I’ve been a part of conversations lately about whether parents should wait to take action for peace, justice, and the environment until their children are older, or even until they are grown. Although I understand how busy the lives of modern parents can be, I have come to the conclusion that postponing involvement in the great social issues that face humanity is not in the best interests of either parents or children. Caring for our children doesn’t have to shut us down or make our life smaller or keep us from taking a stand or from working to bring about social change. In fact, concern for our children can motivate us to work to solve the very real challenges of our world today.
I first became involved in working for peace when I became aware of some very real threats to my children. It was 1979, and Congress was debating whether to re-institute draft registration. I had preteen and teenage children who would have been required to register when they turned eighteen, and I was totally opposed to that happening (although ultimately it did). I had lived through the Vietnam War, and many of my peers had been drafted. The first social justice meeting I attended was the newly formed Nevada County Anti-Draft Coalition. I was so glad to discover like-minded friends.
I also started learning more about the threat of nuclear war, as the United States competed with the Soviet Union in building more and more nuclear weapons and changed its official nuclear policy from deterrence through Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) to “first strike” or Counterforce. This strategy put nukes in both countries on hair-trigger alert.
I was not the only parent whose fear for their children kept them up nights, and many of us joined more seasoned peace activists in calling for an end to the insanity of the nuclear arms race. Because (in the words of Joan Baez) “action is the antidote to despair,” I worked with another concerned mother to form a local “World Peacemakers” group, which had a spiritual component (“journey inward, journey outward”), and we got to work on the national and ultimately successful Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign.
I know now that if I hadn’t responded to the inner urgings to get involved during the time I was raising my children, my “world” would have been much smaller. If I had stayed in the limited role that society assigns to young mothers, I wouldn’t have become the person I am today.
Also, I would have missed so many opportunities to take action for a better future, which is our responsibility as parents and grandparents. We can’t wait five or ten or twenty years to start protecting our children from the larger challenges that threaten them: climate change, loss of jobs and opportunities, increasing poverty and inequity, economic or social collapse, violence, terror, war. They will ask us someday what we were doing during this critical time in the history of the earth. What will we tell them?
This doesn’t mean that we need to stay busy all the time working for peace and justice, or that we can’t take time off, take care of ourselves, or enjoy life. But it’s important to stay aware of and connected to the larger patterns of history, to listen for God’s call (which may surprise us), and be ready to respond.
It’s a joyful thing to be part of a community of people who are working together to build a better society and world, where all children can be cared for. I am so glad I haven’t missed the great joy of making good friends and working with kindred spirits who care as much as I do and who have faith in “the power of the people” to bring social and global transformation. I believe that this is God working through us limited (and sometimes remarkably gifted) human beings. As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Together we can do so much more than we can do alone.