I had high hopes for this one, but ended up being disappointed. It is a very white perspective on what protests look like. It does not address what marches and protests often look like when People of Color are the ones on the front lines. One only needs to look at the obvious differences between what happened when a bunch of backwater hicks stormed into state capitol buildings around the country with their weapons out, threatening governors and attempting to get into Chambers. No officers in riot gear and gas masks there as these white men got in their faces, yelling and screaming. Only face masks to protect from COVID. Yet, one can imagine how very different those scenes would have played out had it been POC, or Black men in particular, doing the exact same thing. In fact, you don't have to imagine it. You can see it by looking at videos and images of the protests and marches that have been going on since George Floyd was murdered by four men on a street in Minneapolis. Protesting and marching does not look the same for People of Color as it does for white people, and unfortunately this book does not address that.
I do appreciate that the illustrator did show a great amount of diversity within the pages. We see families of all colors, in all shapes and sizes, preparing to attend a march. We see families arriving by all modes of transportation, people of all ages and cultures. This diversity continues page after page as the march moves through the streets.
Another major issue I have with the book is how it addresses both the presence of the police and the media also at the march.
"There will be police officers at the march. Their job is to keep people safe."
This line nearly made me want to throw the book across the room. We can argue day and night about good officers vs bad officers but here is the reality: If you have five bad officers who do bad things, and you have five supposedly good officers who look the other way though they themselves do not DO bad things, then you have ten bad officers. That is a fact. And if you read my account of the protests I have attended in recent weeks, it will be glaringly obvious that I had zero fear of my fellow protesters. But I made damn sure I always knew where the officers in our area were, because rubber bullets were constantly shot and people got hit with strays all the time. I feared the officers, NOT my fellow protesters.
"There will be reporters, too. Their job is to tell the truth. If you want to answer their questions, speak in a loud, clear voice."
This is also not true. One must only look to Faux News to see how their coverage of the protests is so blatantly skewed, they are telling out-right lies. I think this statement is far more true on a local level, usually. For the protest I mentioned that I took Eleanor to, along with a good friend and her children, this statement was 100% true. The reporter and her camera crew asked to interview the girls, and it was beautiful to see Eleanor and her BFF holding hands. They are truly a symbol that hate is something that is taught, not something you are born with, because these girls have loved each other since they first met in dance class four years ago. They've known each other more of their life now than not, and it has never once occurred to either of them that they are any different from one another just based on their skin. So many people around us were in tears listening to the girls talk, and it made me feel such pride.
I would obviously not have taken Eleanor to the first protest I attended a few weeks ago, given that the protest the night before had turned very violent with tons of rubber bullets, water bottles, and tear gas flying. I would not have trusted that I could have kept her safe from the tear gas or flash bangs or rubber bullets, because in truth it was the officers who were so unpredictable. Protests and marches can be chaotic though, without the violence, and the author really pushed the narrative of the peaceful protest. While I agree that is a good message to send to kids, I also think it is unreasonable to expect peace at this point looking at it through the lens of the protests for George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks. People of Color HAVE protested peacefully, and nothing has changed. We are still right back here again, the same place we were when Michael Brown was murdered and left in the street for hours.
I recognize that perhaps my own outlook is also still too narrowly focused at this time to appreciate this book in full. There are many things to protest in addition to the murder of Black men by police officers. But that is where the attention is right now, and when I was searching for picture books to add to my #BlackLivesMatter Reading List, this is one that came up over and over.
I appreciated the 'how-to' parts of the book, preparing kiddos for what they will need to bring with them, how to get to and from the march, and also how to conduct themselves around those who disagree with why they are marching. The book never actually says what the protest march is for, but the kids carry signed that say "Speak Up" in rainbow letters, "Do the Math (and Science", "Peace begins with me" and "Hate Has No Home Here". As the protesters march, at one point we see barricades have been put up on a sidewalk and a couple people with frowning faces watching the march go back. Of this the narrators says, "If you see people who disagree, be polite." I think that is also important, but also not always realistic - again especially when thinking about the current protests and marches happening here and around the world in response to the murders of Floyd and Brooks.
I will still read this one to Eleanor, but I will also address each point that I have mentioned above as things that bothered me while reading. I do not want to scare Eleanor away from her budding activism but I also want to be realistic. We have discussed many times what happened to George Floyd and how we are protesting to stop other Black men from being hurt or killed by officers who are supposed to protect the entire community. We've talked about how we see each person, color and all, for who they are as whole people. (Side note: Let's stop with this colorblind bullshit, okay? When you say you don't see another person's color, you are denying seeing part of who they are. Stop it.) We talk about how all colors of skin are beautiful, all cultures have great things to offer our world, and that we will remain on the right side of history, fighting, marching, protesting for justice that has too long been denied.