30 | Protest Signs & Strollers

Meet the Guests

Libby Clarke is an artist, designer, and educator living in Maplewood, New Jersey with her wife, daughter, and cat. She is currently establishing Go High Signs, a project born out of her need to protest while staying positive. Libby also teaches at NYU’s School of Professional Studies and SOMA Adult School, while also running her own design studio.

Guimel DeCarvalho is the Director of People & Culture and Chief Diversity Officer for Wayside Youth and Family Support Network. She is a licensed social worker and human resources professional. Guimel was born in Brazil and immigrated to New York with her family when she was 5 years old. She lives in Massachusetts with her wife and 4 year old son. Since the 2016 election, Guimel has been actively involved in activist organizations and incorporating that activism into her work.

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Episode Transcript

Emily: The first political action I remember was when I was around six. I walked with my moms on the picket line as teachers negotiated for a better contract and I distinctly remember just loving the energy of the people and walking together and talking and smiling and and just demanding action. In reality, I lasted probably about 15 minutes before I bailed for the nearby playground, but I remember being there. My moms didn’t take me to too many protests or marches as a kid, at least that I remember. But we all got much more active as marriage equality was debated in Massachusetts and I flabbergasted some teachers by voluntarily holding political signs with my mom, Nan, for hours on a freezing cold November day for the 2004 election. A few years later, I remember talking my mom, Cathy, into taking me to an antiwar vigil. Together by moms and I have really come full circle over the years. Their activism inspired my own and now some of mine helps to sustain theirs anew. I really find a fantastic energy and power in large movements or protests or rallies. But is taking to the streets really a family activity? Why should our kids join us at everything from pride parades to mass marches? Should they be there at all? This is something that each family must talk about together and with me today are two parents who have made the commitment to including their children in public activism and are even taking steps to make those spaces more kid focused. With me today are Libby Clarke and Guimel DeCarvalho. So welcome to you both. I ask this question of everyone – who is in your family and how was it formed?

Guimel: Well, it’s myself and my wife Leona and a four year old son, Judah. I met Leona in college. We were in the same scholarship program. We moved out to California together and lived there for several years, got married and then a couple of years later decided to try to grow our family. Through the help of great health insurance and science, we were able to have Judah.

Emily: Yes. That is such a key combo. Guimel, do you remember the first protest or political action that you took part in?

Guimel: You know, before you started speaking and I was thinking about that question, I thought to myself that really the first protest or political action that I was a part of was the Women’s March after the election. Then you mentioned going to pride parades and I forget all the time that Pride every year is about pride, but it started out as a riot and protest and so I’ve been going to Pride for a very long time. My first Pride was in New York City. I remember being able to look down the long avenue and seeing the streams of people kind of filling in. New York is always full of people. But then to see all of them in the street, it’s a nice feeling.

Emily: So Libby, would you tell us who is in your family and how it was formed?

Libby: My family consists of myself and my wife Jennifer and our daughter Madeline. My wife bore our child, using an anonymous donor and I adopted her. Of course this all happened after everything became legal. I never liked the term ‘second parent adoption’ or ‘the other mother’. I always loved that one too. Like, I am Mama! Okay? We live in a suburb of New York City and Madeline’s almost six now. So loving the suburban two-mom life.

Emily: And do you remember the first protest or political action that you took part in?

Libby: The very first one that I really truly have remember being burned into my memory was when we took over some offices when I was in my freshman year of college after somebody had been sexually assaulted and the administration failed the victim. It was just mind blowing because I grew up in a family that, until very late, was a non-union family. We didn’t take part in strikes, we avoided the strikes. My father worked in a factory and was very reverent of the people who were striking, but we just never did that. So to have my friend being in pain and not being helped, and then taking action to get a concession from the administration to at least be heard, was a mind blowing. And it happened the same semester I discovered printmaking. So the two kind of got molecularly fused in my brain and I just kept putting the two together from then on out.

Emily: And so now what sort of protests or marches or rallies have you gone to with your children? Guimel, you mentioned going to the Women’s March in DC. Were you there with your son?

Guimel: No, we left him with grandma and grandpa in Brooklyn on our drive down to DC. After seeing how many people and how much of a crush it was, it was actually the right decision at that time. We wouldn’t have been able to be there as long as we were and participate as much as we did if he had been at that particular march, especially since he was much younger then. But since then he’s been to several here in the Boston area. It’s always a nice thing to be able to bring him to these events.

