North Bethesda kindergartner Zachary Mandeville will march with his friends Saturday, toting a homemade sign over the 0.6 miles from his neighborhood school to his neighborhood park.
One side of his poster will read, “let people be free,” in multi-colored lettering. The other will display his drawing of a football quarterback.
Though collective action and social justice are heavy concepts for a 5-year-old, Zachary’s “mini-march” through the community will teach him about the value – and fun – of exercising the right to free speech, said his mother, Anne Mandeville.
“I think he’s excited to see that you really can stand up for what you believe in, and with a little bit of effort, you can get people onboard to join you and try to make a difference,” Mandeville said.
The idea for Saturday’s march, which is currently slated to include about 15 young demonstrators, was hatched when Zachary arrived home from Farmland Elementary School brimming with enthusiasm about his Martin Luther King Jr. Day lesson. Zachary told his parents he was inspired by King’s example and wanted to make a difference, too.
So his mom sent out a round of emails to friends and the Tilden Woods community and posted about the event on Facebook. She welcomed other children to bring their own signs, but explained that the event was not about a particular candidate or political position.
“[W]hile Zach may choose to make a sign that says ‘Let People Be Free,’ your kiddo could have a sign that says ‘Eat More Cookies’ or ‘Make More Time for Recess,’” she wrote. “In our mini-march, the issue matters less than simply confirming for the kids that their voice matters.”
Bethesda parent Ali Ehrlich said her son and daughter will join Zachary’s march and have created signs advocating for cookies and kittens.
“No matter what they say, they should feel like they have the freedom to speak up,” Ehrlich said.
Hopefully, this principle will stick with Maya, 6, and Levon, 4, so they grow into informed voters, she said.
The “mini-march” also has something to offer to the kids’ mothers, who were torn over what to do Saturday during the Women’s March on Washington, Mandeville said.
“With a really young child, you want them to experience a moment like that and understand why it’s important. … But there will just be so many people, and it’s such a long day,” said Mandeville of the march expected to draw hundreds of thousands of participants.
With the kid’s march, they’ll get to join in spirit while escaping the crowds, she said.
Mandeville said other parents and children are welcome to join them for the demonstration, which will begin at about 11 a.m. at Farmland Elementary and end at Tilden Woods Local Park.