Parenting and Protesting: What I’ve Learned from My Daughter

What a year! When I was journaling over winter break at the end of 2019, I wrote down some goals and dreams for myself and my family. I had plans and ideas. Three months into the year and all of that was flipped upside down with the quarantine.

We were able to slow way down, but none of my ideas were going to come to be this year. Then, at the end of May, George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer, and things began to happen for me, and for my oldest daughter. (As I share these parts of her journey, I recognize our ability to have this experience is because of our white privilege.

An image of child and parenting protesting.
Image by Robert Jones from Pixabay

My daughter has always been interested in social justice and standing up for what she believes in.

I remember when she was in elementary school, they held a day of reading every year. As an avid reader, this was one of her favorite days. For some reason — that I don’t remember now —they cancelled this day when she was in sixth grade. She was really upset. She didn’t understand why the school would stop hosting a day when every student could read freely on their own. The injustice! She told us at dinner the day she heard the announcement, and we told her that she had some options. She could accept this decision and do nothing. Or she could protest. We suggested she do a sit-in and read that day, even if it wasn’t officially recognized as the day of reading. She could invite her friends to sit and read with her. She wasn’t so sure. Wouldn’t she get in trouble? What would happen when the teachers asked her what she was doing? Would she be able to articulate why she was going against the rules? For her 12-year-old self, the risks of consequences from the teachers were scarier than her need to have a day to read. I can relate.

Standing up to those in authority is scary and  difficult. She did not protest that year.

She started going to United Action for Youth that next summer for hangout times and the art room. She joined as many groups there that she could, and we spent many days over the years driving her to and from the youth center on Iowa Avenue. She began to grow in her understanding and awareness of human rights, LBGTQ+ rights, and how to have unconditional positive regard for others.

She walked in the Pride Parade for many years, and had discussions in Feminist Group with other adults and teens about the movies and shows they have watched. She saw the protesters at Iowa City Pride behind a row of police.

She has learned how to recognize her values, set personal boundaries, and hold limits with her friends, even, and especially, when that is a difficult thing to do.

When a 29-year-old security guard killed 49 and wounded 53 in 2016 at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and again when a 19-year-old gunman killed 17 and injured 14 in 2018 at Marjory Stonemann Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, my daughter was listening.

She participated in the walk-out led by students in our local schools. For me, I thought it was a little silly that I had to call the school to give permission to excuse her from class. I suppose that is like needing a permit to protest.

This year, 2020, when the police officer killed George Floyd, and everyone could watch it happening thanks to the 17-year-old standing nearby with her phone, my daughter was about ready.  She decided to attend the protests organized and led by the Iowa Freedom Riders here in Iowa City. I thought I knew what to do and how to encourage her to stand up for what she valued. I wasn’t ready for her to go alone, so I told her I would go with her if she found out when and where we needed to be. And she did.

We have marched three times with the group as they went to speak with Iowa City city councilors. We have also started watching the city council meetings for both Iowa City and Coralville.

She is still young. There is still so much we can all learn. We can take action in various ways, and she has now seen two distinct ways and how they can work together.  

I am not at all surprised by my daughter and her choice. I am proud and inspired by her. She has consistently chosen to attend the protests, and she often is the one convincing me to go. Not because I don’t see the value, but because every time I think of an encounter happening with the police, I feel afraid. Which is the whole point of why we are protesting!

So we gather our courage and go add to the voices around us. We are both working to continue learning and being anti-racist.

“Anti-racism is not a checklist or an identity; it is a practice.” — Andrea Ranae


Dawn lives life to play! Wife to Bryan and mother of four (ages 17, 14, 12, and 8,) she finds what she most enjoys and does it. Bryan tells people she hates a blank calendar; Dawn says she loves a colorful one. With a BA in Theatre and a certificate in Performing Arts Entrepreneurship from the University of Iowa, Dawn has successfully run two business and volunteered on numerous community theatre Boards of Directors. She currently colors in her calendar with Youngevity confidence consultation appointments, Chamber Singers of Iowa City board meetings, strength training and kickboxing at NLXF-NL, managing the office at BerganKDV, and setting as many dates with friends as she can. Dawn is passionate about respect and intentional choices. She loves coffee with cream, a good wheat beer, seeing someone discover something for the first time, and listening to audio books while driving.


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