Emily: Yeah, I’ve know I’ve run into you a few times in the Boston area, at the March for Science and then the Women’s March 2017. He seems to be kind of loving it. It sounds like maybe the size and being in a new place had a really big impact when deciding the Women’s March in DC wasn’t the right place to have a child involved. But what was then the different feeling for the Boston area ones that made them feel different?

Guimel: So I’ve got to be honest with you. I think we all forget now because there have been so many marches since 2016, that when the Women’s March got organized and pulled together, there was a lot of apprehension in the air at that time. The last march or public movement that you saw in the news prior to the Women’s March were things like Ferguson and Black Lives Matter, which are great and wonderful and very important that they happen. They also had a lot of police involvement and violence break out, and that kind of a thing from the police. So when we were making plans to go down to the Women’s March, we didn’t know how the police were going to behave with the protesters. And so we chose very specifically to say he needed to be in one place where he was going to be okay.

Guimel: Once we went to the Women’s March and experienced it and saw hundreds of thousands of people being really close together, it was hard to get from one side of the street to the other, to go to a porta-potty for example. But it was completely peaceful, no violence. The police, for lack of a better term, behaved. And so it really kind of demystified that entire thing for us. And so when it came time for follow up marches the next year, we couldn’t travel to DC anymore, so we made the decision to make sure that we would show up and be counted in Boston.

Guimel: We felt like it was the safe decision to bring our son. Being close to home, if something went wrong, we could easily just walk away. And a side bonus, we could also bring all of our stuff, all of the equipment that you need when you have a child going anywhere outside your house. His umbrella stroller has also made many appearances at rallies – along with snacks and juice boxes and extra pairs of pants for him, extra shirts, layers, all the things that you can’t just have easily with you when you have to travel to another state or city of far away. And so it just made it much more realistic and feasible to have him participate too.

Emily: And Libby, have you gone to protests and rallies with your daughter?

Libby: Absolutely. We saw the Women’s March in 2016. I went to New York City and my wife took our daughter to the smaller one over in Morristown, which is closer to where we live here in Jersey. And we’ve kind of kept that protocol where we pick one where a lot of our mom friends are going and one of us can compare. I usually go into the fray. We’ve been doing a lot more stuff here in Maplewood because I joined local political group and there’s a lot of moms and dads with their children. The protests are becoming not only a family thing but a neighborhood and community thing with a lot of children coming to the protests and holding signs and listening to the speeches with as much patience as can be expected. And it’s amazing kind of dialogue there because luckily we’re not going to rallies or anything that are filled with a lot of strife, not something that’s running on just anger. We’re introducing our daughter to this and if we try to solidly include her and make it as normal as possible.

Emily: Libby, your daughter is six and Guimel, your son is four. So they’re still young. Before you take them to a protest or to march, do you talk to them about where you’re going and explain what you’re doing as a family?

Libby: I would definitely say we discuss it and we try to break things down in terms we deem appropriate. We do a lot of reading and try to bring up just the edge of the continent of the issue in a friendly way because once again, these are the babies.

Emily: And Guimel have you talked with Judah too much about what’s going on?

Guimel: Well, I mean obviously more now than earlier on, but it’s the same thing as with Libby. We try to make it just be part of what we’re doing that day. So we’re going to swim class, then grocery shopping, we’re going to get some food and then we’re going to go to the march, you know what I mean?

Emily: And I feel like that is the perfect gay agenda. Nailed it.

Guimel: When we go, we explain to him what that one is about. We just recently went to the Yes on 3 rally before the election. So in Massachusetts, the Massachusetts state government had already passed an anti-discrimination law based on gender identity. Which is amazing and I love about that about Massachusetts. And then some people decided that they wanted to repeal it and they put a ballot initiative to try to repeal that law. So voting YES meant that you wanted to keep the anti-discrimination law in place and voting NO meant you wanted to repeal it. So we have a Yes on 3 sign on our lawn. Whe we went to the march to the rally prior to the election, Judah’s sitting on my shoulders listening to the mayor, Marty Walsh speak and he noticed someone else holding a sign and he recognized it because he was recognizing letters. And so it’s very educational.

