.

Photo by Driely S, Produced by Biel Parklee.

When Alyssa Klein isn’t managing the various social media accounts for the Women’s March, she’s writer and Senior Editor at OkayAfrica, the largest online destination for New African music, culture, fashion, art, and politics. Based in both New York City and Johannesburg, Klein’s passion is movies and television, and has made it her profession to highlight creatives of color in both industries. Juggling social media is no easy side project, however. The Women’s March has approximately 80,000 followers on Instagram and Twitter, plus a over 200,000 on Facebook.

Photo by Amber Mahoney, Produced by Biel Parklee.

Shirley Marie Johnson is the March’s head administrator for Tennessee, as well as an author, poet, and singer. Primarily, though, she’s an activist and advocate for those who are victim to domestic violence, a cause that’s not only her focus at the March, but in her day-to-day life through her group Exodus, Inc., which aids those affected by rape, human trafficking, and other abuse.

Photo by Alysse Gafkjen, Produced by Biel Parklee.

Born in Shanghai, Ting Ting Cheng studied human rights at the University of Cape Town — and became an award-winning Fulbright scholar to South Africa — before heading to New York, where she’s now a criminal defense attorney at the Brooklyn Defender Services. All that’s no doubt come in handy for her role as Legal Director of the March.

Photo by Amber Mahoney, Produced by Biel Parklee.

Heidi Solomon is one of the three co-organizers for the Pennsylvania chapter of the Women’s March. Although she doesn’t have a long background in activism, Trump’s election moved her to take action, and she’s helped rally approximately 6,000 people from her home state.

Photo by Lauren Driscoll, Produced by Biel Parklee.

Deborah Harris is a grassroots organizer and feminist self-help author who lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, and served as a community activist for 10 years in the fields of fashion, healthcare, at risk youth, and supportive women’s relations.

Photo by Heather Gildroy.

As Illinois’ state representative for the Women’s March, Mrinalini Chakraborty has taken the lead in coordinating the Chicago-area charge, organizing bus rides for well over a thousand women and other supporters. She’s also on the National Committee and is a coordinator for all 50 states coming to D.C.. And that’s in addition to her day job: She’s a graduate teaching and research assistant at the University of Illinois at Chicago for anthropology, not to mention a student and a dedicated food blogger.

Photo by Alina Tsvor, Produced by Biel Parklee.

After earning her Ph.D in psychology, Dr. Deborah Johnson is now studying social work at the University of Oklahoma in Tulsa — and making sure she stands up for both her and her daughter’s rights at the March, which she’s helping lead the way to for other Oklahomans.

Photo by Sarah Roberts, Produced by Biel Parklee.

Renee Singletary is an organizer, mother of two, wife of one, marketing consultant, and certified herbalist living and working in Charleston, South Carolina.

Photo by Lauren Jonas, Produced by Biel Parklee. Hair by Katrina Lawyer, makeup by Elizabeth Desmond.

A yoga instructor, theater graduate, and local organizer, South Carolina native Evvie Harmon has brought her skills and energy to the march as its global co-coordinator alongside Breanne Butler. Together, they facilitate partner marches and local organizers around the world, bringing the whole thing into synergy.

Photo by Kate Warren, Produced by Biel Parklee.

“To me, one of the more saddening things about the election was this sort of rejection of intellectualism and nuance, as if we can’t have courageous, complicated, nuanced conversations,” Flicker said in January. “We need to reinstate our vast ability to do that.” “Daring Discussions” is just the start. Here, three Women’s March organizers—Sarah Sophie Flicker, Paola Mendoza, and Reshma Saujani—reflect on the daring discussions they’ve had within their own families, and why those conversations are so essential.

Paola Mendoza, Activist and Filmmaker

Our house is a political house: I am an organizer of the Women’s March on Washington and a documentary filmmaker working specifically on immigration issues, and my partner, Michael Skolnik, is also steeped in criminal justice reform and civil rights issues. Our son Mateo, now four, attended his first protest before he was a year old. We took him to a Black Lives Matter protest. He held signs and he would recite the “I Can’t Breathe” chant and the “Shut It Down” chant—all of these chants just were in him.

