In front of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction in Raleigh, a group of children spoke to a small crowd. It was spring break, and they were journeying from Miami to Washington, D.C., to protest the president’s immigration policies. Most of these children were afraid of having their families split up due to the recent executive enforcement of immigrant deportation and detainment.
“I’m the son of undocumented immigrants,” said Uriel Rodriguez. The 11-year-old was clearly nervous, yet determined. He wanted to give the president a message. “Donald Trump, we can’t be living with the fear that, at any moment, our parents could be arrested and deported.”
Rodriguez and the other youth were part of the We Belong Together Kids Caravan, a campaign organized by the National Domestic Workers Alliance and dozens of affiliated organizations to protest President Donald Trump’s immigration policies. Forty children, ages 7-17, left Miami on April 10 and, after stops in Atlanta and Raleigh, arrived in Washington on April 14, where hundreds of young people from different parts of the country held a protest across the street from the White House.
The initiative was largely youth-driven, says Andrea Cristina Mercado, campaign director at the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Over the past few years, her organization has encouraged young activists to send Christmas and Valentine’s Day cards to their elected officials to urge them to keep their families together. But in late January, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez ordered local jails to comply with federal immigration detention requests.
Young people have been particularly active in fighting for immigrants’ rights in Miami, Mercado said. “When the mayor gave in to Trump and turned his back, they said enough is enough: If their elected leaders wouldn’t have the courage to stand up to Trump, they would.” The specific idea of a caravan, though, came from Leah (some children’s last names are withheld for security reasons), a 10-year-old Miami resident who visited Washington for the Women’s March, Mercado explained. “She told us she wanted to go with a group of young people to Washington, D.C., so we’ve been supporting the effort ever since.”
Elena, 17, whose mother is undocumented, was engaged in the letter-writing campaign and decided to travel to Washington with the caravan. “My mom was an activist and I saw her leadership, so I’ve been doing this since I was really small,” she said. “It’s really amazing because whatever [the youth on the caravan] say and do, that makes an impact – not just in our country, but also worldwide. So we’re showing these other kids in California or wherever that they [too] should get involved.”
The majority Latino caravan included African American and white youth from organizations like Power U Center for Social Change, based in Miami. They joined the caravan to show their support.
Other youth activists met the group at the protest in Washington. Two children of Jeanette Vizguerra, a Denver woman who has been staying in churches since being threatened with deportation in mid-February, were at the event. So was Amariyanna Copeny, aka “Little Miss Flint,” a 9-year-old activist who spoke at the gathering, criticizing President Trump’s inaction on her city’s water crisis.
Like so many people after the presidential election, American youth are feeling an urge to become more politically involved, said Tabitha St. Bernard, the national youth initiative coordinator of the Women’s March. “There’s a new wave of activism; people think they can’t sit on the sidelines anymore,” she said.
But working with youth has challenges. One of those is parents, who might not be comfortable with their children being politically active. Part of their job, after all, is protecting their children from too-disturbing realities, said St. Bernard. “There has to be a conversation with the parent as well, because they’re still the guardian,” she said. However, organizers recognize that it’s important for youth to be hands-on in designing the plans for actions.
The young people heading to Washington were using their spring break, so the action had to be something they enjoyed doing, St. Bernard explained. “It’s about learning to speak their language and really paying attention to them, and not dictating.”
In the end, a well-designed campaign like the Kids Caravan gives children the opportunity to exercise their unique power when it comes to political actions. The youth will continue actions leading up to May Day, as they encourage all local organizations to help young people organize. They offer tools to do so on their website.
“People listen to kids more,” said St. Bernard. “So when a young kid finds their voice, it’s something that’s pretty incredible.”