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Fighting for Fairness: A Family Portrait in Activism

These parents believe that ‘even small people can make a big difference’



Christian Peetz, Shawna Murphy and daughters Minnow, left, and Beezus outside of their South Park home.

PHOTO: TED ZEE

Shawna Murphy never considered herself an activist. Then her daughter entered kindergarten with a learning disability. 

“It was really tricky for teachers to get where she is, and help support her. I ended up becoming an activist for my child,” she says. Shawna and her husband, Christian Peetz, got a crash course in the intricacies of the education system, which catapulted them into even more activism. 

Now, being involved in social justice and public policy is central to the South Park family of four — Shawna, Christian, Beezus, who is now 12, and 6-year-old Minnow. 

Shawna works full-time as a childcare provider in her home and relies on Facebook for organizing and Twitter for following along in real time with school district meetings. 

“When Patty Murray first ran [for the U.S. Senate in 1992], she said she was just ‘a mom in tennis shoes.’ I’m just a mom with an old iPhone. Our laptop doesn’t even really work,” she says, laughing. 

With the help of that old iPhone, she serves as Advocacy Chair for the Louisa Boren STEM K-8 PTA. Her top issue is fully funding basic education, as mandated by the state Supreme Court in the 2012 McCleary decision. She’s helped a friend plan a spoof bake sale to highlight school funding issues, helped organize a campaign to oppose a $13,000 raise for the Seattle Public Schools superintendent, and helped make a push for more parents to consider opting out of standardized testing. 

Minnow and Beezus don’t just sit on the sidelines: They’ve become activists, too. Beezus organized a coat-and-supplies drive for an LGBTQ youth shelter: She raised more than $400 in cash and filled her parents’ bedroom with bags full of warm clothes. “She put a bin at school, put it in the school newsletter. One teacher brought in enough gloves so that everyone in the class could donate a pair,” Shawna says. “It all happened because she put herself out there.” 

She reinforces that even Minnow, just 6, can have an impact on her community. 

“She has said a number of times: ‘I’m just a kid, what can I do?’” Shawna says. “I always tell her, ‘Even small people can make a big difference.’” Whether it’s gleefully handing out Black Lives Matter stickers on the bus, as she did one fall day, or letting classmates know she’s a safe person to talk to, Minnow has taken that advice to heart. 

While the girls may be too young to understand complicated levy-lid calculations and their effect on school funding, they do understand the core issue: “Kids feel really strongly about fairness — and all these things I’m working on are about equity and fairness,” she says. 

The family’s activism has been noticed: In December, they were featured in a photo essay by Seattle photographer Ted Zolyniak, aka Ted Zee, that focused on their activism around the presidential election. 

The pictures show a family busy with political activism, from a party in support of a pro-choice organization to marching in a local parade supporting Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. The photo essay was featured by various outlets — including The Huffington Post. That day, Shawna’s phone was buzzing so constantly, her battery died after a few hours. 

They received lots of praise — and some criticism, including from those who said that the family needed to slow down, or shield their girls from harsh reality. Shawna says that their day-to-day lives are pretty simple: “Most of my life is laundry and dishes and packing lunches — very normal,” she says, laughing.

And rather than feeling scared, she says that activism has helped instill confidence in her daughters: “They feel very empowered … They see these things that need to be fixed, and they believe that they are the change they want to see in the world.”

The family’s next goal: Spend the month of January helping families understand what’s at stake if the state of Washington doesn’t fully fund education. Gov. Jay Inslee has proposed a significant increase in school funding, but even that plan would leave Seattle Public Schools with a deficit estimated at $20 million. 

Shawna plans to take her daughters to the state Capitol in Olympia on January 16, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, for a schools-focused rally and advocacy day organized by statewide education groups. “It’s fun for kids, and it’s educational. It’s a great way to spend the holiday, doing activism,” she says. 

See the full photo essay, “The Murphy Peetz of Southern Street,” by photographer Ted Zee at tedzee.com
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