talking to kids about the election

by marjorieingall on November 9, 2016

How do those of us who believe in multiculturalism, diversity and tolerance explain the results of yesterday’s presidential election to kids? I keep thinking back to everything I’ve learned over the years about what makes for effective Holocaust education: Don’t minimize, but don’t traumatize. Don’t lie. Be developmentally appropriate, but offer hope and emphasize the actions of helpers.

Some specifics for right now:

1. Try to distinguish between between grief and despair. Grief can galvanize; despair is paralyzing. We need to let ourselves mourn, and then we need to take action. Rachel Barenblat, who blogs as The Velveteen Rabbi, has beautiful words of inspiration:

To everyone who is feeling grief today, I say: it is okay to feel how you are feeling. Whatever you are feeling, take permission to feel it. Let yourself grieve.

Take comfort in what you can: the presence of friends or family, whatever sweetness or kindness you can find, a cup of coffee, the fact that the sun rose this morning.

Recognize that grief comes and goes in its own rhythms. So, too, does healing. Be gentle with yourself today and in days to come. Be gentle with those you encounter.

When grief is strong, it can seem impossible to imagine that one will ever feel differently. But this is not all there is. Loss is not all there is. Grief is not all there is.

Jewish tradition wisely instructs mourners to retreat from the world for a week. The customs of shiva are designed to insulate mourners from the hard edges of the outside world. They remind us to take the time we need to tell stories, to remember, and to grieve.

At the end of shiva, there is a custom of leaving one’s house through one door, walking around the block, and then entering the house through a different door. We will emerge from our grief changed by the experience of the grieving. We will exit what was and enter into something new.

Please read the rest of her post here.

2. Being with your community is helpful. Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, the oldest LGBT synagogue in the country, sent this email to congregants and friends:

“Until when, O God?” 

It was beyond difficult to get up this morning, to start this day after such a shuddering loss. We are scared, we are grieving, we are angry and hurting. 

These will be difficult days — how do we explain to our children? How do we make meaning out of this trauma. Each of us will need to do different things to process and mourn. And each of us must find ways to act. But first we come together as community — have hope and courage. Difficult times demand deep strength. Be kind to yourself and to each other. We are on this earth for a purpose, and now that purpose has gotten more intense and demanding. We will mourn and we will organize, we will pray and we will cry. We will analyze and we will dream. We will build stronger communities of love and commitment. 

We are not alone. You are not alone. We have built a community that is all too familiar with what it is means to lose, that to respond to loss by holding one another so we can all stand up together.

We don’t know what shape the next months and years will take, individually or as a nation. It is this overwhelming uncertainty that is both the most terrifying and the most normal — we never know what lies ahead for us. Joining together gives us strength. In your own communities of friends and family, and the broader ones with whom we share deep values.

What we do know, what is within our control, is how we choose to respond to the circumstances that surround us. Today, and as the future slowly begins to take shape, be gentle with yourself and extend that gentleness to others who are hurting like you. Tell your friends who have felt under attack for months, years, generations — Black, Muslim, Latinx, women — that you haven’t left them, that you’ll fight for and with and as a part of them/us.  And if you need the love and closeness of your LGBTQS/Jewish community, we’re here. We aren’t going anywhere, and we won’t stop raising our voices in song and prayer and protest.
The CBST sanctuary at 130 West 30th Street will be open all day today, November 9th, beginning at 1:00pm as a space for quiet contemplation or to connect with one of your rabbis. At 6:30pm tonight, CBST will hold a communal gathering, offering prayers and song and the opportunity to be together. 

“Be gracious, for I am diminishing
And heal me for I am terrified even to the bones of my body
And my heart is seared, and my soul shrinks.

And you, how long
How long O God, how long? 

…I am exhausted from my sighing
….a drowning flood of tears and sweat
My eyes are blind with grieving..
My lamentation has turned to courage.”
–Psalm 6
May the Holy One give us strength and courage and love.

So: Spend time with like-minded friends. Volunteer as a family. Worship with others. Cuddle your kids. Sing. Do mitzvot.

3. Know that this is not the end of the story. Milwaukee activist Paul Schmitz shared what he told his children this morning:

I love you so much and it pains me to share that Donald Trump is our President starting January 20th. Martin Luther King once said that the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice. He understood that justice takes time and there is always resistance and set backs. This is a big, devastating one. I was shocked and sick as I absorbed the news.

