Hearing Our Children’s Voices After The Election

On November 9th we worked in Barrington, IL.
On November 14th & 15th we worked in Marshalltown Iowa.
On November 16th we worked in Salt Lake City.
On November 17th we worked in New Orleans.

All of these programs were scheduled in advance of the election. But after November 8th, as we traveled the country working with young people, parents, grandparents, and educators, we had a unique opportunity to listen. This is what we heard:

  • I’ll miss you when you get shipped to Mexico.
  • Why would children listen to you now? Bullying just won the White House.
  • I have a 3rd grade African American student in my school and she is truly in fear for her life.
  • He bullied and won the presidency so I can do it too.

At first, the sheer amount of fear and sadness was overwhelming. But as we traveled and spoke with educators and community leaders, the need was so great that we couldn’t let our feelings stop us from doing our work.

This is what we believe is most important to hold in our heads and hearts:

It’s not about who won the election. Everyone who voted (and many who decided not to vote) had a reason for their decision and that needs to be respected. It is about the reality that young people feel unsafe. It is about many young people feeling that there are students they go to school with and that adults in positions of power who want to hurt them and their families. Contrary to what some are saying, these stories aren’t made up or blown out of proportion.  And truly the question is, How many children have to live in fear for adults to believe that their experiences matter? Isn’t one enough?

Assuring children’s feeling of safety and inclusion is not political.  No matter how you vote, it is our basic obligation to them. It is also our obligation to teach young people that disagreement is not disrespect; creating and protecting the environment for civil disagreement to occur is the foundation for our democracy. Our history is not just words in a book and dates to be memorized.  Our history is about a country struggling to uphold the belief that all people have inalienable rights and that this core value builds and strengthens our communities. It is our duty to respect our government while challenging the people who have power within it when they pit people against each other, demean and dismiss others’ experiences, and refuse to acknowledge the impact of their actions.

On the 16th, at the Utah Anti-Bullying Coalition summit we spoke to over 10,000 high school students and this is what we told them:

Sometimes it’s hard to know when to intervene because things get dismissed as a joke. Here’s when it’s not confusing. If you hear, “I”ll miss you when you get shipped to Mexico.” That’s never a joke.

Leadership requires that you speak out but so does basic human decency.

And if people say, “He bullied and won the presidency so I can do it too.” No you can’t. This is our community, our home, it wasn’t ok before this election and it’s not ok now. You don’t get a pass because someone in a position of leadership bullied others.

And these were our parting words:

People often say young people are our future. We say you are the present. This is your moment to claim ownership of your friendships, schools and  communities. This is your moment to remind adults that our democracy rests on our ability to disagree without attacking each other. Yes, people will try to silence you. But it’s not all on your shoulders. We will stand next to you as we repair our communities and uphold the dignity of all.


This originally appeared in our newsletter Communiquette

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