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Malia Obama at pipeline event: Do former 'First Kids' normally attend protests?

Barack Obama’s eldest daughter, 18-year-old Malia, attended an event at the Sundance Film Festival this week to express solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

Malia Obama walks along Main Street during the 2017 Sundance Film Festival on Tuesday in Park City, Utah.
Danny Moloshok/Invision/AP | Caption

Less than a week after the inauguration of President Trump, an Obama has already spoken out against one of his policies. 

No, not the 44th president, who left the White House last Friday. In fact, it was Barack Obama’s eldest daughter, 18-year-old Malia, who attended an event at the Sundance Film Festival this week to express solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe – the Native American group that for months has protested the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).

The news was revealed by “Divergent” actress Shailene Woodley, herself a vocal activist against the oil route, in an interview with Democracy Now!:

AMY GOODMAN: Were you surprised to see Malia Obama yesterday at the protest?

SHAILENE WOODLEY: It was amazing to see Malia. I saw her last night when we did the event with Chairman Dave Archambault. And it was incredible to see her there. Also—

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama’s daughter.

SHAILENE WOODLEY: President Obama’s daughter. Also, to witness a human being and a woman coming into her own outside of her family and outside of the attachments that this country has on her, but someone who’s willing to participate in democracy because she chooses to, because she recognizes, regardless of her last name, that if she doesn’t participate in democracy, there will be no world for her future children.

Tuesday morning, Trump signed a presidential memorandum ordering DAPL’s expedited review and approval. That night, Malia, Woodley and others at Sundance assembled in support of Standing Rock.

Opponents of the 1,172-mile pipeline argue that it would run through ancient Sioux burial grounds, and that the project could possibly leak into the Missouri River. Last month, the US Army Corps of Engineers – the federal agency overseeing DAPL’s construction – ordered a stop to construction pending further review.

Malia’s appearance at the annual movie meeting in Utah came as no surprise, seeing that she’s interested in an entertainment industry career. The New York Post reported last week that Malia will be interning with Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, after previously working on the sets of HBO and CBS television shows.

But was her DAPL stance a preview of an outspoken career? Perhaps. While the former president said in his final press conference that neither Malia nor 15-year-old Sasha “intend to pursue a future of politics,” he did hint at their coming civic engagement:

I think that they have, in part through osmosis, in part through dinnertime conversations, appreciated the fact that this is a big, complicated country, and democracy is messy and it doesn't always work exactly the way you might want, it doesn't guarantee certain outcomes. But if you're engaged and you're involved, then there are a lot more good people than bad in this country, and there's a core decency to this country, and that they got to be a part of lifting that up.

And I expect they will be. And in that sense, they are representative of this generation that makes me really optimistic.

Joshua Kendall, author of “First Dads: Parenting and Politics from George Washington to Barack Obama,” says that “in general, political children tend to be rebels.... There is this tradition of the First Kids really speaking out, and Malia is firmly in that tradition.”

The most direct parallel between Malia and another first child, Kendall says, is with Amy Carter, the youngest of former President Jimmy Carter’s four children. Both were around the same age at the time of their fathers’ inaugurations – Amy was 9, Malia was 10. Both are Ivy Leaguers – Amy went to Brown University, and Malia will attend Harvard this fall.

The teenage Amy was known for her political activism, having marched with counterculture figure Abbie Hoffman. Both were arrested in 1986 at an anti-CIA demonstration in Massachusetts. A year later, after she and Hoffman were acquitted, 19-year-old Amy invited supporters to another CIA protest at the agency’s headquarters in Virginia.

Kendall chronicled in his book: “‘Everyone out there should be at Langley,’ she stated before adding with a smile, ‘Tell your parents to come.’” This was a knowing reference to her famous father, Kendall says.

Carter fully supported his daughter, Kendall says, and the same is also true of former President Gerald Ford. Two days after Ford was inaugurated in 1974, his eldest son Michael – then a graduate student at the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary – told the Associated Press that recently-resigned President Richard Nixon should “make a total confession of what was his role in Watergate.”

Ford, who went on to pardon Nixon, said a month after Michael’s comments that “All my children have spoken for themselves since they first learned to speak, and not always with my advance approval. I expect that to continue.”