The beginning of my story may sound familiar: like millions of others I spent the evening of November 8, 2016 curled up on my couch in front of the news, obsessively refreshing incoming election results on my phone. Hour after hour I watched as the middle of the map filled in red, the pressure in my chest slowly mounting. Sometime around 1AM I finally went to bed in tears. It was over. Hillary Clinton had lost.
That part I’d been through before: being on the losing side of electoral history. I’d voted for Al Gore when I was in college, stayed up all night as the vote count swung back and forth. I’d voted for John Kerry in 2004 and I’d even voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primaries (because, come on: it’s long past time the United States got its first female president!), so by 2016 I’d already had decades of practice in political disappointment.
But this? This time felt different.
This time, I was living in a deep red state, where I’d moved just a few months earlier.
This time, the election was won by a man who regularly spewed hate, racism, and misogyny all over the campaign trail, preying on our neighbors’ anxieties and fears.
This time, I had a kid sleeping upstairs.
And that, for me, made all the difference.
* * *
Everyone tells you that having a kid changes everything — and they’re right. I’ve been functioning on significantly less sleep for years, and my free time has all but disappeared. That time is now filled with potty training and picture books, LEGOs and play dates. It’s filled with wild tantrums and unabashed laughter and big emotion on both our parts, emotions more immense and intense than anything I’ve ever experienced in my life. It’s filled with frustration at times, sure, but more than anything it’s filled with such powerful love.
Love that has made me the activist I am today.
Because a country that actively dismantles civil rights — a country that doesn’t respect women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, or immigrant rights, that doesn’t believe that black lives matter — this is not the world I want for my child, for any of our children. Our children deserve to grow up surrounded by love and compassion, not fear and hatred. This is a gift I desperately want to give my child. This, more than anything, is something I consider worth fighting for.
Like so many others, I woke up the morning after the 2016 election to social media feeds filled with anger, disbelief, anxiety — and a Facebook event invite for a march the day after Trump’s inauguration. So for the first time in my life I began to march, and I began to fight.
* * *
Having a young child, I’ve been forced to re-examine the world from all sorts of unexpected angles, often at the most unpredictable times. One day this June, my little boy and I found ourselves listening to an NPR story in the car about a new immigration crisis at our border: children were being taken from their parents and detained in cages.
Children the same age as my son.
These were human rights violations, on our own soil. Against kids. And my own kid? He had questions. Big questions. Questions about why these kids and their parents ran away from their homes, what it meant to be a refugee and to seek asylum. Questions about why our country was taking these kids away from their parents. Questions about what was going to happen to these children now.
Questions I didn’t know or like the answers to.
So when Tara from Hand In Hand asked me to co-organize a Playdate Protest at the Columbus I.C.E. office, I was already ready to say yes.
* * *
Tara sent me videos from Chicago and New York, Vermont and Massachusetts, of parents and children standing boldly together in I.C.E. offices, demanding change and taking up space while singing songs, playing games, and coloring with their children. It’s a new twist on the peaceful sit-in, filled with love and family, for families. And I wanted in.
It was easy enough to organize; we scouted the space and made a plan, reached out to our friends and put together a song list. We wrote up our demands and hung out one afternoon making posters. Hand In Hand has a ton of resources to make the planning easy. We just had to decide, together, how we wanted to do it — how to customize it, make it our own.
The morning of our playdate protest, we gathered around the corner from I.C.E. I’ll admit I was nervous; I’d never occupied a government office before. But I was emboldened as parent after parent showed up with their kids and we soon had a group dozens strong. We went in. We were asked to leave. We started singing. And we kept singing, friends and families together.
Security came and told us to leave. The city police came and told us to leave. We stayed until Homeland Security showed up, and then we finished our playdate protest on the sidewalk.
It was exhilarating.
Together, our voices — with the voices of our children — were amplified. Together, we stood empowered to demand change.
And policies are changing in response to all of our collective actions. Children are no longer being separated from their parents — although what happens next for those children “ineligible” for reunification, we still don’t know. So I’m co-organizing more protests, this time at our Representatives’ offices, speaking up for those who can’t: for the kids who are still waiting to be reunited with their families, for the asylum-seekers being turned away at our borders, for the immigrants seeking sanctuary in my city and the thousands locked up after aggressive raids in our fields.
And, with the support of Hand In Hand, you can do it too. Because if we, the parents of the world, don’t organize a little good trouble, who will?
(Because the crisis still isn’t over, Hand in Hand is holding open phone calls every Monday evening where those of us who’ve held playdate protests help others planning future ones. You can sign up for them here; I hope I’ll see you on the line!)
Marielle Henault is an ex-Disney exec and founder of Doobry, where she helps help creators evolve inspired ideas into entertainment franchises at Fortune 500 and independent production companies.