The constant conversation in our house centers on women and feminism and girls. You can see how, at the age of four, a boy starts to consume the world in very specific gender roles. We constantly challenge his understanding of what it means to be a girl, who can be a girl, what constitutes “girly” or “a girl thing”—starting to instill in him early what it is to be an ally. When he was two years old, he was very into My Little Pony. One time, we went into a store and he saw a My Little Pony shirt. It was purple—it was a quote-unquote “girls’” shirt—and he said, “Mama, I want it.” I said, “Okay, no problem.” It’s really important how we, as parents, reflect our feelings and the way that we consume information. Children model behavior. I think that’s the most important thing for parents to understand around difficult issues—they will do what we do.

When Donald Trump became the Republican nominee during the past election, we talked quite a bit about Hillary and Donald and how important it was for me to have a son that could understand and see on a TV that a woman could actually be president. We would ask him who the next president’s going to be, and he would say Hillary Clinton. That, in and of itself, was very powerful. But the morning after Hillary Clinton lost, I couldn’t have a conversation with my son the next morning—I didn’t know how to tell him just the simple fact that Hillary had lost. I was too emotional and too heartbroken to talk about it. My partner and I decided not to talk about it, and to let him go to school, thinking he wouldn’t know, he would never find out. When I picked him up from school that day, the first thing he told me was, “Mama, did you know that Hillary Clinton lost?”

Paola Mendoza and her son, Mateo

My heart broke. I realized that, because out of my own personal fear and not knowing how to have that conversation with him, he found out another way. I vowed as a mother to never let fear not allow me to speak to my son again. I always want to be honest with my child. As a parent, you have to really trust your gut and not let fear dictate the conversation. Afterwards, I told him people chose Donald Trump, and I thought people made a bad decision. He asked me why, and I said, “Because Donald Trump hurts people, and we don’t like people that hurt people.” He got that.

A child’s tendency to keep asking why, and having to choose your words wisely when you’re talking to a child, underlines the importance of words and how words matter. It’s also really important that he knows he can feel anything and say anything and if he uses words that he shouldn’t use, he’s not reprimanded—he’s just taught why he shouldn’t use those words. It’s not that things are politically correct or incorrect—it’s that words carry a lot of weight and that we have to choose them wisely.

Just as essential is an awareness of the privilege you hold in a space: I grew up in California. I was homeless with my mother and saw her abandoned by my father. Yet my mom was able to get two children through college and master’s degrees, and now I live in New York City. My child will never, knock on wood, experience any of that, because he has such huge safety nets. One of the things that I struggle with as a mom, an immigrant, and a woman of color is I have a son who will be seen in the world as a white man. Even though he’s half Latino, he physically presents as white, so he will get the privilege of a white man. As parents that have children that are privileged, we need to not shy away from that. If we can make them understand in their own way, I think that leads to really profound discussions with parents and children.

Sarah Sophie Flicker, Activist and Performer

Talking to your children about politics and current events is complicated. But I try not to simplify things too much, because kids are stronger than we give them credit for, and they pick up more than we give them credit for. They deserve nuance and complication and the trust that it takes to have those conversations as much as adults do. Often, when my kids—my daughter and two sons— are interested in a political issue, there’s a deeper dive you can do that really requires some critical thinking and some intersectional thinking. I’m a white, privileged—very privileged—woman. My children are super privileged. So the onus is on me to have these conversations with them, because there are millions of kids in this country and millions of kids all over the world who are struggling against oppression and major uphill battles. Certainly, if those kids are having to survive that every day, my kids can survive some conversations and being challenged to think beyond themselves and being challenged to show up for communities that aren’t their own.

For example, they may want a toy gun, and I do not allow toy guns in our house. Everyone handles it differently, and everyone should handle that differently, but one conversation I had with my older kids was because they said, “Well, if it’s a toy, then what difference does it make?” I told them the story of Tamir Rice, explaining he was playing with a toy. The likelihood of that happening to them are slim to none, but on principle, guns hurt people. Guns kill people. Guns oppress people. That’s not something we want in our house. That also led to a bigger conversation about privilege and race and Black Lives Matter, and while I think my younger guy’s a little too young to get that stuff, my two older kids really get it. They show up; they’ve gone to a lot of Black Lives Matter marches and rallies; and inevitably, taking them to a political event contextualizes it for them.

