Saturday, October 29, 2011

children being taken to the street

NYTimes | MALKA LUBELSKI marched for economic justice last Sunday dressed as Minnie Mouse.

In a pink costume with white polka dots and black mouse ears, she circled Zuccotti Park, the epicenter of the Occupy Wall Street protests, carrying a homemade sign that read, “From the very young, the very old, we are the 99%.”

It would have been one more bit of street theater, except that Malka is 4, an age when girls are generally thought to be more interested in Disney characters than protest marches.

While her father, Abraham Lubelski, publisher of NY Arts magazine, talked about his decision to take Malka and her 1 1/2-year-old sister, Josepha, to the scene so they could “see real human needs,” Malka concerned herself with the more mundane needs of her baby sister, who had been sitting in her stroller munching contentedly on a vanilla ice cream cone till the ice cream tumbled onto her sweater.

“Dad,” Malka interrupted, pointing to her younger sibling.

And so it goes in the second month of Occupy Wall Street, where children are becoming an increasing presence as parents try to seize a “teachable moment” to enlighten them on matters ranging from income inequality to the right to protest.

The park’s makeshift collective library has a children’s section, complete with a copy of “Harry Potter,” Beverly Cleary titles and Meg Cabot’s “Holiday Princess.” A group called Parents for Occupy Wall Street, headed by Kirby Desmarais, a Brooklyn mother and record label owner, even organized a sleepover at the park for more than 80 parents and children on a recent weekend night. (The families had to be moved at dawn to make way for new police lines and barricades.) Spin-off parent groups have sprung up in other cities like Denver and Seattle.

But most mothers and fathers bring their children on their own. Some recall marching in antiwar protests in the 1960s and ’70s, and say they would like to show their children what it means to be part of a large movement advocating for social change. Those with babies and toddlers admit that the children are unlikely to remember anything of their time at Zuccotti Park, but that they believe the children will one day appreciate that they were present.

“When he’s older, I want him to know we cared enough to bring him down,” said David McClelland, a resident of Clinton Hill in Brooklyn who came with his son, Franklin, 2.

For Stephen Belber, a screenwriter who is adapting Dana Spiotta’s novel of 1970s left-wing activism gone awry, “Eat the Document,” Occupy Wall Street presents a unique opportunity to discuss his work with his two children, Clementine, 7, and Tobi, 11.

Clementine had questions. “Are the people who are sleeping here poor?” she asked, pointing to the tents and sleeping bags.

“They choose to be here,” her father replied. “They are upset because there are a few rich people and so many more poor people.”

Occupy Wall Street is hardly the first protest movement to include children. They were often present at civil rights marches, and more recently, boys and girls (complete with placards) have become a familiar presence at Tea Party events. There were children at Tahrir Square in Cairo, as well as at many other events that marked the Arab Spring.