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May 03, 2005

Exploration: Expanding Parents' Role in YL Work

[NOTE: This document was added to the blog on May 22, 2005]

This is an exploration. Rather than being an essay where I know where I'm going, the point of this document is to allow me to sort through some thoughts and see where I wind up.


Liberal / Equality YL (A.K.A. the "Youth Rights" movement) focuses on equal rights for youth as citizens. It looks at youth's relationship to the government, and largely ignores their relationship with their parents -- both legal and social. Youth Power, as I've described it, sees the parent-child relationship as the fundamental origin of adultism. The one-on-one, command-obey relationship gets elevated into law. I mean that both historically, and in terms of how new laws originate out of shifting cultural norms.

This insight, that the command-obey relationship within the family is the origin of adultism, is relatively new to me. It is still permeating the rest of my thought; there are portions of my thinking that haven't adapted to the shift yet. One of these may, oddly enough, be the importance of parents in the YL movement. Previously my focus was on how youth are treated as a class, and how youth activists can fight back, independent of adult assistance. I've said "I leave the application of YL principles to parenting to other authors". I think the time has come to change my mind about this.

If the parent-child relationship gets elevated into law, then the way that we're going to change the laws is by having a groundswell of parents call upon legislators to change things. Not to say that youth are suddenly unimportant in the process -- I maintain the belief that a process for bringing about youth rights that does not involve youth themselves is inherently adultist, and is ripe for corruption.

Yesterday or the day before, I had the sudden realization that unschooling parents are a potential market for YL texts. I'm coming to a greater appreciation of the fact that probably most parents have passionate feelings about how youth should be raised. Some of these people are sympathetic to YL -- after all, the unschooling movement (I believe) crystallized around Grace Llewellyn -- who was inspired by John Holt, if I recall correctly. [I also just discovered "Taking Children Seriously" via wikipedia, which seems to be a Libertarian attempt at non-coercive schooling.] ...Furthermore, yesterday I was at Powell's on Hawthorne listening to the author of "The I Ching for Writers" -- which got me thinking about how you could put your intended audience directly into a book title: "YL for parents", "YL for teachers", etc. ...Anyway, the significance of all this is that I've suddenly realized that there is indeed a diverse population of radical parents (e.g. readers of Hip Mama) who constitute a market for YL.

It occurred to me today that the Left really doesn't have any sort of analysis of how youth should be treated. The Right has very successfully mobilized around "family values". Of course, their vision of family is hierarchy: children obey parents, wives obey husbands, husbands obey king and country, and the king / president obeys God. Liberals value equality -- but have only worked out what that means with regards to women. In the life-cycle of the family, basically they know what to do up through the dating and marrying stages. But if you don't have answers about how to parent -- then your movement can only last one generation. Which, given how the Right has taken control of the country, could be a possible legacy of the 60s: one sole generation of justice lovers pushing the boundaries. The more I think about it, the more I see a huge niche in the dialogues of the Left for what it means to parent well. We seem to know that we support abortion -- but what comes after that? Lefties are interested in schools -- but what about home life? Righties know what they want in the home, and they push it into the school. We, on the other hand, have nothing.

[Addendum: Whereas for the Left, parenting remains a private matter, the Right has embraced parenting as a public / communal concern.]

OK, so in a previous document (at present unpublished on the web), I spell out how different age groups have different roles to play in the movement. I discuss 0-18 as genuine youth, the people whom the movement is for; people aged 18-25 as being in a gray state, needing to moderate their influence on the movement; people aged 25+ are full-fledged adults whom need to play supportive roles, and conscientiously avoid wresting control from the actual youth. With regards to adults, thus far I've only really discussed "adult allies" -- by which I mean volunteers working inside of youth-led activist organizations. Now I think I'm at a point where I can more clearly discuss the role of parents, which at present I will define thus:

  1. practice non-ownership style parenting
  2. fund YL organizations
  3. volunteer for youth-led YL organizations

That second point, about funding YL organizations -- that's a really critical piece. YL is destined to be a ghettoized, fringe movement unless it gets better funding. Radical parents have the money and the motive to invest in the movement. There's also a profound opportunity for them to subvert YL. But given how things are now, how much worse could that really be? This leads me into a discussion about how the money of radical parents fits into our cause.


There is only one way to win youth rights: fight. If you don't show up for the fight, the other side wins by default.

