Chris Teret found it surprisingly easy to explain to his 4-year-old daughter, Phoenix, why people want to march and protest the words and actions of President Trump.

“She’s in preschool and they talk a lot about respectful behavior, not bullying, not calling people names. So we told her some of the things (Trump) had done and said,” said Teret, 39, of Portland. “She said (Trump) would do well to learn the things she learned in preschool.”

When Phoenix marched with her family in the Women’s Walk Portland on Jan. 21, where the estimated crowd of more than 10,000 included many children, she carried a small sign that read “Send Trump to Preschool.” She carried it again on Feb. 1 at a rally at Portland City Hall to protest Trump’s banning immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries. That rally attracted about 1,500 people, including dozens of children.

Since Trump’s election and inauguration, protests in Maine and nationally have become family affairs, with children and teens as visible at rallies as pink pussycat hats and “Love Trumps Hate” signs. Experts say this is one of the few times in recent American history when children have been such a large part of protests, with the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the immigrants’ rights rallies of 2006 being other examples.

Six-year-old Caleb Eng and Melanie Maudlin, 5, attend a demonstration against President Trump’s immigration ban recently at Portland City Hall with their parents. Caleb’s mother, Renee Bourgeois of Portland, said this issue in particular “is so much a part of our family’s story.” Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

The influx of young protesters, say parents and activists, can be linked to the fact that people are protesting such a broad range of topics, most of them directly affecting families, including Trump’s personal remarks about women, his efforts to ban people from Muslim-majority countries and his administration’s efforts to roll back protection for transgender people. Past protest movements often were focused on one topic. Parents also say that, in this time of bitterly divided politics, it’s important to show children firsthand the power of peaceful protest and resistance.

Some political scientists have already begun studying the current wave of protests, including surveying participants of the massive Women’s March in Washington, D.C., in January. But most of the people surveyed there were of voting age, so experts say it’s hard to quantify the number of children involved. Still, the photographic and anecdotal evidence suggests that the ongoing protests are multigenerational, the kinds of protests that historically get the attention of politicians and the public. Images of children facing off with police dogs during the civil rights movement, for example, helped build support for the cause.

“It’s an interesting moment because so many people, across generations, seem to be turning out in solidarity with so many different communities. (Multigenerational efforts) are the movements more likely to get a hold on the public consciousness,” said Sasha Costanza-Chock, a professor of civic media at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “We’ll probably see the impact of this for many years. This involvement (by children and teens) will create lots of opportunities for mobility on so many issues.”


Some of the children going to rallies, like Phoenix, come from families where activism is frequent and they’ve seen it all their lives. Phoenix’s father is an electrician and union member, and she has stood on picket lines with him and heard political talk since she was a baby.

But many young protesters are the children of people who had never participated in a protest before, but who now feel called to act and to get their children involved.

Chris Teret, 39, of Portland is joined by his 4-year-old daughter, Phoenix, at a recent rally outside City Hall. “She said (President Trump) would do well to learn the things she learned in preschool.” Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

Though she has always voted, Renee Bourgeois, a 44-year-old veterinarian from Portland, had not been politically active before attending the Portland rally in support of immigrants. She brought her 6-year-old son, Caleb Eng, to the rally because his great-grandparents had immigrated from China and faced harsh anti-Chinese laws and bias.

“This is so much a part of our family’s story. To me it seems less about political things and more about how to be kind to people. That’s how my husband and I talk to Caleb about it,” she said.

Ellen Okolita, a maker of children’s costumes from Gray, had not been to a political rally since college before attending the Portland rally for immigrants with her two daughters, Olive, 5, and Ivy, 7. Both girls worked hard on their signs beforehand. One said “Meow for Peace” over the image of a winged cat and another said “Howl for Peace” near the image of a wolf. Okolita had arranged to meet four other parents at the rally, and together they had a total of eight children with them.

The rally started at 4 p.m., with temperatures around 30 degrees. From the top of the City Hall steps, a half-dozen immigrants gave passionate speeches, their words sometimes hard to hear through loudspeakers, and led chants like “This is what democracy looks like.” Some children stood on snowbanks to see better, and many joined the chants. About a half-hour into the rally, Olive and Ivy said their hands were cold and someone in the crowd passed them hand warmers.

Okolita, 35, said the administration’s attempt to ban immigrants from Muslim-majority countries pushed her to act. And she knew immediately she wanted to involve her children. She and her husband have talked to the children about how Trump’s immigration policy might affect families like one they know from Syria. The discussion turned to the idea of equality, and that it’s important to stand up for equal rights for all people. When they were considering going last month to the Women’s March on Maine in Augusta, Okolita asked her daughters if they thought women should have equal rights. “Of course, Mom” was their answer.

“To me, it’s a no-brainer they’d come with me, as long as they want to. We give them the option,” said Okolita. “It’s their country, and these are big times right now.”

Okolita said Ivy was especially excited to attend the Portland rally on immigration and chose it over rehearsal for a play she’s in. Afterward, Okolita said, she talked with her daughters about what to put in the backpack for the next rally, to stave off cold, hunger or thirst.