Emily: Yeah. I know that I’ve gone to many a protest now, especially in my adulthood, and some of the signs tend to be quippy. Some of the signs tend to be profane. Plenty tend to be very loving. But there’s certainly a variety. Has your daughter Madeline then been picking up on any of the more aggressive signs?

Libby: So far, no, because we’ve been confining things to our local protests, which are of course, I daresay a little tamer than what would happen in times square or in the middle of Manhattan. But once again, I’ve just been discussing my whole Go High Signs thing with her. We’re talking about how people have been speaking very uncivilly to each other and how we can’t stay there and we have to be able to talk. We have to be able to hear each other or at least be present while the other person’s saying something that we don’t agree with. She seems to be picking that up. But we definitely have talked a little bit about how to deal with anger and if somebody yells at you from a passing car, they’re just having a bad day honey and hopefully they’ll feel better and we’re doing okay. But we have not experienced that directly yet. So I have not had my theory tested at all. You may have other experiences you could share.

Emily: Yeah, I think the most clear time that I had a much more confrontational experience at a protest was when I was living in DC and I went to the Supreme Court as they were hearing arguments for the marriage equality case. And so I went and there was a big rally and there was the pro side and then the anti-marriage equality side. And the anti-marriage equality side basically had a parade through the center of the street that we were on so that the pro marriage equality folks ended up getting split in half on either sides of the street as the parade came through. And it was really something to see. And I had a sign that said like, I love my moms on it and to be face to face with somebody who was yelling at me was really jarring.

Emily: It was a weekday morning, so there weren’t many families present. But I think anybody who was with children backed away as quick as possible. But that said, in the anti-marriage equality side, there were a lot of kids. It was very clear that they were made up of youth groups and churches. And there were a lot of kids who were then seeing adults yelling. I mean on both sides. But I would say for the most part people knew not to try to antagonize the folks on the anti-marriage equality side. People were just kind of chanting about love and equality and things like that. It was really hard for me to see the children in a space with their parents yelling at all of these people around holding rainbow flags. That was really jarring to see,

Libby: Just to speak to that very quickly, I think that kind of provides a little bit of the extension of the logic where when my child is bringing a sign about something she knows she believes in, I think that’d be the time where she’s going to be aware of and be able to process the hostilities that await. I think that it’s just that you kind of become aware of it when you’re ready because you’re engaging more and more in it. But once again, when my child really believes in something, I’m going to equip her to hold a sign that she wants to hold and we’re going to head for the protest. Hopefully by then she will be used to the mechanics of being in a group and knowing where your safety spot is, if you get separated and all of that.

Emily: Yeah. That’s actually a great question. Have you made plans as a family in case of misplacing one another or if the adults got separated? I’ve seen photos online of parents writing their phone numbers with Sharpie on their kiddos.

Libby: We always have a safety spot that we agree upon ahead of time. And also we try to stay savvy to where we’re placing ourselves in the larger crowd because you don’t want to stay in the center when you have a child, you want to say to the edge with the stroller. You need to be able to get under the barricade and to the actual sidewalk if need be. The general guidelines for me is – just how much of the fray are you willing to navigate and if you’re not willing to navigate much, but you still want to be there, then head to the edges.

Guimel: I mean our first decision really is about the likelihood of there being violence. Most of the time our assessment, even though it might be large, is informed by how safe we ultimately felt that the Women’s March. Now we generally don’t have a big fear of going into a larger space. We also stayed closer to the sides so that he can run in place or so we can easily rush to the bathroom. So like Libby says, it does keep you out of getting caught up in things. And to be honest, then the number one thing that keeps us together has been the stroller. So he’s buckled into the stroller. He can’t go anywhere and now that he’s a little bit bigger my, my shoulders get a lot of use from him too. So he is always attached to one of us. He’s never roaming on his own, so we always have somebody tethered to him in some way. We always make sure to park our car in a parking lot that is close enough that we can walk to the March easily but not so close that we’ll get caught up in something so that if something were to happen, we can always try to find our way back to the car.

Emily: Growing up, did you see adults in your life taking part in political actions or movements?