Where are YL's battlefields? The state legislature is a major battlefield. Today I was listening to the radio, about how there are new efforts to require pregnant girls to tell at least one parent before they get an abortion. It infuriates me -- and the line of argument is classic Youth Liberation. The Republicans say that a girl shouldn't be alone, that it is an act of love to make them connect with a parent. Obviously, though, the motive is not love here -- it's control. The Republicans depict the girl as scared, confused, coerced, and parents as inherently kind and wise. The Democratic opponents of this bill tell stories about a girl who was raped by her father for years, while the mother stood by and did nothing... Basically they're arguing for exit freedom. A youth is a thinking person, and if you trap them with the parents, some portion of those parents are going to be absolute monsters. There has to be a door out -- and it should not be made difficult to access.

OK, so the state legislature is a battlefield. The county and city governments are also battle-fields. [Courts and individual schools are, too, but let's leave those aside for the moment.] In each of these domains, you have one or many decision-makers. Our goal is to press them to make decisions that favor us. When we're doing well, we'll be the ones promoting new, good laws. Most of the time, however, we'll simply be trying to halt bad laws from passing. This raises more questions: If there are decision-makers, when do they make their decisions? How do they make the decisions, process-wise? How do we find out that a decision is upcoming? Who among us will be paying attention to the relevant news outlets?

Politics are won by money funneled through expertise. You can run organizations that watchdog the legislature on a volunteer basis -- but it's very difficult. When the legislative session is on, checking up on new bills and where they are in the legislative process can be an almost full-time job, requiring daily attention. ...Jobs that require consistency beg for paid positions.

If there's a constituency of radical parents who have an interest in watchdogging the legislature, then it should be possible for them to form a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization, and raise money to pay someone to spend all their time watching what's going on. [Of course, if you're lucky, then there may be other progressive organizations already watching the legislature, who are willing to keep your group informed, as a matter of solidarity. That's a tricky, high-level negotiation, though!]

There is a danger in setting up such a non-profit, however. We all want non-profits to do the work of social change for us -- so we don't have to. It's a fair trade: I'll donate $20 a year, and you do the work that I cannot. However, we also want a grassroots cause, where the constituency is actively involved, not just passive. The work of watchdogging the legislature, lobbying, etc. may get divided up between different groups; still, there has to be a central organization that develops the youth community. The youth community (once it actually exists!) gives the campaigns that follow their direction and legitimacy, and they address the issue of organizational turn-over (which YL in particular must face).

Adding to what I've said previously about adult allies within youth-led organizations, here are the seven main areas of information that adults must focus on transmitting:

A. History
1. the history of adultism
2. the history of youth lib (and its various branches & strategies)

B. How to make change
3. how governmental decision-making processes operate
4. how to design a direct action, leveraging decision-makers
5. how to run an organization

C. Self-defense
6. legal rights that do exist and how to make use of them
(abortion, discrimination, etc.)
7. physical self-defense / safety-planning

...For some time I've been overwhelmed by the number of stages on which the drama of justice gets played out. Perhaps some are more significant than others. The state legislature is pretty crucial. Most family-related issues are legislated there -- not at the city or federal level. ...Though certainly there are laws there, too -- perhaps I should say that it depends on the law. Curfew laws, for instance, exist at both the city and state level. But laws about drivers' licenses are only at the state level... Anyway, I could see that the real spine of the Youth liberation movement is the interaction between state government, radical parents, and youth community. This formulation may not address schools, or court issues, or the media -- but it's a solid foundation, which can expand to address other issues as needed...

This actually deserves some more attention -- what the infrastructure of the movement is like. Perhaps I've been too atomistic, only looking at the idealized organization, when really I need to be looking at a collection of interrelating parties. Previously, I've discussed national organizations and conferences; perhaps talking about the ongoing development of local youth community is better -- the movement is larger than just its organizations.



  • patron / guide / caregiver - the three roles of parents
  • the colonial articulation of parental responsibilities
  • principles to guide the parent
  • my first listing of parental contract (10.09.02)
  • the birthday contract renewal concept
  • economic options
  • the contract spelled out in detail
  • forming a community of radical parents around the contract
  • elevating the literal contract into the law of the land, the contract between youth and society
  • the necessity of democratic socialism for this vision -- providing services for all
  • with regards to society and youth, the contract is very much about where the money to support them will come from

[Title for this section as a new document: "Exploration: The Parent-Child Contract"?]

Posted by Sven at May 3, 2005 12:00 PM