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January 22, 2003

Chapter 1: About This Book - part 2

I. The Lack of Youth Liberation Theory
The first 18 years of my life are not a tale of suffering. I was a good student, and usually got along pretty well with my family. But that wasn't the case for all my friends. In high school, we knew whose parents were abusive; people would sometimes stay over at each others' houses to escape physical and verbal violence.

I went to Reed College and majored in psychology. However, more than any class, the lasting impact of those years comes from my involvement in student activism. I cut my political teeth volunteering for the anti-domestic violence movement, getting trained by the Portland Women's Crisis Line and Bradley-Angle House (a battered women's shelter). I learned about a model of sexism that focuses on male power and control, and draws parallels with other oppressions -- racism, classism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, etc.

Getting and keeping fair treatment for minority groups is a continuing struggle. I got into activism to be an ally, to try to assist them. I've run discussion groups; protested porn stores carrying videos of actual rapes; escorted women past pro-life demonstrators into abortion clinics; handed out cookies at Portland's "Dyke March"; helped on "get out the vote" phone banks; served as a non-profit's executive director; organized conferences; and worked on a committee drafting a new civil rights ordinance for Multnomah county. I learned the tools of social change by doing.

My introduction to the concept of "adultism" was through Re-evaluation Counseling ("RC"), a peer counseling community that I've since renounced and disconnected from. The idea seemed to complement what I already knew of oppressions. I wanted a well thought out analysis -- but RC's discussion was superficial. It failed to really address power and institutions, or to propose the necessary activism for change. Even so, the more I involved myself with movement work, the more I saw young people's oppression as an important piece of the puzzle. It must have an important role in teaching hierarchical relationships... I wondered, could adultism be the original model for all other "isms"? No one seemed to have given adultism the attention it deserved.

Anti-domestic violence agencies addressed teen dating violence and incest survivors, but each essentially as a women's issue. Feminists have redefined battery and rape as issues of power and control; it seemed to me that this insight could be extended to explain child abuse. But age wasn't a part of the discussion. ...If a father strikes his teenage daughter, don't we need to understand the role age plays, as well as sex? For me, memory of my high school friends made explaining parents' violence against teens a pressing concern.

In the realm of psychology, I read comprehensive overviews of the theories that have been proposed to explain child abuse. I was unable to find anything analogous to feminist thought, attributing abuse to a power and control motive. Discussion of violence against teens, in general, seemed rather neglected. But I know that babies and toddlers are not the only victims.

Some activists have tried to get domestic violence seen as a form of hate crime against women. This suggested another intriguing idea, that perhaps prejudice against teens contributes in part to violence. Considering the mean comments I've heard about adolescents -- about their music, hair / clothing, hormones, and character -- it seems like psychology or sociology should have produced some relevant research. Again, I discovered a hole in the literature. Next to nothing has been written on prejudice or discrimination against youth.

Rather late in my research, I finally sought out books about the Children's Rights movement. I found a handful of essays that resonated with the power-aware activist politics I've embraced. However, for the most part, Children's Rights seems isolated from other movements. Almost no authors used the "oppression" framework, or place mistreatment of youth in the context of sexism, racism, classism, etc. Nor do any but a scant few talk about this group's ability to liberate itself through activism. From what's written, you'd think that adults will calmly discuss, agree upon, and then deliver new freedoms, all from above. This does not jibe with my sense that rights are never given voluntarily by the oppressor -- they must be demanded by the oppressed.

Dissatisfied with the lack of well-made Youth Liberation theory, I set out to create it myself. My earliest writing dates back to 1992. Much of the theory for this book was generated as I worked on my undergraduate thesis: "Adult Supremacism: Violence Against Minors Viewed Through an Oppression Framework" (an inadequate and poorly written piece, I feel). Writing since then has continued unabated, augmented along the way by activist experiments. Notably, I initiated the Ending Adult Supremacism Task force, a caucus within the National Organization for Men Against Sexism (the NOMAS leadership council approved formation during its 1995 Men & Masculinity conference at Johnstown, PA). Then, in 1998 I worked again with youth activists as they founded Portland's Sexual Minority Youth Recreation Center -- learning much practical information about doing "by youth, for youth" groups in the process.

Most of my understanding of adultism and Youth Liberation does not come directly from working with youth. I've been inspired by writings from (and experience with) a coalition of progressive, identity-based social justice movements. Much of what I now believe comes out of extrapolating from their examples. Ultimately, I hope to bring Youth Liberation and these other movements together -- each enriching and completing the other.

-- to be continued --

January 22, 2003

Posted by Sven at January 22, 2003 01:28 PM