I’m pretty picky about the kinds of books I choose to read to my kids. If there are problematic issues that come up in books, it’s essential to stop and have a conversation about it. When my daughter was three or four, we read Little House on the Prairie. There are some deeply old-fashioned, sexist ideas about women and about marriage in that book, and immediately, we’d just, in an age-appropriate way, dive into it. Right now, my daughter and I are reading the Jazz Jennings memoir Being Jazz together, and we’re loving it and we’re having amazing conversations about it. She’s 10 now, so she’s in a better position to personally think through things like that than when she was younger. She and her friends run an activist group, which is really amazing, and because of the memoir, she’s become really passionate about working with an LGBTQIA group next year. Having books in the house and reading books that have untraditional heroes, books about history, books featuring people of color, where girls are the protagonists, that’s really important. Trying to protect your kids doesn’t really serve them.

What I try to do is really teach them critical thinking about the messages they’re receiving, whether in media or literature or ads on the subway. I’ve never been disappointed by their responses. You just have to stay open, to sort of roll with them on where they’re going with it, to dig a little deeper and ask harder questions. The real message is to not be scared of it—because you’re serving everybody by having these conversations.

Being around children—whether they are your kids or not—is always a great lesson in humility and patience. I mother my children, but I’m trying to do a better job at also mothering my community and my country and the people I work with, by being a nurturer and an active listener, by trying to really come from a place of authenticity and vulnerability and intersectionality. Those are the things we could all stand to promote and improve.

Reshma Saujani, Founder, Girls Who Code

My family was one of the few South Asian families in my community in Illinois. Growing up in the ’80s, I remember going to the K-Mart with my mom, when she was wearing her sari, and she’d get made fun of. People would ask my mother, “Were you born with that dot on your head?” I got in a fight when I was in middle school because somebody called me a haji. But my parents were refugees, so they were always afraid of rocking the boat. When I came home with a black eye from that bully, my mother didn’t call the police; she didn’t go to the school to complain; she just didn’t feel like she could do that. They were always very frightened—and that made me want to fight back even more on behalf of all of us.

What’s amazing to me is how much things have regressed. In the past couple of months, when I have said something political, people respond, “Go back to your own country,” “Go back home,” or “You don’t belong here.” That’s been really sad, because if you had told me two years ago I would have to have the same conversations with my son Shaan, who is two years old now, that my parents had with me about safety, about protecting yourself, I would never have believed it. My parents, Gujarati Indians from Uganda, were expelled by dictator Idi Amin. They didn’t react; they didn’t feel like they could fight back—so in some ways, they taught me not to raise my voice, because that’s what they knew. Now, our current president is making a similar statement about black and brown people through his anti-immigrant, xenophobic policies. I thought we had come so far. As a result, I’ve had to have conversations with my parents about the need to raise Shaan in a very different way. He needs to know how to use his voice. Because if that moment ever comes, we all need to fight to defend the founding values of this country.

With my own son, my style of mothering has been to bring him everywhere. He’s sitting on my lap during interviews. When I went to the White House to meet President Obama, he was there. I read him books about civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. I talk to him about what we’re doing and what I’m saying and what’s happening—I want him to be a part of it, and I want him to feel engaged. Raising him in this unstable time for our democracy, I’ve been intentional about bringing him to every rally I attend. He’s physically on my hip. I’m trying to make him conscious about what’s going on, make him feel like activism is normal, it’s just a part of our lives, and it’s a part of what he’ll do when he gets older. Even more than that, I want him to feel like he belongs. I want him to raise his head high, to feel like he doesn’t have to step back—because my parents definitely felt that way.

I’m also raising my son as a feminist. My daytime job, as the founder of Girls Who Code, is fighting for women’s opportunity, to make sure they feel empowered to lead. As women, we’re presented this false choice that is either our children or our work. But I don’t think I fully understood the paradox until I had a child. I bring my son to work and let other parents do the same. I am very intentional about the workplace that I create, and my son is a big part of that. It’s also about making sure we have male allies who are going to fight as fiercely for us as we fight for ourselves. That sense of equality is very much how I raise my son. I want him to be that young man when he grows up. I want him to speak up.

As told to Katherine Cusumano.

Meet the organizers of the Women’s March on Washington, which made history as the largest demonstration on Washington, D.C.: