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Helping Activist Parents Protect their Children

Guest post by Jenn Meeropol, Rosenberg Fund for Children Associate Director and granddaughter of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

The Rosenberg Foundation tries to give activists' children a better future than the offspring of the famous couple.

At the Rosenberg Fund for Children we often talk about the families who receive our grants as part of the “RFC community.” I was reminded of the strength of the connections and compassion within this community this week as I reached out to several of our current families for help responding to a request for assistance from a new set of parents under attack.

These activists have been involved in peace and Occupy efforts and are experiencing increased targeting and harassment. Several of them are parents of young children and they’ve been struggling with how to talk with their kids about the repression and any possible repercussions (including potential arrest or jail time). They also want to make sure their children know their own rights (that they don’t have to answer questions about their parents, including from police or other government agents; that they can ask to have a parent present with them if someone tries to question them and they feel uncomfortable, etc.).

We’ve received similar requests for resources from parents in the past so I have an initial set of resources upon which to draw, including an experienced child therapist who is also a long-time RFC supporter, and some books and music for young children recommended by a trusted author. But one of the things that these parents most wanted was an opportunity to learn from others who had faced similar challenges. They wanted to ask their peers, “What helped you explain this situation to your children? Are there concrete things you did to ease fears or to make the situation a little less scary?” As a result, I promised to contact several of our current beneficiary families myself and see if they’d be willing to pass on any thoughts.

Within 24 hours I received at least a half dozen responses. Our activist parents thanked me for the opportunity to be part of this important discussion, shared lessons learned from their painful experiences, admitted what they wish they’d done differently, volunteered to talk with new families, and offered their love and support to people they had never met.

Their suggestions ranged from the practical to the creative. One parent shared advice offered to her by a movement veteran, whose parents were involved in the struggle for Puerto Rican independence and faced significant political repression. She explained that “When he was a child, his parents always had a plan for him, he knew they had a plan and what it was.” She took this lesson to heart and suggested that parents concerned about possible arrest should, “Draw up a plan and Emergency Guardianship papers with the assistance of an attorney” In the context of so many unknowns, being able to share a plan with the kids and execute the legal paperwork, to ensure that the plan we made would be respected, gave a sense of peace of mind to us and a sense of stability in an unstable situation to [my child].” Another mom remembered that when her children were young, “We had a little sign posted by the door, which could even be done with pictures: “You don’t have to talk to the FBI.'” And yet another suggested, “These situations are calling out for some sort of a traveling workshop/playgroup team.  I would love to see something like that happen.”

I think about what it would have meant to my own family if they had had a plan in place to care for their children. Instead, my grandmother, Ethel Rosenberg, left my dad and uncle with a babysitter when she was called to testify before the grand jury investigating my grandfather, Julius Rosenberg. When she was arrested after her testimony and never went home again, the boys were bounced from household to household, eventually spending time in an orphanage.  I take great satisfaction from the fact that more than 60 years later, the organization my dad created to honor his parents’ legacy is part of a community committed to supporting families struggling with balancing activism and parenting.

Public domain photo by Roger Higgins, photographer from New York World-Telegram and the Sun.

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Robert Meeropol

Robert Meeropol