*This interview is a guest post by my friend, Lisa Duggan.
Kirby Desmarais looks considerably younger than her 26 years. You might mistake her as the au pair, rather than the tenacious and capable mother, of her twenty month-old daughter, Baby G. An entrepreneur, she runs a successful music consulting business called Everything Independent and she’s been happily married for four years. Before Friday, October 21, the night she staged the world’s largest family sleepover at the home of Occupy Wall Street, in Zuccotti Park, she had never before participated in a political action, let alone organized one.
Which begs the question: how does she do it? Or rather, why does she do it?
Why would any parent leave their warm home for a cold park or to march on City Hall, children in tow? Kirby doesn’t seem to be alone: over 500 parents and kids attended that night in Zuccotti, coming to join her under the newly formed Parents for Occupy Wall Street banner, and more parents become involved daily. Kirby continues to field calls and emails from parents around the country, asking how to form their own “parents for Occupy” group. According to the national page on Facebook, there are now sixteen groups in the US, including San Diego, Tuscan and Philadelphia, as well as in Montreal, Canada. She recently put her advice together in a self-published book, which I edited, called The Protesting Parent.
I spoke with Kirby to get some insight into her motivation for becoming involved:
You already have a business and a toddler to take care of. What motivated you to add “running an activist group for parents” to your schedule?
KIRBY: I didn’t go into this with the plan to start a group. I visited Zuccotti Park with my best friend and got pulled into the movement. I realized the press was doing a horrible job of covering who was involved with the movement, and who was even at the park. On my first visit there I noticed a bunch of families and parents. All the kids were confined to either strollers or carriers. So that following weekend, I brought my entire family down to the park with supplies and toys and set up a kids-zone, so moms and dads would comfortable staying for a while.
Have you always been politically active?
Not ’till the day I set foot in Zuccotti. I’ve always voted but besides that, I didn’t feel like I had a voice. Even with voting I’ve always wondered if it “really” affects things overall. I did some research about Occupy —I’m concerned with many of the same issues they raise, and seeing the people at the park inspired me to get more involved. I realized that no matter how busy I am, it’s my social responsibility to show other parents that there is a way to make change happen. Parents don’t need to be afraid to speak up. We all have a voice —but the current state our country is in makes us feel otherwise.
Why should parents care about the Occupy movement? Isn’t this a game for young radicals?
Because it’s our children’s future that’s at risk! This is just the start of a major movement in our culture. It’s not going to happen overnight. Our lives will not be affected by the change as dramatically as our kids’ lives will. I also see this movement inspiring older children and young adults to become politically motivated. I’m interested to see the percentage of young adults who vote in the next presidential election.
While OWS is determined to be a leaderless movement, there will be lasting social change made now that will be reflected in our future system of government. I believe the more people who engage in their communities and government, the better this country will be in the future.
Everyone should have access to quality healthcare, affordable education, and jobs.
I say this often and I mean it; I don’t care how, or who, makes the country shape-up, just as long as it happens! This is the way I see most fit for me to support that change.
Is it asking too much for working families to get involved in protesting?
There are SO many things you can do that take very little time. If each parent took the time for one small action, it would add up to be something really big. I’ve been on the receiving end of emails and phone calls from parents just saying calling to say “thank you”, and to let us know they appreciate everything we’re doing. Something as simple as saying “thank you,” is really important. It only takes a minute, but has a lasting effect on the people on the front lines.
Aren’t you afraid to take your daughter to rallies? Isn’t it dangerous?
This is something we get asked — or yelled at — about, often. Just because you have a family doesn’t mean you can’t be involved in social movements and events. It just means you have to do it SMART. Not all protests are confrontational. For every bad clip you see on YouTube of a police conflict there’s hundreds of hours of peaceful, educational, and informative rallies and events.
Outside of what the media has told you OWS sites have this amazing energy and a truly supportive environment. Every person is there with a common interest, which in turn helps you become invested in the well being of complete strangers. I have felt safer at OWS events than I have on NYC public transportation.
At our events parents have done everything they can to make sure the kids attending are happy, safe, and comfortable. We have not had a single issue with other protestors and having children at the event. It kills me when people ask, “Didn’t you see what happened in Oakland? How is that safe?”. That’s such a poor argument. Oakland’s eviction was a planned event. Everyone there knew what was coming and to expect a possible conflict with the police. No parent, even the most radical, would ever (or should ever) bring their child into a situation like that!
What do you hope to accomplish by becoming involved in OWS?
I want to see a future for my daughter that’s better than my past.
A lot of people in this country have lost hope. As recent as thirty years ago, life was not anywhere near the struggle it is today. You used to be able to live off of one wage, you could pay your mortgage — healthcare costs were high, but affordable. I want my daughter to have an easier life than we have. This doesn’t mean I want everything to be handed to her — but I want her to have the same opportunities as the 1% in our country have: access to quality healthcare, the opportunity to go to a good school, and the general feeling of being proud of the country she lives in.
My husband is from Canada, and we’re very lucky that our daughter has the option of moving there if she wants, but we want that to be a choice for her, not a survival tactic.
I know he wants her to form her own opinions first and foremost. If she grows up and decides she doesn’t believe in anything her parents are doing, and wants to try to become part of the 1%, we will still love her.
Of course over all he wants her to happy and healthy which is why we’re doing this all, as a family.