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.
“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?"
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.: