Yesterday my son had a half day of school due to parent-teacher conferences. I was planning on spending the afternoon with him and doing something special because it was the first day of spring.
I had heard about the solidarity rally at the Capitol and was very familiar with the fight for fair funding of education and health care and thought this would be a perfect learning experience for my eight-year-old boy.
That morning, I told him about the rally and asked him what he wanted his sign to say. He thought for a moment and said, “Fighting for my Future.” I was taken aback by his powerful words. I told him it was perfect and dropped him off at school.
When my son came home from school I greeted him with large pieces of white paper, cut out letters and markers. We made our signs together and talked about the importance of speaking our opinion and listening to others. With an excitement to fight for what we believe in, we jumped in the car and headed to downtown Albany.
As we approached the rally, there was music playing, hundreds of people holding signs, a huge inflatable rat, and an energy of solidarity that you could not deny. All of this was going on in the park behind the Capitol and in front of the Alfred E. Smith building, which is an impressive building on its own. My son was eager to join the group and started asking question after question. “Why do we have to yell this? Will they hear us? What does the rat mean? Will this help?” He was frustrated at being so small and was afraid people wouldn’t see his sign. I put him on my shoulders so he could wave his sign higher.
Towards the end of the rally, my son was standing next to me. We were listening to the speakers at the podium when a young man with a guitar strapped across his back approached us. He put his hand on my son’s shoulder and said, “I am the music teacher you will never have.”
As he walked away I was at first annoyed because he could have scared my son. “Why did he say that to me?” my son asked. Then I realized this was a good learning experience. I explained more about budget cuts to education, teacher layoffs, and the struggle of young teachers trying to get a job today. My eight-year-old understood. I saw a fire in his eyes and he raised his sign higher and yelled louder.
At the end of the rally we walked back to our car hand in hand.
“Mommy, did we win?”
I told him it’s not about winning, it’s about having our voices heard.
“Did they hear us?”
Oh yes my little guy, today they heard us. Loud and clear.
Dana Fournier is a graphic designer in NYSUT’s Communications Department. – Ed.