Why the 'March for Life' taught my kids a great civics lesson, frozen toes and all

                               Democracy is often messy and sometimes very, very cold: Rachel Campos-Duffy and her husband Sean Duffy with their six kids, all bundled up for the "March for Life" in Washington, D.C.
Democracy is often messy and sometimes very, very cold: Rachel Campos-Duffy and her husband Sean Duffy with their six kids, all bundled up for the 2012 "March for Life" in Washington, D.C. Today

My sister texted me a picture of her and her kids, bundled up and braving a bitter cold snap at the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. this week, commemorating the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade.  

It brought back memories. Two years ago, I attended with my own crew of kids. By the end of the march, we couldn’t feel our ears or toes. Amazingly, I never heard a word of complaint from my kids. They were so gripped by the notion of actually participating in a civic act of protest and solidarity with thousands of others that they seemed to forget about their own discomfort. One of many small miracles I experienced that day. 

Clearly, abortion is one of the most divisive issues in our country, with strong emotions on both sides of the issue. But the politics and heated rhetoric aside, this march was a great opportunity to teach my kids about making their voices heard in a democracy.

After hours of walking, singing and praying with strangers who seemed like long lost friends, we found ourselves standing in front of the United States Supreme Court. If you have never been to the March for Life, the steps to the Supreme Court is where all the action is. It’s where the most vocal and zealous activists on both sides of this contentious issue converge and clash with face-to-face confrontations of signs, slogans, chants, and passionate public debates that sometimes veer into the vulgar.  

My kids were riveted. “Is this what the 1960s were like?” my then-12-year-old asked while capturing a particularly heated exchange on my iPhone.  

She glanced at me skeptically when I told her I wasn’t even alive in the Sixties and quickly returned to taking in her first real encounter with the kind of free expression and messy constitutional arguments that have always made America the envy of freedom-loving people around the world. 

Whatever concerns I had about taking them out of school that week dissipated. This was the ultimate civics class lesson! 

Yesterday, my nieces and nephews endured even more frigid temperatures in an annual ritual that garners scant media attention and not a single glamorous, Hollywood activist. As I told my kids the day we marched, America’s greatest social and political movements have never begun at the top. They have always started at kitchen tables with moms and dads who care deeply enough about something to take time out of their busy lives to do something.   

Bundling kids in strollers and front packs, stuffing snacks, Kleenexes and extra fleece blankets into backpacks and diaper bags and walking for miles with children in the January cold while enduring indifference and often disdain is a far cry from the star-studded events of “hipper” causes that make the pages of People Magazine and Vanity Fair. But it’s a lesson in democracy, freedom, and political action my family cherishes – cold feet and all.

TODAY contributor Rachel Campos-Duffy is an author, pundit, and mother of seven. Formerly a cast member on "The Real World: San Francisco" in 1994, she is now a spokesperson for the LIBRE Initiative, an organization that promotes economic liberty, empowerment, and opportunity for Hispanics.