Guimel: No, not at all. My family, we’re from Brazil. My parents grew up in a military dictatorship, where going to a protest was not something that you did because you know, you could end up not living anymore. So when we came to United States, they were just focused on working and making sure that we got an education. They were very clear about the importance of voting. I don’t know if you know this, but in Brazil voting is actually mandatory and it’s in the constitution. So Brazilian citizens have to vote living in the US. I’m a dual citizen, they’re dual citizens. We still have to vote to keep our Brazilian citizenship. So voting is a very important in a Brazilian household. And so that was always something that was ingrained in me. As soon as I could vote in America, I’ve voted in every single election I can.

Libby: We were way out in rural Virginia hills and for whatever reason, my father worked in a paper mill and didn’t join the union for a very long time. Beyond that, because everybody had to go so far into town to vote anyway, I never saw any politics. I mean, we were lucky we could get TV if the leaves were down. We were so far out, it was foreign to me to take part physically in protests until much later. I feel like college is kind of shockingly late now. I hope that becomes norm, that people are like, – I had my first protest when I was a third grader. It was rough! – I hope to bequeath that not only to my child, but to my grandchildren.

Emily: There’s certainly seems to be a big change coming out of the 2016 election and earlier with Black Lives Matter protests as well. I have seen people taking to the streets so much more and it’s been so exciting for me to also see my parents getting involved in different ways. One of my moms, Cathy spends part of the year in Massachusetts and the other part in Florida. There she’s finding the small Women’s Marches to go to. And then of course I’m extremely jealous because she’s in Florida in January, sending me photos of her protesting in t-shirts and shorts and I’m freezing in Boston. But it’s just been really exciting because growing up, we talked about politics and we would talk about what was happening and had strong opinions at home, but it wasn’t as often that we were getting out to demonstrate. We were in the suburbs as well. And so getting into Boston wasn’t easy, so we didn’t do that as much. Now you see so much more happening in smaller communities.

Guimel: One of the things that was really fundamental for me about the 2016 election is that before that, I had the same opinions about everything, I had the same world view. But I was a person that was just to myself. I’m very much an introvert, in spite of being on a podcast right now. I was never somebody that would wear my, my ideas on my sleeve. After the election I said to myself, I’m not going to accommodate other people anymore. I’m not going to be silent anymore about who I am and what I believe. And so the first thing that we need to do is go out and get a rainbow flag and put it on our house and declare our allegiance. And so that’s something that I want to make sure to be able to teach Judah – that he needs to be all of who he is and all of who he is going to be. And he needs to say that out loud and to put it out there and to really participate in the world and confront it when necessary to make sure that he can be safe and protected and make the choices he needs to make his life.

Guimel: And so that again, is one of the best things about bringing him to all of these things. in protests, he’s kind of watching all the people and seeing all the signs and then we’d go to a Pride Parade and he’s ringing bells and dancing. It’s a great thing to see.

Libby: You both have touched on a couple of things that I think a really beautiful that we had forgotten overall. And first of all, it’s inter-generational. A political dialogue in real time, face to face. It hasn’t happened for so many people for way too long and it’s happening now. Secondly, it’s a process. Protest isn’t the end of the conversation. Protest has always been a declarative statement in a further dialogue. And I think that we’re all getting used to that idea.

Emily: You both touched on how your children being a motivation to be out there to be speaking up and showing up in these different ways. Could you just elaborate more on that? How is being a parent a directly tied to your activism?

Libby: For me, it’s everything. I refuse to leave my child this mess. I refuse. I refuse to not try to clean this up and to call the other parents and everybody else around me because once again, we have to model active citizenship and being a human being. There’s just a certain level of common decency that involves sometimes fighting it out verbally and with signs. It’s about righting the ship.

Guimel: It’s all about protection. For me, I want to make sure he’s going to be safe. I want to make sure that he’s going to live in a town where he’s going to be safe. Our family is in such a precarious place in a lot of different ways. We’re a two mom family, we’re interracial, we’re interfaith, we’re women. There’s a lot of intersections happening here and so there’s a lot of ways in which in which our family can be attacked and our rights can be taken away. We just had had to vote on keeping the gender anti-discrimination law in place. Yes, it’s Massachusetts and in 70% of the of the state voted to keep it in place. Though I appreciate that so much, that still means 30% voted to take it away. Like Libby said, we have to right the ship and we need to protect as much as possible. I can say is that it’s worth it. It’s worth it to get your family involved. It’s worth it to make your voice heard. And it helps you to not feel like you’re alone.