Ellen Okolita is joined by one of her daughters, Ivy, 7. “To me, it’s a no-brainer they’d come with me,” Okolita said of her kids. “It’s their country, and these are big times right now.” Staff photo by Brianna Soukup


Young people have long been involved in protest movements, said Costanza-Chock, but often they’ve been at least high-school-age, if not in college. Dating back to the Vietnam War, “student protest” has been a familiar term. Recent movements that have included teens and young adults include Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street.

Both of those movements embraced millennials, people born roughly between 1980 and 2000, a generation that has been active in a variety of social causes. (The 2016 Millennial Impact Report, based on input from 3,150 people found that more than half of millennials identify as conservative and only 43 percent as liberal. The report, produced by marketing agency Achieve with support from the Case Foundation, also found the political areas of most interest to the group as a whole are education, health care and the economy.) While there are certainly millennials involved in the current wave of protests, it also involves younger children, brought by parents.

“This is entire families, like during civil rights, with mothers and fathers bringing their young kids,” said Costanza-Chock. “That, I think, makes this period (of protests) different than many others.”

Civil rights leaders in the 1960s were sometimes criticized for having children attend rallies and marches, said Erica Chenoweth, a professor of international relations at the University of Denver who has researched the history of civil resistance. But bringing children to a march or rally helps designate the events as “family-friendly” and might deter violent outbursts, Chenoweth said. From a practical standpoint, sometimes bringing children is the only way for parents to participate. And much of the protesting now involves women who may be primary caregivers for their children, said Chenoweth.

“It was so eye-opening,” said 13-year-old protester Hannah Elizabeth Little, “to be in the midst of so many people who are trying to make this country better.” Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

While many younger children attended the Maine women’s marches and the Portland rally for immigrants with their families, some tweens and teenagers have decided on their own to protest. Hannah Elizabeth Little, 13, asked her father to drive her to the Portland rally for immigrants. He was sick, or he would have stood with her, she said. The immigration issues being raised felt “very personal” to her, since she has friends at Lincoln Middle School in Portland from Somalia and other countries.

“It’s hard to hear all this, to hear such hate toward (her friends) from our government. They were being demonized, and it made me furious,” said Hannah, who is in the eighth grade.

Even before the rally for immigrants, Hannah had become moved to act by what she’d heard about Trump. She considers herself an “intersectional feminist,” a term that relates to how women’s race, class, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation can affect their experiences with and treatment by society. She and her father went to the women’s march in Washington, D.C., in January, and the two of them stood for hours among hundreds of thousands of like-minded people.

“It was so eye-opening, to be in the midst of so many people who are trying to make this country better,” Hannah said. “But it was a little mournful, because of the things that brought us out.”

Hannah’s mother, Jenna Little-Armstrong, said that her daughter has always been interested in helping others. She’s distributed blankets to homeless people and as a Girl Scout volunteered at a teen shelter. Plus, she knows many immigrant families who have less than hers.

“Hannah’s always been interested in the bigger picture of what’s going on, and we’ve tried to help her act on that. Instead of simply feeling badly about somebody, give of yourself to them,” said Little-Armstrong, 50.

“I’m planning to do a lot more (than protest),” said Hannah. “I want to get on the ground and start helping people.”

At left, Hannah Johnson, 13, of Cape Elizabeth traveled in January to the Women’s March on Washington with her mother, Jessica Johnson, second from left, and both grandmothers, Cindy Guertin of Yarmouth and Therese Johnson of Bridgton. Children like Hannah “are the next generation,” her mother said. Photo courtesy of Jessica Johnson


All children learn from their parents, pick up habits and ideas, including ideas of right and wrong. That’s why many activists and scholars think these multigenerational protests could be powerful.

When Hannah Johnson of Cape Elizabeth, 13, traveled to the Washington, D.C., women’s march in January, she drove down with her mother and both her grandmothers. Her mother, Jessica Johnson, persuaded her to come and see democracy in action.

Children like Hannah “are the next generation,” said Jessica Johnson, 45, an architect. “I think it’s important they understand this country is what it is because we are allowed to protest things peacefully.” Johnson had never been to a rally or march before, though she grew up with parents who had. Johnson’s mother, Cindy Guertin, said that in her Jewish-Catholic household politics and social justice were discussed and her children always knew she was strongly in favor of civil rights.

Guertin, 74, of Yarmouth, protested against the war in Vietnam in Washington, D.C., in the late 1960s or early 1970s. Going to the women’s march in January was very different.

The Vietnam protest “was scary,” she said. “There were troops everywhere making sure we didn’t get together in large groups.” But the march in January was peaceful, with no troops in sight. It had a different feel, too, since it was more about a resistance to the perceived rollback of civil rights for millions of people, not focused on one military action.

Guertin, a retired art teacher, is glad her granddaughter participated. She thinks young people need to learn about the power of protest and resistance and its place in our democracy.

“Protests have been a part of life in this country for a long time, and I don’t know if young people know that, or that there was a time here when women couldn’t vote,” Guertin said. “I think young people need to know that.”

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 9:24 a.m. on March 2, 2017, to correct the number of people who provided input for the Millennial Impact Report.

Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

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