On "Using" Kids as Political Tools

The first protest I went to was the 2004 March for Women's Lives in DC. I was in 5th grade, and I didn't even know what abortion was. My mom and her friends, who had also brought their kids, said it was a march for women's rights. It wasn't until dozens of dead-fetus-pictures and "baby-killer" signs later that we were told specific details.

A few months later, the GOP came to New York (where I'm from) and was met with huge protests. The cover of New York Magazine showed an elephant butt with a pile of crap underneath. Rainbow flags that said "We the people say no to the Bush agenda," hung in storefronts, windows, and fire escapes. Almost every adult I knew took part in the demonstrations against an administration they considered corrupt and immoral. I'll never forget the energy and intensity of the moment. Seeing hundreds-- thousands-- of people take to the streets and voice their anger excited me; it reminded me of stories my dad told of being pepper-sprayed and arrested in Vietnam demonstrations decades ago.

I consider those few months a sort of turning point in my life; they sparked an interest in politics and social justice that continues to this day. This week's video of eight-year old voicing his gay-rights concerns to Michelle Bachman has reminded me of my own involvement in politics as a child. In the video, Elijah and his mother walk up to Michelle Bachmann and, after a minute of prodding from his mom, he whispers in the Republican nominee's ear, "My mom is gay but she doesn't need fixing."

According to pundits like Bill O'Reilly, it was wrong-- "appaling," in his words-- for a mother to convince her eight-year old to do this. Kids should be kids; don't inject them into political controversy. Sally Kohn, his guest, asks if he would be saying the same thing if the kids had gone up to Bachmann and said, "Look, please make sure that my mommy has a good-paying job." O'Reilly says that would be wrong, too.

J. Bryan Lowder at Slate has an interesting take on the controversy:

"Unlike O’Reilly, I have no doubt that Elijah is aware of the discrimination his mom faces in a largely homophobic society, even if on kid-delimited level. Given the right amount of precocity, he may well have spoken this way without much prompting. Still, he’s obviously shy, and the moment is clearly designed as a stunt destined for the Internet. While I want to allow that kids are capable of this kind of activism, I’m not sure how comfortable I am with the logistics on display here."

I'm inclined to agree. Although it's ludicrous to assume, as O'Reilly does, that an eight-year old "doesn't know what homosexuality is, nor should he or she," it doesn't look like Elijah was very comfortable with confronting Bachmann-- and he shouldn't have been prompted to. That being said, I think the mother's biggest crime here was not injecting her son into a political controversy-- after all, he is surrounded by homophobia and hatred toward his family every day-- but doing it so clumsily. This video gives pundits like O'Reilly and Glenn Beck one more opportunity to decry the insidious "gay agenda" that seeks to indoctrinate children. I think she did more harm than good.


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