APPLETON, Wis. (AP) — Karen Park still remembers her parents’ political influence growing up.
The daughter of two civil rights and peace activists who lived in Washington D.C. in the 1960s, Park was exposed to social movements and the political process early in life.
It impacted her so much that she’s passed the same tradition down to her four children — two college students, one in middle school and one in high school.
“When I became a mom, some of the issues I grew up caring about seemed even more important when I had children,” Park said to the Appleton Post-Crescent . “My children were born and were very small during the Iraq War and I remember feeling like now that I have children, these things really affect them.”
Park has taken her children to see a number of presidential candidates and several political rallies locally and across the state.
Since 2016, one in five Americans has attended some kind of political rally or protest, according to a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll conducted last April.
The increase in political activism has trickled down to young children. You can buy a toddler a “Smash the Patriarchy” onesie or the bestselling alphabet book, “A is for Activist” which lists the ABCs of issues like environmental justice and LGBTQ rights.
Some may argue that children don’t belong at marches and rallies, but Park said she sees no harm in bringing her kids to those gatherings.
“People have different parenting styles,” Park said. “To put a best light on it, some people’s parenting style might be to shield their children for as long as possible from difficult topics.”
Park’s 15-year-old son, Arthur Koenig, who is a sophomore at Appleton North High School, said being exposed to what’s happening in the nation while growing up helped him to be more aware of politics.
“We would go to political events all the time like rallies during elections or just marches or protests,” Koenig said. “I’m sure I wasn’t always super excited to go when I was little, but I knew that it was important and (Park) kind of laid that foundation that made it seem really important and as I got older, I started to get more interested in politics myself.”
Jason Brozek, a political science professor at Lawrence University, said his 6- and 10-year-old children have been politically engaged.
Brozek brings his kids to rallies at Houdini Plaza, but also makes sure they understand the importance of being involved at the local level by taking them to Common Council meetings and public input sessions about projects happening in the Fox Cities area.
“More than anything, the goal is to help my kids. develop a sense of self-efficacy about politics and about their community,” Brozek said. “That these kind of things are not some abstract process but actually something that passionate, committed people can influence.
“I don’t really see involving my kids as some kind of indoctrination. It’s just part of good parenting to help my kids see how politics affects their lives and the community.”
Park grew up in a Catholic family, which led her to get involved in social causes.
Now a religious studies professor at St. Norbert College, she said her family’s faith teachings and her political activism went hand in hand.
“My family was raised that being involved in social movements (was) a part of their faith,” Park said.
Her religious beliefs made her even more adamant to stand up for those marginalized in society, she said.
“It’s part of who I am,” Park said. “My understanding of Catholicism is that you care about these things, that you get engaged in the world. your faith is not just some private belief but something that you live.”
Ian McDonald, a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, had a similar experience developing his political views from the Lutheran church.
McDonald’s active with the College Republicans and is on the board of the Winnebago County Republicans. Despite growing up in a moderate and nonpolitical household, his volunteer efforts at his church helped shape his activism today.
“I did a lot of volunteering at the church,” McDonald said. “It just kind of shown that you don’t always need a governmental intervention to make a better society. You can do that through churches and charities and fundraisers.”
McDonald said he’s grateful his parents kept their household nonpolitical so he could develop his own worldview.
“When you see younger students showing up to these rallies with their parents, they’re getting that first kind of political experience and that’s fine,” he said. “It’s just making sure that when they grow up, they can make their own decisions on what they truly believe.”
Anton Sederquist, the field director for UWO College Democrats, grew up in a household where it was taboo to talk about politics, but admires the engagement he sees through parents getting their kids involved early.
The son of two teachers, when Act 10 passed in 2011, his parents took him to Madison to protest the legislation curtailing collective bargaining and funding for education passed by Gov. Scott Walker.
From there, he said, he was hooked and found a sense of patriotism through protest.
“Who are you as a patriot if you don’t criticize what your country is doing because you know it can do better?” Sederquist said.
“This is why this country is so unique. we’re going to have zero consequences for protesting what the government is doing unlike other places in the world.”
Pam Fleming, who’s also involved with UWO College Democrats, said her parents raised her opposite of what she believes now, but her upbringing had an impact on her views today.
“I was raised Christian and Republican and now I’m an atheist Democrat,” Fleming said.
Fleming attended private school up to eighth grade before going to a public high school where she said she was exposed to more ideas better aligned with her feelings.
“I thought I believed everything I was taught, believed everything my parents thought about religion and politics and once I hit public school, I saw there was more than what I was being taught and that other side is what I believed more,” Fleming said.
While she said her personal activism in Democratic politics was awkward at first with her family, it was important for her to understand it’s fine to have different views than the ones she was raised with.
“Essentially, I was kind of betraying them and what I was taught to think was right, but as I got older, I realized it’s okay that I think differently and not everyone has to think the same and that’s not necessarily a bad thing,” Fleming said. “I think parents are there to shape what they want their children to believe and whether their children decide to believe that, it’s up to them.”