Ask Auntie Establishment

Election '04
Dear Auntie Establishment

I'm the proud mom of an 11-year-old and a 9-year-old. I am very concerned about the information they are given via mass media and shoddy textbooks, so instead of using a formal social studies curriculum, we regularly discuss articles from our local paper, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and, of course, But right now, it seems that my husband and I spend most of our time talking to each other, and take turns playing devil's advocate for many of the issues we would normally agree upon. The oldest boy is just beginning to jump in and ask questions, most often defining things in terms of "fairness."

What else can we do to help our sons value (and help to preserve) the democracy and civil liberties they have left? It won't be very many years before the oldest stands in the voting booth on his own for the first time, and while I don't expect him to agree with our views, I am hoping his will be more carefully thought out and developed than those of many of the newly voting teens I've known.

Proud Political Momma

auntieDear Proud Mom:
First, Auntie would like to thank you for helping raise the next generation of change makers and commend you for already doing quite a lot. Especially for following the number one rule of convincing adolescents of anything (don't lecture) and for being willing to play the devil's advocate and argue with your boys. There's nothing many adolescents like better than arguing.

Auntie's only other suggestion is to actually get them to move their bodies, not just their mouths. Take them to a family-friendly protest. It was the energy and hopeful spirit of a large protest that first got Auntie interested in politics when she was about your eldest son's age. Also, help them think about what other kind of legal protests they could do with your assistance, like a local lobbying day, calling their senators and local congress people, and taking them to volunteer in the political office of someone you support. Role-playing/theater is also a good idea. If they don't do it in school, try it at home--pick different political figures to play and pretend to have a debate on the floor. Finally, before you vote, go over the sample ballot with them, ask them questions about what you should do, and take them to vote with you, even if they won't be allowed inside the actual voting booth.

Dear Auntie E,

I am normally the type of person who is willing to shout "I'm a LIBERAL!" in anyone's face. Recently a friend, whose husband just returned from military service in Iraq, has been forwarding me pro-war emails. She says that her family has benefited from the Bush presidency with pay increases and that the Iraqi people need us. My problem is I have been completely mute about my political beliefs because of a sense that I will offend her pride in her husband. I usually take great pleasure in offending people with my political views. Is it right to stay silent with this one person? Am I losing the chance to convert the lost? Should I feel guilty about not defending my cause? Help!

Cringing in Cleveland

My Dear Cringing Friend:
Why, Auntie wonders, do you feel your only two options are silence and offense? It's not a bad thing to receive emails that disagree with your position, since it helps you know what the opposition thinks. Why not ask your friend if she wants to hear your thoughts? If she sends you her opinions, she might well be interested in yours. Take the emails she sends you, research the facts in them, and -- if she is receptive -- send back friendly, light emails that bring up facts and questions she might not have thought of. Better yet, if she is willing to share ideas back and forth, talk about it over tea. Personal communication is always more effective and friendly, and less likely to be deleted without thought.

Dear Auntie Establishment:

I'm a legal immigrant (married to an American for about a year) and will, when I can, be applying for citizenship. I'm very disturbed by the continuing war in Iraq and would like to help organize and go to legal protests, but am worried that if things get out of control and the police start arresting people, my immigration status could be jeopardized. I hate sitting on the sidelines, but at the same time can't risk deportation. What should I do?

Involved Immigrant

My Dear Active Friend:
In response, Auntie would like to quote the First Amendment, offer a soaring defense of your rights in this country, and then end with an admonition to you to head out into the streets. Alas, given the reality of the times we live in, she cannot.

There is quite a bit of difference between what you legally should be able to do and what it's safe to do today. By all means, keep up your legal activism within your community and learn about protests, such as the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride, that are specifically geared to protecting the rights of immigrants and have legal counsel on hand.

Auntie recommends, however regretfully, that you stay away from all street protests where there is a reasonable chance of arrest. The rules are quite different for immigrants than they are for citizens, and if you are arrested and charged with certain crimes (including resisting arrest, assaulting a police officer or any other felony charge), you can be deported. This has happened quite frequently recently and often the immigrants deported were married to U.S. citizens. For more information check out the National Immigration Law Center and the National Immigration Project.

Next week: How do I create a community of friends to do things with?

Politically confused? Write to your Auntie for help: Letters may be edited for clarity and space. Missed last week's Auntie? Find her columns in the archives.

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