But everything I have worked for is to prepare me and others for this time and this kind of struggle. The values we believe in are worth fighting for. And we need more and more people fighting for them. The people who get attacked because of their race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, or immigration status are worth fighting for. We have raised you with the values to do so. It is time for me – for us – to step up and be the change, not to withdraw. When Lin-Manuel Miranda was asked last night if he would move to Canada, he said “F*** that! I love this country and we have more to do than ever.” We joke about leaving, but we are going to stay and fight for the people and the values we believe in. It is our America, not his.

This is how social change happens. It is never a straight line. There is always backlash (or whitelash as Van Jones called it), often setbacks. Dr King and the civil rights movement lost 3 big campaigns in a row between the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1956 and Birmingham Children’s March in 1963. After the change President Obama represented and created, it is sad but not surprising that there are people afraid of that change and afraid of what America is becoming. Their racism and sexism are from the past. We will ultimately prevail but we must struggle first against the bigotry, fear, lies, and ignorance Trump represents and spreads….

…while of course we are justifiably sad and angry and even scared, let’s also be strong and courageous and caring and kind. We have lots of friends of all backgrounds who share and will fight for the same values. I am proud of you because of your beliefs and how you treat others. We will reject bullying of people who are different. We will seek to help and fight for others who are less privileged or face other struggles. And we will win people to our cause and not just demonize others the way he does. “They go low, we go high” as Michelle Obama said.

Please read the rest of his words here.

4. Take heart in the small bits of joy from yesterday, which matter. Share them with your kids. Courtesy of a friend who didn’t want to be named, here’s a bunch of good news from the election to hearten us a bit and give us something to build on:

⭐️In the California race to replace retiring Senator Barbara Boxer, Kamala Harris, daughter of Indian & Jamaican immigrants, was voted the nation’s first Indian-American and second black female Senator.
⭐️In Oregon, Kate Brown was the first openly LGBT person to be elected to a US governorship.
⭐️Lisa Blunt Rochester earned Delaware’s sole seat in the House of Representatives, becoming both the first woman and the first African-American to represent Delaware in Congress.
⭐️ In Minnesota, Ilhan Omar, a former refugee, is the first Somali-American Muslim woman elected to a state legislature.
⭐️ Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada is the first Latina elected to the Senate.
⭐️ Tammy Duckworth took back Obama’s Senate seat in Illinois.
⭐️ In Florida, Stephanie Murphy was the first Vietnamese-American woman elected to Congress, defeating a 23-year Republican incumbent with a campaign that began in June.
⭐️ Pramila Jayapal will be the first female Indian-American Congressional Representative. An immigrant from India at 16, she was elected to represent the Seattle area on a Bernie-Sanders-style platform.
⭐️ In NJ, Josh Gottheimer, first time Democratic candidate, beat Representative Scott Garrett, seven-term Republican incumbent and one of the most conservative Tea-Party-aligned members of Congress.
⭐️ Joe Morrissey, convicted sexual predator, lost the mayoral race in Richmond, VA.
⭐️ Sheriff Joe Arpaio was ousted in Arizona.
⭐️ A woman won the popular vote for President of the United States.

Tony Kushner wrote in Angels in America, “The world only spins forward.” I used to believe that wholeheartedly. Now I feel doubt. MLK’s quote about the arc of the moral universe feels like a better image to me, because it acknowledges that progress is not a straight line. We go backward sometimes. We did so in the presidential election yesterday. But I hope and believe that we will together move forward again, and I want my kids to know it. I want them to be helpers, working on building a moral future for everyone.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

tanita November 9, 2016 at 5:32 pm

I find value in the idea of sitting shiva, actually.
We look for the helpers, we know we’re going to get there — yes. But, we give ourselves permission to sit in the ashes for however long we need to — maybe a week — and then we set our stone in place to remind ourselves where we were, and we get up.

I think I keep saying, “and then we get up,” because I’m afraid to think of anything else. Which is completely outside the spirit of allowing oneself to sit… but… that’s me.

The moral arc of the universe bends toward justice because we hang on it with our combined weight, and pull it there. Thank you for the reminder.

marjorieingall November 11, 2016 at 10:12 am

Beautiful comment, Tanita. Thanks.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: