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October 29, 2005

Hybrid YL Philosophies

In a previous essay I talked about three main varieties of Youth Liberation. In this essay I will talk about a wide variety of Youth Liberation philosophies that can be generated by creating a hybrid of YL and some other school of thought / political movement.


In my essay "Three Types of Youth Liberation: Youth Equality, Youth Power, Youth Culture" (07.30.03) I described what I feel are the most "pure" forms of YL.

YE, YP, & YC each attempt to describe the plight of youth and propose a solution. Three aspects of how they go about doing so contribute to their "purity": (1) Their solutions do not make YL an adjunct of another movement. (2) They claim to address the needs of all youth, rather than just a subset of youth. (3) They are not constrained to a single issue, but rather suggest principles for social change that could, one supposes, be applied to many different issues.

To say that these three philosophies represent YL in its "purest form" does not mean that they are somehow "perfect". Each of them has shortcomings.

None of these three necessarily deals well with the unique issues of girls, youth of color, queer youth, street youth, etc. Consequently, they may all be legitimately criticized for having a bias toward serving straight, white, middle-class, male youth.

Furthermore, for each of these philosophies there are issues that are less easily addressed than others. For instance... Youth Equality, with its emphasis on civil rights, has a difficult time addressing power relationships within the family that aren't legally actionable. Youth Power, with its emphasis on confronting adult authorities, may be a difficult sell to parents and other adults whom we might like to enlist as allies. Youth Culture, by focusing largely on youth getting to express their "true nature" via alternative institutions, lacks motivation to undertake the undesirable (but necessary) work of watchdogging the actions of adult authorities.


In addition to the "pure forms" of YL, a wide variety of hybrid philosophies exist. I will now identify and discuss four categories of these:

  1. YL as an adjunct to another political philosophy
  2. YL as one project of a psychotherapy movement
  3. YL from the point of view of a particular subset of youth
  4. Single-issue activism that furthers YL's cause

1. YL as an adjunct to another political philosophy

There are several political philosophies that have the potential to be friendly to YL. These include:

Each of these political philosophies is defined by the form of national government (or lack thereof) that it would like to exist. Each one has an interest in developing a broad base of support, in order to build the popular movement that would be required to change our current form of government. Toward this end, each potentially has an interest in mobilizing youth to help in the project of social change.

Each of these philosophies has its own analysis of how abuse of power comes to exist -- and thus can make an appeal to youth interested in YL. Socialism sees adult abuse of youth as the result of capitalist interests. Anarchism, with its strong association with anti-police activism, has a natural appeal to youth (especially street youth) who have been persecuted by the police. Libertarianism, with its emphasis on personal freedom and limiting governmental intervention has an appeal to youth who feel that adults have created too many laws regulating their lives. Activists who work to promote and maintain a healthy democracy can recruit youth by talking about the need for "youth voice" in the schools and in society at large.

For the most part, each of these movements does not see adultism as an independent phenomena. They see mistreatment of youth as a function of whatever problem they are already working against: capitalism, organized government itself, overactive government, or democracy that is inadequately inclusive.

A YL that bases itself upon one of these political philosophies is derivative, and maintains at least a psychological tie to the broader movement. In practical terms, it may be valuable to have access to the adult movement's intelligence and physical resources. However, there is also the risk that when there is turn-over in the adult leadership, sympathies will dry up and youth interests will be dropped from the agenda. When YL is merely an adjunct to another movement, you can almost guarantee that it will be a ways down on the priority list.

[Note: I'm tempted to add Liberalism to the list of political philosophies here. By "Liberalism" I do not mean "Democrats", but rather the philosophy created by Locke and others upon which the U.S. was founded. If it were added to the list, then Youth Equality would also have to be seen as a derivative form of YL, rather than as a "pure form". However, my gut sense is that this is not the case...

Because Liberalism represents the form of government that currently exists, there need be no effort to install a new system. If YE subscribes to Liberalism, but Liberalism already exists, then YE is not at risk of merely being an adjunct to an adult social change movement. It seems to me that YE's autonomy as a movement means that it should not be lumped in with these other movements for a change of government.]

2. YL as one project of a psychotherapy movement

I have seen several psychology-based movements pick up Children's Rights as an issue. These include:

People doing therapy have a natural tendency to become interested in both youth and in social change. When one delves into the psyche, many (if not most) current psychological problems are going to be found to have their origins in childhood. Similarly, when one delves into healing work, there will be times when one discovers that the origins of a problem are not so much in how one interacted with other individuals, but in how society's norms are set up (e.g. racism as a source of mental trauma).

Within the Co-counseling community, there is an active discussion about adultism as one of the oppressions that generate "distress". I cannot prove this, but I see certain buzzwords in the writings of Tony Harris & Jacob Holdt and John Bell that suggest they come out of a Co-counseling background. Alice Miller is a good example of a Freudian thinker advocating for Children's Rights (e.g. "For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence"). For an example of psychohistory, see Lloyd DeMause's classic essay "The Nightmare of Childhood" (collected in "The Children's Rights Movement: Overcoming the Oppression of Young People", eds. Beatrice Gross & Ronald Gross).

One of the troubles with psychotherapy movements is that they are not geared for doing social change work. Their theories may have explanatory power -- but forming activist groups falls outside of the realm of therapy work.

...Is therapy that helps one deal with the psychological consequences of adultism -- but doesn't address the institutions that cause this suffering -- a kind of social change activism? Is an analysis of adultism without a program for social change still YL? In my opinion, the answer to both questions is "no". Nonetheless, the spirit of YL is strong enough within these psychotherapeutic movements that they're worth mentioning as a form of YL hybrid.

3. YL from the point of view of a particular subset of youth

There are several subsets of youth who have a clear history of youth rights activism (that I know about). These include:

Additionally, I would like to suggest several subgroups of youth that have a strong potential for organizing, based upon the actions of their adult peers and youth-specific issues associated with the identity:

When any of these groups of youth organize themselves to address their specific needs, a hybrid-YL group comes into being. These groups may or may not make explicit reference to adultism or Youth Liberation -- but simply by the virtue of being made of youth who are addressing youth-specific issues, they add "topics of interest" to YL's master agenda.

Again, I want to emphasize that being a "pure" YL organization -- one that addresses issues faced by all youth, rather than just a subset -- does not make one superior. A YL movement that addresses only the "pure" issues is failing to care for the needs of a great many youth.

[I'm not sure whether or not to include students in this list. My gut sense says "no", that students belong in the next section, the one about issue-based activism. Perhaps this is because school attendance is nearly universal. School attendance is currently part of what it means to be a typical youth -- going to school puts you in the majority, rather than in a minority.]

4. Single-issue activism that furthers YL's cause

A "pure" YL group tends to have some sort of "Bill of Rights" or laundry list of agenda items that it wants to pursue -- even if it can only practically pursue one issue at a time. To an extent, having that big vision is what really and clearly makes a group Youth Liberationist.

However, having lots of agenda items does not necessarily make one an effective YL organization. Being instead a single-issue group allows focus, and makes it easier to create a coalition of like-minded activists who might not agree on any other points.

Here are a few single-issue projects that might overlap with YL:

Several issues are almost guaranteed to be motivated by a pure Youth Liberation philosophy: the right to vote, eliminating the curfew, lowering the drinking age, etc. With the issues listed above, however, adults and youth may find themselves seeking a common goal, but for different reasons.

For instance... Home-schooling might be an issue of youth escaping the oppressive school environment -- or of parents seizing further control of their children's lives. Anti-police harassment may be about police picking on youth -- but it may also be about how the police treat people of color or the homeless. Teen abortion rights may be approached as an issue impinging upon young women's rights -- or it can be seen as part of protecting all women's rights. School reform and prohibiting spanking can be done for motives that are either liberationist or protectionist.

Deciding whether a particular single-issue campaign should be considered "pure" or "hybrid" may be impossible for an outside observer. If a campaign has described its goal narrowly enough -- that is, in a way that may appeal to many people, without regard to their overarching ideology -- then ideological motives may well be invisible. You'd have to be on the inside of the group, listening to people talk about their personal reasons for being involved, to figure out how to classify it.


To summarize... There are organizations that embody a "pure form" of Youth Liberation. These groups can be recognized in part because they (1) advocate a multi-issue agenda, (2) address issues that are experienced by all youth, and (3) operate independently of adult organizations whose main focus is something other than the needs of youth.

In addition to "pure" YL groups, however, we need to recognize that a variety of "hybrid" organizations exist. In this essay I looked at four types of hybrid:

  1. YL as an adjunct to another political philosophy
  2. YL as one project of a psychotherapy movement
  3. YL from the point of view of a particular subset of youth
  4. Single-issue activism that furthers YL's cause

Being a "pure" Youth Liberation organization should not be viewed as a mark of superiority. In fact, organizations that are single-issue or that work under a "parent" movement may have several advantages: (1) Youth working under a "parent" movement may have better access to resources and training than youth who work independently. (2) Single-issue groups may be better able to mobilize allies when a concrete goal, rather than ideology, is in the spotlight. (3) Activists who work at the intersection of youth and another identity (e.g. female, black, queer) address issues that a more generalist group may fail to notice, find too controversial, or lack direct knowledge about. (4) Working on a single issue allows a group to specialize, to develop their analysis and strategies to a higher degree.

It seems to me that we need both "pure" YL organizations -- which articulate a broad and general vision of social change -- and hybrid organizations, which are well-suited to specialized work. The danger of hybrid philosophies that we must beware of, however, is that the "parent" philosophy may overwhelm YL -- either diverting YL activists to its own cause, or simply jettisoning youth when the adults in charge lose interest in them.

Posted by Sven at 08:49 PM | Comments (0)

October 23, 2005

Outline: Youth Power - Four Theory Frameworks

Back on October 11, while I was working on the "Youth Power Framework" series, I had a little epiphany. I can view the "Youth Power Framework" as several interlocking frameworks, rather than one big one.

This is a good thing. It creates "severability". There's a core YP framework -- but then there are several useful add-ons. If you disagree with one of them, that's OK -- it can be jettisoned without harming the other pieces.

The other useful aspect of thinking about several frameworks rather than just one, is that it makes my job of juggling all the pieces much easier. There's less chance that I'm going to forget to talk about something important, if my subject areas are narrower.

I've written I-don't-know-how-many outlines that try to sum up all the topics that I would like to cover in my lifetime. This organization of information, however, is slightly different. Rather than listing everything, I'm just going to describe several main chunks that can be removed without hurting the whole. ...They're like modular components. They're built to complement each other -- but can all function independently.


The stripped-down Youth Power framework, I believe, has to include these components:


I think that you can talk about the power relationship between adults and youth without defining where the line between adults and youth lies. Still, it's an awfully nice to be able to explain what you mean when you use the terms "adults" and "youth".


You can pursue the goals of YP without putting any strictures on adults who want to help. However, if you're concerned about well-meaning adults nonetheless taking over formerly youth-led organizations, this can be a useful bit of theory.


There are a variety of ways of understanding what "oppression" is. There has to be some comparison between different models here. Still, however you explain why adultism happens, it doesn't change the fact that it does happen.


A framework is different from a strategy or a position. It's a theory which allows you to understand the world -- it's a lens that you look through. Here are several topics worth writing about that wouldn't belong in the frameworks that I've described:

Posted by Sven at 09:45 PM | Comments (0)

October 22, 2005

Exploration: Difference - Accommodating the "Average" Human Being vs. "Normal Variations"

I want to suggest an alternate way of conceptualizing age and difference.


One way of conceptualizing age differences, the current way, is to think of adults as "normal", the average or standard human being. The Youth Equality (AKA "Youth Rights") movement accepts this premise. Their argument is that youth and adults should be treated as equals. The problem, then, becomes one of minimizing the differences between youth and adults.

How do we do this? Rhetorically, there are just a few ways to go.

(1) You can argue that youth are underestimated -- that youth in general are more competent, intelligent, and responsible than they have been given credit for. You can draw upon anecdotal evidence, or you can appeal to scientific studies (such as those of Mike Males).

(2) You can point to youth prodigies. The argument could be that prodigies represent what most youth would become if they weren't oppressed. Or, on the other hand, the argument could be that we must remove oppression because it would wrong to stand in the way of prodigies, even if there are few of them. That is, punishing the exceptional few for the failings of the many is wrong. [John Stuart Mills used a strategy like this to argue for the equality of men and women in his book "The Subjection of Women" (1869).]

(3) You can point to the flaws of adults -- their stupidity, cruelty, and misbehavior -- and argue that youth are at least no worse. It's hubris on the part of adults to deny youth rights; the burden is upon them to prove that youth should be excluded -- and the burden of proof has not been met.

(4) You can argue that certain rights are innate, regardless of qualification. For example: adults can believe that the earth is flat and still vote -- there's no IQ test to vote -- that's because it's meant to be a right that one possesses simply for being a participant in society.


The "average" human being isn't necessarily so average. The U.S. began with the notion that only white, adult, wealthy, heterosexual men should enjoy the full privileges of citizenship. Rights have been extended to more and more groups -- but we continue to imagine those men as the standard people, whom all others deviate from.

This thinking gets expressed in some very practical ways. Let's consider differences between men and women for a moment... Light switches are placed at a height on the wall that is based on the average man's height. In medicine, for a long time (this may have changed by now), the "average" body temperature was based on men rather than women. While not all women are pregnant, nearly all women have the potential -- yet, this is seen as a mark against them in a male-dominated workplace -- rather than as an aspect of life that is simply accepted and accommodated.

It seems to me that rather than imagining the fixed characteristics of a single, average person, we should carefully consider the variables inherent in the human condition, and then construct society so that a range of differences are all considered "normal". [I'm supposing that we are able to build society anew, which isn't possible -- but this is a useful perspective if we are interested in transforming what-is into what-could-be.]

...In a village that is struggling for survival, in which all the townsfolk may starve come winter if adequate food is not stored away, it is understandable that the weak may be cut off. But we do not live in that village. We have wealth and abundance in the U.S., and if people starve, it is largely due to how wealth is distributed -- concentrated into the hands of the few. Transforming society to one that is more just, then, has a great deal to do with redistribution of resources...

This is a fairly traditional Marxist line of argument -- but here I want to diverge somewhat. I want to bring in the key concept of "accommodation". I want to say that if our society is not in a state of desperate poverty, then surplus should be dedicated first to re-shaping institutions to be inclusive of the needy -- not simply redistributed among the totality, as if all people are identical. [I may be doing an unfairness to Marxism here. There is that principle of "each according to their need"... But I want to get very specific here about what needs we are dealing with. And I am not arguing for an abolition of capitalism -- merely setting limits on how much one person is permitted to take for themselves, meanwhile taking away from the rest of society.]


As a thought experiment, can we construct an adult who is in all ways except appearance a facsimile of a young child? My sense is that if we do so, we will be better able to get a grasp of what variables society must provide for -- what variations among human beings must be considered "normal", and be accommodated for.

I also want to take this route because I believe we must be vigilant about how we imagine difference. We must continually compare different groups against one another in order to ensure that we are not inventing "false otherness".

...For instance, men in the U.S. during certain periods have imagined women as being more morally virtuous, more poetic, irrational -- yet, in other countries women are viewed as the more pragmatic sex, and the notion that women are irrational has fallen into disrepute, and the idea that women are inherently more noble is quickly slipping away.

...Along these lines, I reject the notion that youth are uniquely zestful, playful, energetic, irresponsible. There may be subcultures among youth that embody these qualities -- but to posit that they are part of youth's essential nature is a case of "false otherness".

That all said, here is the meat of the essay -- constructing an adult that is philosophically identical to a young child:

(1) dwarf

Let's get this one out of the way. There are adults who are very short. The wikipedia entry for the word "midget" says everything I would want to:

"In the 19th century, midget was a medical term referring to an extremely short but normally-proportioned person (e.g., with growth hormone deficiency), and was used in contrast to dwarf, which denoted disproportionate shortness. Like many other older medical terms, as it became part of popular language, it was usually used in a pejorative sense. When applied to a person who is extremely short, midget is now considered derogatory. The word dwarf has generally replaced midget even for proportionally short people, and the term little person is also sometimes used. According to the Little People of America, the human definition of this term is stated as such 'a medical or genetic condition that usually results in an adult height of 4'10" or shorter, among both men and women, although in some cases a person with a dwarfing condition may be slightly taller than that.'"

Building a society that accommodates the needs of little people (e.g. lower light switches, easily opened doors, lower urinals, etc.) will also benefit youth.

(2) impoverished

A young person is born without (a) home, (b) money, (c) clothes, (d) food. In these respects, a young person is essentially impoverished -- even homeless. Creating a social safety net that deals with needs of the extremely poor would also benefit youth.

(3) immigrant, non-English-speaking

Youth are much like newly arrived immigrants from an alien culture, who don't understand the culture or know how to navigate its institutions. Learning to survive here requires an orientation to American customs and systems. Like adults for whom English is a second language, youth are born without the ability to articulate themselves -- though they quickly gain the ability to conduct at least basic communications. [Being born to parents might be likened to being brought to America by a host family, as an exchange student.]

(4) disability

There are many forms of disability. One can lack a sense, such as sight or hearing -- this is not the case for most youth. One can have limited mobility, e.g. needing a wheel chair -- or lack motor control to the extent that a full-time care-giver is required. This is the case of the newborn or the toddler.

There are also a variety of mental disabilities -- these are a thornier issue. It's more difficult (for me at least) to sort out how society ought to accommodate adults with mental disabilities -- but looking at how competency is tested, and how care-givers maximize independence is an intriguing starting place for further research. There are impulse-control disorders, "developmental disorders" that impair reasoning, and other mental issues that lead to what we understand as incompetence. ...What humane options for dealing with incompetency among adults have been developed? ...And how can one ever prove one's competency once the label has been applied?

(5) suggestibility

The quality of young people that I'm least able to find an analog for, which is perhaps most uniquely belonging to youth, is their lack of experience. Youth are impressionable / malleable in a way that adults generally aren't simply because they are experiencing things for the first time. As much as I criticize the notion that youth are empty containers just waiting to be filled with knowledge, there is a way in which this is also true -- at least in terms of there being a vulnerability to manipulation. How important is this? I'm not sure.


I feel like I probably should have started with the metaphorical section first, comparing youth to other social groups. It's easy enough to say this: There are few ways in which youth are unique. Youth have common cause with several vulnerable adult populations...

I think I've got a good concept, criticizing the notion of the "average" person and replacing it with a notion of "normal variations". I think "accommodation" is an incredibly key term here -- one that has potential for reshaping the YL dialogue about equality. However, until I have a better sense of how vulnerable adult populations are / should be accommodated, I think my argument is a bit weak.

...I'm also pleased with the concept of "false otherness". I could probably go farther with that.

Hm. I also notice upon re-reading this essay that I didn't talk about variations among human beings that have practical consequences, versus those that are of purely social significance. Skin color, for instance -- apart from the significance that people project upon it, I can't think of any practical difference it creates. Pregnancy, on the other hand, is a prime example of a practical difference with significant consequences. [In the same way that Susan Moller Okins has coined the term "false gender neutrality", I think we could talk about "false age neutrality" -- badly ignoring age differences that do exist.]

Posted by Sven at 09:26 PM | Comments (0)

October 19, 2005

Nix Nov 1 YL booklet goal

I hereby officially nix my goal of getting a Youth Lib booklet done by Nov. 1. It's not gonna happen. I need to do more research in order to feel comfortable writing some of the bits that I want to go in this thing. And, I have an essay in my head that occurred to me last night that's important and needs to be written while I've got it here. ...I'll keep pursuing the booklet -- it may well be my focus again in November -- but I'm axing the deadline.

...I find myself wondering if there's really a point to me setting up deadlines at all with YL... Are they really part of my "fantasy life"? It would have been nice to have been able to give myself a booklet as a birthday present -- but when I start getting close to the cut-off date, it just seems stressful. And what's the point of that?

...I think I should probably write out a "Notes on Writing" version of the "Notes on Making Art" document at some point... I mean, look at me -- this has been a ridiculously productive month: creating sculptures, writing essays, doing research... Can't I just trust myself to keep creating (and working towards a greater perfection) simply out of love for the work?

Posted by Sven at 11:33 AM | Comments (0)

October 13, 2005

The History of Youth Liberation

I have a pretty decent understanding of the history of YL... But now I'm wanting to do some serious research to make sure all my facts are straight. Before I go to the library again, or do another Google search, I want to briefly state what I know at present.


Around 1970, the organization "Youth Liberation of Ann Arbor" was formed.

My first exposure to the existence of this group was probably via the book "Encyclopedia Brown's Record Book Of Weird And Wonderful Facts" by Donald J. Sobol (1979):

"When Keith Hefner of Ann Arbor, Michigan, was 15, he formed Youth Liberation, Inc. The group championed kids' lib.

Among other things, it supported giving children the vote and the right to divorce their parents and get alimony.

Somehow it failed to catch on.

When last heard from, Keith was fighting the battle alone.

'I'm not giving up on this yet,' he said."
(pp. 33-34)

Since that first discovery, I have found three other books that talk about Youth Liberation, Inc.:

To the best of my knowledge, Youth Liberation of Ann Arbor was the first modern YL organization: a fully formed doing organization, run by youth, guided by a youth rights manifesto.

...I've been told, via Adam Fletcher of freechild.org, that Keith Hefner is still involved in YL work of some sort (although it's changed in nature). I believe I've also seen a history of the organization online -- possibly by Hefner -- that I need to hunt down again.


Around this same time period, two adult authors published their own YL manifestoes:

Abbreviated versions of their manifestoes were reprinted in "The Children's Rights Movement". eds. Gross & Gross. Misplaced, but somewhere in my collection, I know that I also have a copy of "Ms. Magazine" circa 1976 that has an interview with Farson.

Holt and Farson merit being called the "fathers of the movement" -- their books, I believe, are the enduring inspiration for the YL variety of Children's Rights. No others have been as influential -- but I've found a few leads for other authors that I need to hunt down.

Laura M. Purdy has published a book titled "In Their Best Interest? The case against equal rights for children" (1992). It's a philosophy book, and is dense as convoluted, as such books often are -- and despite being anti-YL, is surprisingly fair. One of the real benefits of this book, for me, is that Purdy identifies a bunch of authors whom she describes as "Youth Liberationists". Based on her footnotes, I think I'm most interested in hunting down:

...I've seen this book on the shelf at Portland State University, and it has a similar feel to Holt's and Farson's manifestoes. I suspect that I missed it previously because it was published after Children's Rights' heyday in the seventies. ...It looks like most of the other texts that Purdy cites are academic, rather than polemic -- and mostly just essays contained in scholarly journals.

Another lead I've found was in the "International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family", under the heading "Children's Rights":

"In 1959, the United Nations approved a modest but much-cited ten-point Declaration of the Rights of the Child. In the early 1970s, writers John Holt and Richard Farson both promulgated bills of rights for children, as did New York attorneys Henry Foster and Doris Jonas Freed."

...I haven't heard of Henry Foster and Doris Jonas Freed before. I can only guess that I haven't run across their writings before because they did not publish full books. If they were attorneys, however, I may be able to track them down in legal journals, at Lewis & Clark college's law library.


"Re-evaluation Counseling", also known as "Co-counseling" is a form of peer-counseling-based therapy. It was founded by Harvey Jackins, a friend of L. Ron Hubbard (founder of Scientology), and has been described by some as a psychotherapeutic cult. Nonetheless, "RC" has done a great deal to promote the concept of "adultism".

Jackins' first book was "The Human Side of Human Beings". I would cite the date -- but once again, the actual book is misplaced in my collection. The "Fundamentals of Co-Counseling Manual (Elementary Counselors Manual)", however, is at hand -- it was first published in 1962.

My understanding is that when the various liberation movements of the late 60s hit, RC leadership seized upon the oppressions of racism, sexism, adultism, etc. as things that people would need healing from -- they used interest in oppressions to promote the RC "community".

RC does not involved in social change activism (as far as I am aware) -- but promoting the idea that youth are oppressed is a contribution to YL. Youth are encouraged to do co-counseling themselves, and at least for several years there was a publication titled "Young and Powerful".


Prior to the existence of the internet, it was extremely difficult to find YL writings. Youth-run organizations typically couldn't publish books and didn't receive news coverage -- so they simply disappeared from history when they folded. Pre-1995, finding a YL pamphlet was a very precious find indeed. My two prized publications that I found during this period are:

Sometime during the early 1990s there was a organization called the National Children's Rights Alliance (NCRA). They had a newspaper that they put out, and had interesting membership guidelines -- adults could be members, but only if they were survivors of child abuse (as I recall).

NCRA folded. Two more national organizations have appeared in its wake: Americans for a Society Free from Age Restrictions (ASFAR), and the National Youth Rights Association (NYRA).

Here is what the NYRA site says about the recent history of YL:

"The youth rights movement first utilized the internet to help the struggle in 1991, with the creation of the Y-Rights listserv mailing list. Two members of that original internet presence, Matthew Walcoff and Matt Herman, began a non-profit organization out of that mailing list known as AS-FAR. Not too long after AS-FAR was founded, a Rockville, Maryland high school student named Avram Hein began a youth rights group called YouthSpeak. At the same time, a third youth from Canada, Joshua Gilbert, was starting a youth rights organization for his country, CYRA. Walcoff, Hein and Gilbert all met through AS-FAR, and decided to start a non-profit corporation to help unify the youth rights movement, which at that point consisted of almost a dozen different groups around North-America and the world. They eventually joined with Herman and created NYRA, the National Youth Rights Association. By June, 1998, NYRA was incorporated as a non-profit benefit organization with intention to lead the Youth Rights political movement in the United States.

(http://www.youthrights.org/whatwevedone.shtml, accessed 10.13.05)

Posted by Sven at 04:11 PM | Comments (5)

Outline: What is Youth Liberation?

My current project is envisioned as a brief booklet (30 pages?) titled "What is Youth Liberation?" I want to give the most basic answer to this question, therefore excluding discussion about different types of Youth Liberation. ...That's a much more complicated topic -- possibly one that I would take on after the "What is Youth Liberation?" booklet.

I want to make a distinction between "defining" YL and "characterizing" it. A definition, as I understand it, is going to set down boundaries so that you can decide whether a particular thing falls within the category of "Youth Liberation" -- or whether it does not. Characterizing, in contrast, only attempts to identify the most important features of a thing. It describes the heart of a thing, rather than its boundaries.

At present, I see three key features that will need to be discussed:

  1. Inspired by / descended from the seminal work of adult writers John Holt ("Escape from Childhood") or Richard Farson ("Birth Rights") -- or the youth-led activist group "Youth Liberation of Ann Arbor".

  2. Advocates youth being given the right to vote.

  3. Young people are themselves included as activists in the struggle for social change.

To an extent, I will also need to discuss a taxonomy of Children's Rights / Youth Liberation...

Youth Liberation is a subset of Children's Rights. At present, it looks like there are two main threads within Children's Rights: protectionism / paternalism which seeks to defend youth without enabling them to independently access their rights, and Youth Liberation which emphasizes autonomy and youth being granted civil rights on an equal basis as adults. At this point I don't know to what extent there are more radical and more conservative versions of autonomy-based Children's Rights. My suspicion is that even among those who advocate youth autonomy (rather than dependence upon adult protectors), Youth Liberation's inclusion of youth activists still sets it apart.

So if there are a number of branches underneath the heading of "Children's Rights", there are also a number of branches of thought underneath the heading of "Youth Liberation". I've written about the main trains of thought elsewhere -- Youth Power, Youth Equality, and Youth Culture. However, I need to mention that there are further flavors. There are those that arise out of the struggles of a particular minority group -- e.g. youth rights being championed by girls, black youth, queer youth, street kids, etc. There are also flavors of YL that arise from schools of political thought -- e.g. anarchism and libertarianism. [Most YL thought draws upon liberal political thought, whether or not it realizes it... There's also plenty of room for flavors of YL to arise out of Marxism or Socialism.]

...Oh, I suppose there's also room for psychotherapeutic flavors of YL. Co-counseling is the strongest variety for that -- but Shulamith Firestone and Alice Miller might arguably be presenting Freudian versions of YL. [Sort of like how Nancy Chodorow presented a Freudian vision of Feminism, or Luce Irigaray presented a Lacanian vision (Lacan merely being a disciple of Freud, I suppose).]

Although I specifically don't want to go into discussing all these varieties of YL, I feel that it's important to at least mention that there is a diversity of schools of thought.

Another reason why I need to mention this taxonomy is in order to explain a discrepancy: I use the term "Youth Liberation", but most contemporary youth activists are using the term "Youth Rights". Minimally I need to point out that YL is not a consensus umbrella term. I'll probably justify myself by pointing to the term "Youth Liberation" as a historical touchstone. ...I'm tempted to go into an in-depth explanation of how the "civil rights" and "oppression/liberation" models differ from each other -- but this is best saved for a the booklet on different types of YL. [Still, I think the time for writing at least of an exploration of "Why YL instead of YR" is just about upon me. At least so I have something down on paper to return to later.]

...As you can see, the taxonomy section of the booklet is giving me the most grief.

I've been figuring that I would structure the booklet around the three characterizing features of YL. That means four essays, thus:

  1. Introduction / overview of the three characterizing points.

  2. Inclusion of youth activists. YL does not equal Children's Rights. A bit of history about Children's Rights? YL as the Children's Rights movement that is owned by youth themselves. Youth objections to the word "children" in the name of the movement. A call for power, rather than protection. Holt and Farson being included as seminal voices, even though they were adults writing... The profound difficulty pre-internet of finding and preserving youth-written YL essays. [Avoid going too in-depth into criticism of the term "rights". Focus on where youth participation has existed within the Children's Rights framework. ...This leads to researching "youth participation" in two ways: (a) youth as individuals accessing rights, and (b) youth as activists instigating institutional change.] Explain how writing can still be considered YL if it is not created by youth themselves. ...Is YL ideology, or a living movement? Adults can advocate YL -- but unless they're attached to youth themselves in some way, it's just theory and YL doesn't really exist. [A distinction between a live movement vs. belief system that exists only in theory?]

  3. A history of YL. It has seminal authors back in the 70s. There have been several national organizations that are youth-led. ...Local organizations that are working from a YL ideology and pushing the agenda forward?

  4. A consensus agenda, based on looking at several manifestoes and comparing the similarities/differences.

Perhaps I need to add an additional essay on political taxonomy, simply so I can get it out of the way, rather than trying to avoid it. I might be able to do a two page essay saying more or less what I've said here: YL is a sub-variety of Children's Rights, and YL itself has sub-varieties of its own; "YL" is not a consensus term -- but neither would anyone from the Youth Rights camp deny that they're for YL. This would allow me to get into "YL's relationship to Children's Rights" (or place within Children's Rights) in-depth in the next essay. ...Thus:
  1. Introduction / Overview

  2. Political taxonomy of Children's Rights branches. YL's position within Children's Rights. An overview of branches of Children's Rights thought.

  3. Youth participation and the Children's Rights movement.

  4. A history of YL authors & activists.

  5. A consensus agenda.

...Perhaps what I'm struggling to articulate here is a fourth characterizing point: YL is a "movement". It is a movement within other movements, which has internal currents of it's own. It's not simply an ideology, nor an isolated individual spearheading a youth-related cause. There have been YL organizations, and there is a YL program for social change. If there aren't organizations and agendas, it's hard to point to a movement. To say that YL is a "movement" is even more basic than saying that youth participation is critical. It lets me say that YL is, honestly, a fringe movement. And that there is an important distinction between abstract thought about youth (e.g. in Plato's "Republic") vs. actually trying to put your ideas into action.

And with that, I think I have a working outline that I'm comfortable pursuing now:

  1. Introduction / Overview

  2. A movement with organizations and manifestoes.

  3. Youth participation (a) in adult rights and (b) in the process of social change.

  4. A history of YL authors & activists.

  5. A consensus agenda.

Posted by Sven at 02:10 PM | Comments (0)

October 12, 2005

Fragment: Limits of the "Civil Rights" Model

This is an unfinished essay that I was working on two years ago. The document appears to have been begun on August 4, 2003 -- and was last updated on August 6, 2003. I was intending to send this to the "YouthRightsLeaders" email list, but got sidetracked. I remember putting a fair amount of work into this one, so I wanted to save it from the dustbin of history -- put it into my official log of essays. I'll be leaving it essentially as-is, including a bunch of notes and alternate paragraphs at the bottom. -- Sven, 10.12.05


Since the emergence of modern Youth Liberation thinking in the early 1970s, the movement has largely worked within a "civil rights" model. Winning civil rights is an important part of fighting adultism -- but it is only one piece of the picture. Adult oppression also manifests on an interpersonal level, which is difficult (if not impossible) to address by just changing the law.

Organizations that focus on legal struggle are vital to the movement. However, at times they seem to suggest that rights are all that is needed for Youth Liberation. For the well-being of the movement, it's important that they come to understand the limits of the "civil rights" model.


The "civil rights model" is a set of beliefs about the nature of justice, and how to go about fighting injustice. It is common within most minority movements, and particularly within Youth Liberation. I will try to summarize the key ideas:

* The "civil rights model" grows out of ideas found in The Declaration of Independence: "We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness".

* The word "Men", as originally defined, was understood too narrowly. Today, we would replace it with the word "people". The work of broadening inclusion in "Men" is ongoing. Much progress has been made toward including blacks and women -- now youth should be included in the vision of justice as well.

* We live in a society of laws. Justice requires that all people should be treated the same under those laws.

* Any law that does not treat youth as "equal" to adults, is unjust. The struggle for justice is a matter of rewriting civil rights laws to include youth, one law at a time.

* On an individual level, the injustice of treating someone unequally is called "discrimination".

* Because the equality of human beings should be "self-evident", we explain discrimination primarily as a result of misconceptions, "stereotypes". [Note: this use of the word "stereotype" differs from how psychologists understand the term.]

* Public education is an effective means of fighting discrimination. After their stereotypes have been debunked, most people will stop treating youth unjustly.

* While not universal, there's a common sense that progress is inevitable -- the truth will finally become "self-evident" to all.


The influence of our nation's founding documents on Youth Liberation is fairly obvious. Richard Farson, John Holt, and Youth Liberation of Ann Arbor -- arguably the founders of modern Youth Liberation -- each presented their visions of change in a "bill of rights" format.

Today, 30 years after the publication of Youth Liberation's seminal works, the "civil rights" model remains strong. Consider this passage from a National Youth Rights Association statement titled "What is Youth Rights" (Resolution 00-L):

"The organization deals only with civil rights -- freedom from oppression or discrimination by government, business or other powers -- rather than entitlement rights. We do not deal with issues like the quality of education or health care young people receive."

It seems to me that the "civil rights" model dominates the movement. This is worrisome. There are aspects of oppression and aspects of Justice work that the model addresses only poorly. I will proceed to examine its faults under the following four section headings:


Getting a moral right turned into a legal right is only a first step toward justice -- not the final achievement of equality. Besides the law itself, at least three other issues are important: enforcement, the complaint process, and defense against the law being overturned.

Without enforcement, a law is just a piece of paper. Suppose you go to a restaurant, and then the owner throws you out just because you are young, thus violating your right to freedom from discrimination on the basis of age. The existence of that right is going to be meaningless unless there is some agency to contact, that will investigate your case and make a judgment about whether or not the owner is guilty. But then, what good is a judgment if there isn't also a punishment -- a fine or imprisonment? The owner still gets away with their crime unless there are police and a prison system to back up the adjudicating agency's decision with force.

Even if all of the necessary government agencies are in place -- and they're adequately staffed and funded -- it still won't do a young person much good if they don't know that they have a right, and how to navigate through the complaint process. Very few victims of discrimination actually decide to pursue justice; even fewer have the necessary documentation to demonstrate that they have a case; of those, only a minority actually win their case and get some form of reparations -- and the process may take months or years to complete. It's important that these laws do exist; but they don't seem to be a very efficient means of combating wrongful behavior...

If a good pro-youth bill is passed into law, that's not necessarily the end of the story. Laws get repealed, or their effectiveness is eroded away over time by opponents' amendments. Abortion rights are a good case in point. Thirty years after the Roe v. Wade decision, abortion opponents continue the fight for repeal. They've created many legal exceptions (e.g. requiring parental consent for minors), and made it more difficult to access the services that are permitted (by intimidating doctors, so that few are now willing to provide the service). Youth rights activists should anticipate continuing legal opposition, even in the afterglow of a legal victory.

From its writings, the current Youth Liberation movement seems unaware of these issues. As much as winning new rights, I think we need to be concerned with making sure that enforcement agencies are willing to prosecute age discrimination cases, and making sure that these agencies are adequately staffed and funded for the job. We need to put a great deal of effort into educating youth about what their rights are, how to document a case of discrimination, who to contact, and how to navigate through the complaint process. Finally, we need to recognize that youth rights are going to remain controversial for some time to come. If we win new rights, we need to be prepared to defend our victories.


Not all injustices can be dealt with by law. The law can prohibit (or license) activities like voting, driving, drinking, and marriage. It's equipped to address harms that can be easily documented: like being fired from a job, or struck in a way that leaves bruises, broken bones. What it cannot easily deal with is subjective feelings.

One of the main ways that youth suffer at the hands of adults is by constantly being disrespected and denied dignity. The law protects essentially all of this behavior as "free speech" -- but a youth movement that ignores it is failing to deal with some of the issues that "sting" youth most of all.

In the public domain, we see defamation of youth in news coverage, TV sitcoms, magazines, and movies. Youth are commonly portrayed as fundamentally flawed beings: stupid, reckless, dangerous to themselves and others, laughable for their foibles, lamentable in their tastes.

Interacting on a personal level, parents' and teachers' attitudes toward youth often range from belittling to punitive. Being in a position of authority, these adults feel that they are entitled / obligated to stand in judgment of youth -- freely expressing their disapproval, doling out lectures, and attempting to coerce the youth to their will. While so sensitive to rudeness from youth, most adults seem entirely blind to their own disrespectful behavior.

Among themselves (or even in the presence of youth), many adults feel free express their naked bigotry toward youth: ridiculing youth culture (e.g. dyed hair, piercings, music), commiserating about how awful their own children are, joking about how "we should be able to lock them up until they're 18".

Most youth are used to the idea of not having civil rights. The fact that they won't be able to vote or apply for a driver's license until a certain age can recede to the back of their minds; disrespect, however, is not so easy to forget. It's perhaps the aspect of adultism that most impacts upon quality of life. It is a major failing of the "civil rights" model that it is unable to meaningfully address these issues.


To fully understand adultism in the U.S., we need to look at the history of how adults have treated youth...

At the beginning of the 20th century (and before), youth were viewed as the property of their parents. Like animals or slaves, much of youths' value was as exploitable farm labor. Just as the owner of a mule or the owner of a slave could inflict pain to discipline their possessions, so too have parents been entitled to use corporal punishment on their children. Strides have been made toward treating young people better, but vestiges of youth-as-property remain visible today in laws that prohibit running away, and in the description of legal independence as "emancipation".

The essence of treating youth as property is this idea: that adults should command, youth should obey. Government, schools, the family -- in almost every institution where adults and youth interact, we see the "command / obey" relationship manifested. I believe it is the fundamental dynamic of adultism. Adults don't simply have mistaken ideas about youth; they have a stake in adultism -- they personally benefit from being in positions of control (whether or not they realize it).

People working within the "rights" model don't seem to talk much about the actual history of adultism. It could be attributed to optimism: looking forward to a time when youth are full-fledged equal citizens, they see the present as "a glass half-full". The problem I see with this is that it can lead to very inaccurate ideas about adultism. In a future where our utopian bills of rights have all come to pass, then perhaps the nature of adultism could be reduced to "discrimination". However, looking back at the past, it seems absurd to sum up the injustices as "treating youth as if they're different from anyone else". The youth-as-property model of the past has not yet been defeated. Adults still maintain and promote the "adults command / youth obey" relationship as what's natural and necessary. It seems to me that we need to acknowledge this, rather than "discrimination", as our main problem at present.

Being in control, getting your own way, is its own benefit. There are lots of ways to rationalize and justify it. An adult can feel that they have young people's "best interests" at heart, and deserve power because they're better qualified than youth to make decisions. On the other hand, they could justify control by putting youth down, finding (or inventing) all sorts of faults in their character, depicting the latest generation as worse than any before. It seems to me that the best way to describe the negative things adults say about youth, is as a sort of propaganda, meant to justify adult power.

People working within the "rights" model tend to discuss bigotry and defamation in terms of "stereotypes" (or "prejudice"). These are some typical recommendations that I've heard in anti-adultism workshops: avoid ever making generalizations about youth; make no assumptions about a person before you get to know them; avoid "either / or" thinking. ...In themselves, these may or may not be wise ideas. As ways of avoiding adultism, however, they seem to me very much beside the point.

"Rights" model advocates tend to ignore the roots of adultism and adults' personal stake in maintaining control. They act as if "discrimination" has no history (except that it's been going on for some time). They act as if "stereotypes" are just the result of mistaken thinking. If the movement cannot accurately describe the origins and motives of adultism -- its cause -- how can it hope to effectively challenge the problem?


Youth Liberation's founding thinkers described their visions of justice in the form of bills of rights. The format seems to suggest that Justice will be achieved only after all the principles that it describes have been passed into law. Once that's done, Youth Liberation activists will be out a job.

I think this is a false idea. Imagine a time when all the best possible laws have been put into place. Even then, the world will continue changing. Year-in and year-out, there will still be new inventions, new celebrities and politicians, powerful people saying stupid or cruel things, events and public debates that keep newspapers publishing and the six o'clock news on the air. We can do an enormous amount toward eliminating adultism -- but we be trying to "put ourselves out of a job". Youth need to always be prepared to weigh-in on issues. Youth should aim at becoming permanent participants in society's decision-making processes.

I think the bill of rights format also suggests to many people that social change work will be a steady march forward -- that once a point on our agenda is won, we can just move on. As discussed earlier, this is unlikely to be so. Youth Liberation is controversial, and if there are victories, they will have to be defended against erosion or repeal for years to come.

Most of our efforts, however, probably won't be about winning ground. The opponents of Youth Liberation are strong and aggressive. We keep on having to defend against new attacks, exhausting ourselves just to protect the rights that we've got at present. Realistically, the better part of the movement's energies will probably go to this end.


To summarize: As a model for achieving justice, the notion that "all we need is civil rights" is flawed...

* It ignores the need for good enforcement agencies, educating youth about how to use the complaint process, and defending good laws after they've been passed.

* It fails to address bigotry and defamation -- which also hurts youth -- because it is protected as "free speech".

* It ignores the history of youth being treated as property and adults' interest in maintaining the "adults command / youth obey" relationship throughout society.

* ...Consequently, it wrongly identifies "youth being treated differently from other citizens" as young people's main problem, and promotes advice that has little bearing on adultism's real cause.

* It implies that once rights are won, permanent justice will have been achieved.

Winning civil rights is still important -- it's just not the *only* battle that needs to be fought.

Organizations such as NYRA probably shouldn't change their current mission statements. If they are going to work on legal issues, then they'll probably be most effective by keeping their focus narrow -- not trying branch out to address every issue at once. [Even attempting to address all legal issues may be too broad of a focus, to be really effective.]

Youth Rights organizations can shift their perspectives while still working on the same projects. A better model of how to bring about justice can only make the movement stronger. In the following section, I'll discuss what I think is the best alternative to the "rights" model of justice and social change.


[Note: This is as far as I got when I was writing back in 2003. Following this point, it's just notes to myself and alternate paragraphs. -- Sven, 10.12.05]

* Society is made of groups with conflicting points of view.

* Justice is an ongoing process, in which different groups each attempt to negotiate for their own best interests, hoping to arrive at deal that is felt to be fair by everyone involved.

* At various points in history, one group has gained the upper-hand over another, benefiting from an arrangement that is not fair to others. A historical relationship where one group has power over another is defined as "oppression".

* The motive behind oppressive... XXXX is simple self-interest.

* Laws -- along with courts, police, and prison systems -- are tools for asserting control over a population. Whether the laws are fair, or enforced at all, has a great deal to do with what group's members are in positions of power.

Some Children's Rights authors have discussed the historical oppression of youth, using the word "oppression" in a fairly loose, but evocative sense. I mean to use "oppression" here in an almost technical sense, linking these issues to an alternate political framework. Alison Jaggar, in her book "Feminist Politics and Human Nature", explains the difference:

"Earlier feminists used the language of "rights" and "equality," but in the late 1960s "oppression" and "liberation" became the key words for the political activists of the new left. [...] The change in language reflects a significant development in the political perspective of contemporary feminism. [...] [O]ppression is the imposition of unjust constraints on the freedom of individuals or groups. Liberation is the correlate of oppression. It is release from oppressive constraints. [...] Oppression is the *imposition* of constraints; it suggests that the problem is not the result of bad luck, ignorance, or prejudice but is caused rather by one group actively subordinating another group to its own interest. Thus, to talk of oppression seems to commit feminists to a world view that includes at least two groups with conflicting interests: the oppressors and the oppressed. It is a world view, moreover, that strongly suggests that liberation is likely to be achieved by rational debate but instead must be the result of political struggle." (pp. 5-6)

The concept of discrimination is meant to be used in the context of applying laws to the citizenry. It is a stretch to use it in a social context, not treating a person as if they are the same to everyone else. Why do people do so? Stereotypes? Stereotypes are frequently described in incredibly passive terms: bad mental photographs, overgeneralizations, making assumptions before you get to know someone, "either / or" thinking. While some adults may not fully understand their own motives, adultism is motivated.

Why do adults treat youth so badly? I don't find the "rights" model's explanation convincing. It only identifies one form of mistreatment: discrimination. Within it's original context, discrimination means not treating everyone the same under the law. The concept can be stretched to cover social situations, like youth not being treated with respect equal to that of adults -- but it's still not a good fit for all aspects of adultism.

NYRA Mission Statement

"The National Youth Rights Association is dedicated to defending the civil and human rights of young people in the United States. We believe certain basic rights are intrinsic parts of American citizenship and transcend age or status limits. As the world's leading democracy, the United States should not lag behind other nations in granting first-class citizenship to its young people.

"NYRA aims to achieve its goals through educating people about youth rights, working with public officials to devise fitting policy solutions to problems affecting young people and empowering young people to work on their own behalf."

This mission statement was adopted by the NYRA Board of Directors on Tuesday, January 25, 2000.

Posted by Sven at 10:54 PM | Comments (0)

The "Youth Power" Framework (short version)

"Youth Power" is a variety of Youth Liberation. Advocates of YP focus on how individual adults abuse power, how the governmental system structures power relationships between youth and adults, and how youth can win greater power to control their own lives.

This is the ultimate goal of YP: for youth to be able to control their own lives when they choose to. YP advocates share an interest in "equal rights" with Youth Equality ("Youth Rights") activists -- but do not place the same weight on youth receiving governmental treatment identical to adults. Instead, YP asserts that youth and adults both have a right to control their bodies -- and that it is wrong for either individuals or governments to use coercion. Justice is not based upon equal, non-discriminatory treatment (accommodating needs for care-giving is encouraged!) -- but rather upon respecting control.

1. Powers properly reserved for the individual

YP builds its philosophy upon principle that a person owns their own body. They have a right to say who will touch it or not touch it, whether it will stay still or be moved, whether it will be altered in any way, or destroyed. They have a right to a bubble of personal space and to owning property -- which will be treated as extensions of the body.

From these basic principles, we derive many freedoms. For instance, the right...

2. The role of a government in protecting the powers of the individual

While YP has a strong vision of what freedoms should be guaranteed to the individual, it does not take individualism to an extreme. We live in a society, depending upon each other for survival, and have an ethical obligation to contribute to the common good.

Maintaining the well-being of society could be achieved through a variety of social structures, including (for instance) small locally-based collectives, as anarchists advocate. YP, however, is committed to the existence of a fairly large scale government, with the power to police its citizens. While creating such a government creates the strong risk of governmental oppression, it is deemed a necessary counterbalance to the tyranny that parents are able to enact within the privacy of their homes. YP relies upon there being a government structure that creates a public sphere which youth can escape into -- a government that can overpower individual parents, should they abuse their power.

The existence of an organized state government means giving up some personal freedom -- particularly in terms of contributing taxes. However, YP expects this loss to be counterbalanced by valuable services that increase safety. A government has the power to imprison persons who do violence. It also has the power to offer free monetary welfare, food and clothing and shelter programs, health care, and public transportation. Youth, being born with nothing, are essentially an impoverished people. To the extent that a government confronts poverty, youth become less vulnerable.

[Note: Politically, YP finds common cause both with persons in poverty and persons with disabilities. Youth are born impoverished, and born with significant physical and mental disabilities. Society should not treat rich, able-bodied adults as the standard human beings -- it should strive to accommodate these variations.]

3. The nature of the group "adults"

Within the society of all human beings, adults have organized themselves into an organization, and established a government that excludes youth. While there is a biological basis for recognizing a group called "adults", "adulthood" is an artificial categorization projected upon natural differences. YP, thus, understands "adulthood" primarily as membership within an organization.
Consider the various ways in which adulthood looks like an organization:

Adulthood is unlike other organizations in at least two respects: one does not voluntarily join, one is inducted in by default; and rather than there being a single line between members and non-members, there are several (although the majority fall on the age of 18). Despite these uniquenesses, the metaphor still holds.

Because adults as a group have power over youth, it is desirable to be adult, and undesirable to be a youth. Youth -- and the qualities, mannerisms, and interests associated with it -- is stigmatized. Both youth and adults attempt to minimize being stigmatized by being seen as too youth-like.

Strategies for dissociating oneself from childhood include: (1) denial of membership ("I'm not a kid!"), (2) choice of peers (a ninth-grader avoiding eighth graders, trying to hang out with tenth graders), (3) contrasting oneself against others ("you're such a baby!"), (4) emphasizing other "superior" identities (e.g. manliness), and (5) passing as an adult (using a fake I.D., smoking, etc.).

Why is there no political conversion, youth renouncing their former allegiance to other young people, when they become adults? Because most spend their entire youth attempting to dissociate themselves from other youth, looking at "kids" from the point of view of adults, not including themselves in the category.

[Once "adulthood" is viewed as membership in an organization, it becomes possible for people to analyze and protest its policies. They can cease to identify with the group uncritically, instead becoming "conscientious objectors" within the group.]

4. How adult oppression is organized

All varieties of Youth Liberation share an anger toward three things: (1) unfair rules/laws, (2) youth being forced to do things against their will, (3) disrespect. The different forms of YL can be distinguished by how they understand the relationship between each of these issues.

YP views the family as the fundamental institution of adult oppression. Parents commanding youth, youth expected to obey -- is a model for adult-youth relationships that is elevated into law by an all-adult government that was created primarily by parents, and serves their interests. While parents may sometimes feel justified in commanding their children because the government sanctions this behavior, it does NOT make sense that parental behaviors are merely an imitation of how the government deals with youth.

Disrespectful portrayals of youth are viewed as a form of propaganda that supports the adult supremacist power structure. Parents commiserating about their kids, news items that portray the current generation as being morally worse than previous ones, scientific studies that demonstrate the biological inferiority of youths' brains, TV ads and entertainment shows that portray youth as ridiculous or needing serious moral guidance, government campaigns that encourage adults to closely supervise youth -- all these things justify and reinforce adults' belief in the rightness of what they do. There is a feedback loop involved here -- but it does NOT make sense that adult control originates with "stereotypes" or "misconceptions"... These beliefs didn't just passively spring into existence -- they were created, and there is a strong motivation for adults to continue creating them.

5. Power in the hands of parents

The original motivation for adult's command/obey relationship over youth is simple self-benefit. To a large extent, the relationship continues due to tradition -- but even if the tradition were stopped, adults would still have an interest in getting what they want. It is pleasant (though not ethical) to be able to impose your will whenever you want, and very convenient when you have agendas that you're trying to pursue.

YP does not pretend that youth and adults are identical. Youth, particularly during the early years, require care-giving: physical support, education about how to access society's services, and financial support. It requires conscientious effort to avoid coercion, and even the best parent is likely to occasionally find themselves in an impossible situation when dealing with toddlers. However, best efforts should be made to respect a young person's will, even when they are a toddler -- and as the youth masters communication, there should be no excuses. Note that there is still ample room for parents to non-coercively influence youth with opinions; it is coercion, and actually going against a youth's will that is prohibited.

YP recognizes parents' default right to custody of their offspring. However, parents ought have no power to detain a youth, should the youth want to sever the relationship. Leaving the parents home, and severing their economic obligation ought be dealt with as two separate steps. Parents, by having compelled a new person to come into existence, become financially obligated to provide them with a minimal means of survival. The relationship is not reciprocal: youth, having entered into existence without consent, are not obligated to obey their parents or financially support them.

6. Power in the hands of adult government

When the command/obey relationship is not entered into consensually, and a person is not allowed to leave it at will, this is the essence of treating a person as human property.

Parents have elevated this notion that youth are their property to the law of the land. We can see its logic in laws that prohibit youth (like slaves) from running away, that give parents permission to inflict physical pain as a means of discipline/punishment, that enable parents to "disown" incorrigible youth, that hold parents responsible for controlling their offspring.

However, because adults have organized themselves into a government, youth are not merely viewed as the private property of parents -- they are also viewed as a the collective property of all adults -- a "valuable resource" to be managed. At times, the government and individual parents come into conflict -- the government intervening in situations of abuse, removing the children. This is not a case of youth being given control over their own bodies and lives -- nor even violence being truly prohibited. Violence is merely being regulated; the collective intercedes when its property is going to be damaged by the private owner.

The adult government cannot be trusted to police itself. Opinion about what standards parents should be held to is likely to shift and change; but given how powerful a lobby parents are, there is a strong chance that they will not shift in youths' favor. Individual parents' interest in being in control is likely to be expressed in law again and again. In order to win positive changes, and to fight off new attacks on youth rights, youth activists must be vigilantly engaged in the political and legal systems.

7. Power in the hands of youth activists

It is in adults' self-interest to preserve control over youth; there is no reason for them initiate giving youth more power. Youth must demand their rights. The only way to win is to fight.

YP advocates forming "direct action" activist groups on the local level, to watchdog city, county, and state governments, responding to attacks on youth rights, and (when possible) initiating pro-youth legislation. These organizations must draw their support from the youth community itself, and should therefore host events that raise awareness among youth of relevant legal issues and foster discussion (partly as a means to develop new activists). Such activist groups must also pay attention to more than just the written law -- they must make sure that there is adequate funding for enforcement agencies, that such agencies are doing their job, and that youth actually know how to access these agencies and navigate through their systems.

Even if we reach a plateau of youth rights, a "youthtopia", the potential for adults to express self-interest again will always remain. In order to maintain justice, youth must always have a place "at the table", participating in the perpetual negotiations about how to juggle fairness for multiple parties.

8. Goals of the youth power movement

There is a great deal of overlap between YP's goals and the goals of other YL branches. Why YP advocates these particular goals, however, is a distinguishing feature.

YP's focus is on creating the means for youth to escape situations of suffering/abuse at will, without the help of adult mediators. [This does not mean that YP is against the existence of adult-run youth welfare agencies.] YP views violence against minors as the epitome of adult oppression, and generates its list of goals by imagining what would help a youth escape:

In addition to the principle that youth should be able to escape suffering at will, YP sets its goals according to a second principle: youth should be able to formally participate in all decision-making processes that effect their lives, and exclusive control over decisions where it is a matter of control over their own body. Adults have a self-interest in being in control of youth -- which constitutes a conflict of interests -- and so are not suited to be the sole guardians of youths' "best interests". While youth are likely to lose many debates over public policy, being directly involved improves their ability to protect themselves against oppressive legislation. Expressions of this principle include:

[With regards to schools, YP advocates transforming public schools rather than abolishing them. Although compulsory schooling may seem to force youth to do something, it also provides an invaluable escape from the private home into a public sphere. YP seeks to mitigate the coercive aspect by simultaneously promoting "unschooling" as an alternative educational route.]

Posted by Sven at 07:21 PM | Comments (0)

October 11, 2005

The "Youth Power" Framework (notes)


I just finished writing a multi-part essay on the "Youth Power" framework. [See the appendix for an overview.] It was a big enough concept that I didn't want to get stuck on outlining beforehand -- so I just worked off of a long list of notes. Now that I'm done, the first thing my mind wants to do is go back and reorganize all this material. I don't have time right now to do too much editing -- but I thought that I might at least sketch a new outline. Here is the overview:


The biggest changes are the addition of " A GOVERNMENT THAT PROVIDES FOR JUSTICE & WELFARE" and " SHARED INTERESTS IN ENDING OPPRESSION". I also split what was previously "THE NATURE OF YOUTH" into two sections: "HOW HUMAN BEINGS SHOULD BE TREATED" and "THE GROUP 'YOUTH'". The other sections have perhaps been re-titled and rewritten somewhat -- but their essence remains the same.


Here's the new outline, in full, for my essay-in-progress, "The 'Youth Power' Framework":


1. The fundamental "right" is ownership of one's own body.

2. Treating a person well means conscientiously respecting their right to consent or not consent in matters that concern their body.

3. It is unethical to treat any person as if they are human property.

4. Collectively, society has a responsibility to provide services to people who are impoverished or vulnerable to abuse.


1. YP presupposes the existence of an organized, democratic government.

2. YP advocates socialized services, a form of socialism.

3. There should be government-sponsored services that provide for the welfare of the needy. (e.g. Welfare, housing, food, clothing, healthcare.)

4. There should be laws that prevent oppressive treatment toward minority groups.

5. There should be well-funded agencies that enforce protective laws.

6. There should be some form of taxation that creating a pool of wealth, used to maintain justice enforcement agencies and social services.


1. "Youth" is a group whose members are characterized by: (1) being under 18 years of age, (2) living in the parents' house, and (3) being economically dependent.

[2. Youth are persons.]

3. Youth and adults are not identical.

4. Youth require care-giving. This does not justify granting adults absolute power.

5. Babies and fetuses fall outside of Youth Liberation's purview.


1. The line between adults and youth is artificial.

2. Adulthood is a membership organization.

[3. The implicit "mission statement" of the adult organization is this: "maintain control over youth".]

4. Both adults and youth try to dissociate themselves from childhood.

5. Members of the group "adults" can refuse to identify with the organization, and challenge its structure.


1. Adults oppress youth.

2. The family is the fundamental institution of adult oppression.

3. The all-adult government elevates the order of power within the family to a societal level.

4. Negative beliefs about and caricatures of youth are propaganda that supports the order of power.

5. "Ending" adultism would require a transformation of culture as well as laws.


1. Adultism is motivated by self-benefit: the desire to be in control.

2. The essence of control is to treat youth as if they are human property.

3. Parental tyranny inevitably produces situations of violence against minors. This is the epitome of adultism's harm to youth.


1. Adult authorities cannot be trusted to maintain fair and just institutions on their own.

2. Adult government must be kept in check by direct participation and activism initiated by watchdog groups.

3. The potential for injustice cannot be eliminated.


1. Youth need the means to escape suffering / abuse at will.

[2. Youth must have access to socialized services in order to lessen dependence.]

3. Youth need to be able to escape suffering without having to ask adults for help.

4. In all decisions that effect youth, youth should have direct participation in the decision-making process, or sole control.

5. To win these freedoms, youth must band together into activist groups.


1. Most oppression comes in the guise of "protection".

2. Adult allies pose a threat of cooptation.

3. It is important that actual youth be the voice of, and in control of, YL organizations.

4. There is more to being a YL advocate than just being a youth.


1. Oppression is a historical relationship between two groups, where one group has control over the other.

2. Adultism is an oppression -- comparable to racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, ableism, anti-Semitism, etc.

3. Youth have an interest in eliminating other oppressions because youth is itself a diverse group.

4. Other liberation movements have an interest in furthering the cause of youth liberation because adultism is one of the strongest models of the command/obey relationship.

5. While Youth Liberation may be encompassed within the goals of humanism, the need for youth activists who specialize in fighting adultism remains.


The goal of this essay is to describe the sub-variety of Youth Liberation that I call "Youth Power". Consequently, what I need to keep asking myself with each section is "Does this contrast YP against Youth Equality and Youth Culture -- or am I making statements that would hold true for all three flavors?" Here are a few notes about what I think of each section at present:


Identifying my principles for "right treatment" is pretty fundamental. It gets at a theory of human nature... I worry that I haven't gone far enough into exploring the implications here. I should refer back to Alison Jaggar's work... Youth Equality comes out of the political tradition of liberalism; that implies presuppositions about rationality. Am I falling into similar pitfalls? Or have I escaped them by creating a standard of "right treatment" that need not be earned? ...Do I need to say anything here about what punishments are appropriate for people who violate the principles?


This section feels almost ridiculously basic -- and yet, I think that it does a good job of contrasting YP's views against Republicanism and Anarchism. I think that YL is committed to there being a government, and depending on its authority as a means to escape being trapped under the power of individual parents. A while back I started realizing that YL has an interest in socialism; as I started digging into history, I came to see that my larger presupposition is that there be a governmental structure at all.


It feels like I'm doing two things in this section, and that perhaps I should only be doing one. Mostly I need to contrast YP with YE by talking about how we understand the differences between youth and adults. YE's notion of justice is based on treating youth and adults identically -- YP's notion of justice is based on accommodation of differences, as exemplified by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The other thing that I'm doing is stating my definition of "youth" -- although actually I'm avoiding a definition here, and using a "characteristics" approach instead. How important is it to write out my definition of youth here? Do definitions belong? Or is there room for different definitions that would still maintain the spirit of YP?

...I'm struggling with how minimalist I want this document to be. Should I eliminate all points that are not truly essential to a YP point of view? If so, I can see whole sections that could be jettisoned.


With the exception of the point about adult's "mission statement", this section seems very solid, and very vital to the YP point of view.


This section also feels pretty solid and pretty essential. The ways in which YE, YC, and YP understand what's primary, secondary, and tertiary, was one of my most exciting insights as I put this essay together.

I didn't have any point in the essay previously that said "adults oppress youth", so I re-titled the first point. I'm not sure whether or not I really need to invoke the oppression framework, though -- oppression is a extremely useful add-on, but not essential. I could probably add a section about the nature of oppression... E.g. "all youth are oppressed", "oppression is a system, not merely aberrant individuals", "oppression, privilege, and entitlement are three separate things", etc. The last section, "SHARED INTERESTS IN ENDING OPPRESSION" could go together with this new "add-on" framework.


I like the use of the word "power" here, tying back to the term "Youth Power". However, I'm not sure that "ADULT ABUSE OF POWER" is what I need here. I do like that the points deal with power within the family -- that seems to expand upon what is said in "THE ORGANIZATION OF ADULT OPPRESSION" -- but I'm left wondering, then, if there are other points about the family that I want to deal with. I'm considering going back to the original heading, "POWER AT THE INTERPERSONAL LEVEL".


Previously I had talked here about how youth need to organize themselves collectively. In this draft, I took all that out, and tried to just leave the bits about how adult power works at the governmental level -- basically that biases exist there, and that it can't be trusted to be impartial any more than individual parents can. Again, it seems like what I want to be talking about is the nature of power itself, more than the people who hold it. I'm wondering if I need to make my points a bit more general then, like "the government is a group of individuals, each of whom is corruptible", etc.


This section is now largely about what youth as a group can do that will make them as safe as possible. The point about them needing to organize into activist groups seem like less of an abstract principle, and more of a practical one, so it doesn't feel as right here... But I'm not sure that I want to move it back into the section about governmental power, either. Part of me thinks that this bit, since it deals with ideals, ought to come before the section on how the government works -- but that would break up the organization wherein I talk generally about "THE ORGANIZATION OF ADULT OPPRESSION" and then move to the family and to the government.

Maybe I need to change these two sections into "power within the family" and "power in the government" -- followed by "youth power outside of the family and government"... Sort of a "non-governmental organizations" (NGO's) approach. ...That, then would be followed by something about "YOUTH POWER AGENDA"? You'd identify three bases of power: the parents, the adult government, and youth activists groups -- then you'd say what the youth activist groups stand for. ...Which would certainly be a means of distinguishing YP from YE & YC.


This again feels a bit like an "add-on" framework. It's not essential to the YP frame, but it does derive from it, and is very complementary. Maybe I need to explicitly say that there are several interlocking frameworks here -- not just a single one... The Youth Power framework, the oppression framework, and the "by youth, for youth" framework!


I've already talked about this section. It is of one cloth, with general remarks about "oppression". [Note that I never define the term "adultism" here, either...] It really deals with progressivism -- which is, in my mind, the big reason for invoking the term "oppression" at all. It's tacked on -- but well worth mentioning somewhere. ...How do I want to go about interlocking frameworks, if I've now determined that more than one is at work here?


As a multi-part essay, there was no point in the presentation of "The 'Youth Power' Framework" where I displayed the entire outline in one place. For convenient reference, I include the original outline here.


1. The primary problem is parental tyranny and its inevitable result, violence against minors.

2. The family is the fundamental institution of adult oppression.

3. The all-adult government elevates the order of power within the family to a societal level.

4. Negative beliefs about and caricatures of youth are propaganda that supports the order of power.


5. Adultism is motivated by self-benefit: the desire to be in control.

6. The essence of control is to treat youth as if they are human property.

7. Parental tyranny inevitably produces situations of violence against minors. This is the epitome of adultism's harm to youth.

8. Right treatment of youth is founded upon their consent (and their freedom to not consent).


9. Youth should have the power necessary for self-protection, without mediation.

10. The most important freedom for Youth Liberation to win is the ability for youth to escape situations of suffering, at will.

11. Self-protection requires youth to band together, to work for their collective well-being.

12. Adult authorities cannot be trusted to maintain fair and just institutions on their own.

13. Adult government must be kept in check by direct participation and activism initiated by watchdog groups.

14. Self-protection requires direct participation (not merely representation) in all decision-making processes that effect the life of an individual youth or the youth community.

15. The potential for injustice cannot be eliminated.


16. Most oppression comes in the guise of "protection".

17. Adult allies pose a threat of cooptation.

18. It is important that actual youth be the voice of, and in control of, YL organizations.

19. There is more to being a YL advocate than just being a youth.


20. Youth are persons.

21. Treating someone "like a person" means conscientiously respecting their right to control their own body.

22. It is unethical to treat any person as if they are human property.

23. Youth and adults are not identical.

24. Youth require care-giving. This does not justify granting adults absolute power.

25. Babies and fetuses fall outside of Youth Liberation's purview.


26. The line between adults and youth is artificial.

27. Adulthood is a membership organization.

28. The implicit "mission statement" of the adult organization is this: "maintain control over youth".

29. Both adults and youth try to dissociate themselves from childhood.

30. Members of the group "adults" can refuse to identify with the organization, and challenge its structure.

31. "Ending" adultism would require a transformation of culture as well as laws.

Posted by Sven at 07:30 PM | Comments (0)

The "Youth Power" Framework (part 3)



27. Adulthood is a membership organization.

Adulthood is an organization. There are people who are members, and people who are excluded. Membership grants privileges. The rules for who is a member and who is not are explicit, they are written out. The organization has a government that makes policy decisions. The organization has a constituency of members who usually do not have direct control over policy decisions, but whom elect representatives and benefit from membership nonetheless. The lines that divide members and non-members are enforced by a police force. There's even an informal dress code, for what is considered appropriate for members to wear (as well as how they should behave).

Adulthood is unlike other organizations in several ways. Induction into the group is not voluntary, it is presumed. The majority of membership privileges are granted at age 18 -- but some are granted earlier, and some are granted later than this. Despite these peculiarities, adulthood is still fundamentally an organization.

28. The implicit "mission statement" of the adult organization is this: "maintain control over youth".

The U.S. government, by virtue of excluding youth from all participating in formal decision-making processes, could be called an "adultarchy". The government has relations with, and policies for, many groups, not just youth. Where youth are involved, however, the government's goal is to maintain control. This control may be viewed as being for young people's benefit -- protecting them, educating them, supervising them. Nonetheless, it is adults and not youth who are intended to be in control of youths' lives.

There is a tension between parents' interests and the interests of the government.

There is a long history of parents viewing children as their private property. The government, as primarily a collective of parents, raises this principle to the law of the land. A law such as a city-wide curfew is an example of rules that may exist within the home being elevated.

There are differences of opinion amongst parents about how to best manage youth as a "resource". This leads to creating standards for parenting, and intervention in situations of abuse. Youth are the private property of their parents; but they are also the collective property of all adult citizens. The question of what youth themselves want is seldom even discussed.

29. Both adults and youth try to dissociate themselves from childhood.

An important philosophical question for YL is this: If youth are oppressed by adults, why do they themselves go on to support the adultarchy? If adulthood is an organization, wouldn't becoming an adult require a sort of political conversion, wherein youth renounce their former identity as a youth?

It is undesirable to be underneath other people's control. It is an inferior status that bears stigma. Consequently, both youth and adults attempt to dissociate themselves from childhood and things deemed "childish". There are a number of strategies for doing this.

A young person may (1) simply deny membership ("I'm not a kid!") -- interpreting childhood as a matter of character rather than law. They may (2) avoid being in the company of people younger than them, and try to make friends with people older than themselves (tenth graders avoiding ninth graders, trying to hang out with eleventh graders). They may try to make themselves seem superior bullying or putting down peers ("you're such a baby!"). Youth may (4) try to emphasize another identity's superiority, in order to compensate for youth's inferiority (e.g. manliness). Or, they may (5) try to pass as an adult -- either by embracing "adult" activities such as smoking, drinking, and sex -- or by actually creating a fake I.D.

Adults, even though they are formally members of the adult organization, often continue to engage in these same behaviors. It is still possible for the stigma of seeming "young" to be attached to an adult. And, since adulthood is a largely artificial category, it may be difficult to feel secure in one's identity.

[Most people never "renounce" their former identity as "youth" upon becoming adults, because they never identified as "youth" to begin with. They have spent their entire lives looking at the world from the adult point of view, and attempting not to be marked as "kids".]

30. Members of the group "adults" can refuse to identify with the organization, and challenge its structure.

There is an important distinction to be made between "membership" and "identity". With regards to being a youth or an adult, one has no control over which group one has membership in. However, one can "identify" with either group at any particular time. One's identity is how one thinks of oneself, and presents oneself to the world.

People who have been given membership in adulthood need not identify with the organization's interests. One may in essence be a "conscientious objector", fighting against adults' control of youth. One may even consider oneself a sort of "abolitionist", attempting to do away with the organization (as it stands) altogether. In terms of the "dress codes" of adulthood, one may be an "age bender" -- mixing adult and youth clothing, behaviors, and cultural interests. Rather than aspiring to be either "young" or "adult-like" at all, one may aspire to embody "ageless being" -- transcending the stereotypes attached to either category.

31. "Ending" adultism would require a transformation of culture as well as laws.

Adult oppression of youth is not merely a matter of laws. Laws are simply the most clearly articulated expressions of adult supremacism.

If we were able to truly end adultism, we need to begin with revisioning the relationship between adults and youth within the family. Creating a new relationship there, which is based on egalitarianism and young people's ownership of their own bodies -- but which also deals with the practical issues of being a caregiver -- would give us a firm foundation for also creating new laws. Even within YL, work remains to be done. revisioning the parent-child relationship.

Even beyond the parent-child relationship, however, adultism is embedded in identity. Adult supremacism is not merely about seeing youth negatively -- it is also about adults feeling pride, feeling they are better than youth, feeling they deserve control. Adulthood itself must be re-imagined. Youth Power advocates a vision of "ageless being" -- a society wherein differences in anatomical and mental ability are grappled with seriously, but where there is no special glory in being adult or male or white or able-bodied -- these things are mere accidents. To invest identity in them sows the seeds for oppression.

[It should be noted that investing identity in being a youth, female, black, disabled, etc. -- while oppression exists -- is another matter. Identity of this sort provides the basis for resisting oppression. It is the work of adults to learn to see themselves as more similar to youth; it is the work of youth to learn to see the ways in which they are treated dissimilarly from adults.]

Posted by Sven at 04:16 PM | Comments (0)

October 05, 2005

The "Youth Power" Framework (part 2)



11. Self-protection requires youth to band together, to work for their collective well-being.

Sometimes a young person's suffering is not simply the result of an individual adult, acting as a private citizen. Sometimes suffering is the result of how an institutional system is constructed. A law or rule is inherently unfair -- or it encourages adults to act in ways that are unfair or abusive -- or it prevents youth from engaging in a decision-making process that could change the situation.

12. Adult authorities cannot be trusted to maintain fair and just institutions on their own.

Adult leaders working in institutions such federal / state / county / city governments or the agencies thereof (e.g. police bureau, liquor commission, school boards) -- are lobbied by many interest groups. Elected and appointed officials themselves tend to be members of such interest groups, who have risen to power. Society will always have many segments to it, and will always remain diverse. Adult leaders -- serving both their constituencies and their own biases -- are likely to favor adult interests over youths' self-professed interests when youth-related issues come up. That is, if the adults are even aware of what youths' self-professed interests are.

It is in the self-interest of adults -- as individuals, and as a collective -- to exclude youth from decision making processes. Without youth participation, adults can make whatever laws / rules they feel are useful -- even if they seem outrageously unjust to youth. Being in control is a desirable position to be in. Adults' interest in control is in direct conflict with youths' interest in controlling their own lives.

13. Adult government must be kept in check by direct participation and activism initiated by watchdog groups.

Because adults cannot be expected to know how youth feel without consulting them, and because it is within adults self-interest to exclude youth from power, and because excluding youth from power leads to adults abusing power (perhaps merely out of convenience, or due to a mood) -- youth must play an active role in keeping adults in check.

Pragmatically, this means that youth must maintain activist organizations which both watchdog adult authorities for misbehavior, and train members of the youth community in how to do activism which will bring about change.

Adults have no motive to change on their own. Youth must confront adult authorities and demand it. The only way to win new freedom -- or even to just preserve the freedom that exists now -- is to fight for it.

14. Self-protection requires direct participation (not merely representation) in all decision-making processes that effect the life of an individual youth or the youth community.

This is a general principle: if youth are to be able to protect themselves against suffering and injustice, then they must be formally involved in all decision-making processes that effect their lives.

At the group-level, this means decision-making processes about things such as the minimum wage, taxes, requirements for drivers' licenses, etc., youth should be able to formally register their opinions with equal weight to adults. If that means a vote, then youth need the right to vote. If decision-making is done by a small committee, then youth must be members of that committee (e.g. a school board). If decision-making is done by representatives, then youth must be allowed to run for office, and to participate in electing their representatives. [Youth will not necessarily win elections, nor will their segment of the voting population necessarily ever be able to defeat adult voters.]

This does not mean that youth and adults should be equals in all matters. Especially within the family, there many decisions in which adults should have no say at all. Where a young person has a will for how they want to use their own body, a concerned and friendly adult might voice an opinion -- but they should have no right to veto power. Examples: when a young person chooses to have sex, get an abortion, get a tattoo, objects to being hit, travels at night, wants to spends time with whom they choose. [Respecting the will of toddlers is a more complicated matter -- but the principle stands.]

15. The potential for injustice cannot be eliminated.

Because self-interest is innate, the potential for adult leaders to seize unjust control over youth is permanent. We might be very lucky, and in one generation educate all members of society about adultism, convincing all that youth and adults should live together in a more egalitarian fashion. Even if this were the case, though, some one or more adults in a future generation could reinvent the notion of adult superiority and take action upon it.

Because the threat is permanent, youth activists must remain eternally vigilant against injustice, and continue to train the youth who follow them in how to fight back. Justice means that youth will always be at the negotiating table -- not that there is nothing left to negotiate, and youth can stop having to engage.


16. Most oppression comes in the guise of "protection".

The adult population circulates a great deal of anti-youth propaganda. Parents commiserate about their kids, adults make derisive comments about youth culture, the adult media runs news stories that imply contemporary youth are a problem generation, and the government (and non-governmental agencies) run campaigns urging adults to take control. Even so, much adult oppression is done with the intent of "helping", "guiding", and "protecting" children.

Adults must be judged not on their words alone, but upon whether or not young people's own wills are being heeded, and if youth are being granted more or less control.

17. Adult allies pose a threat of cooptation.

Even adults who explicitly support the Youth Liberation political agenda pose a threat. Growing up in this society, messages that adults should be in control seep into would-be allies minds; they are over-eager to voice their own opinions; perhaps they were youth activists themselves, and haven't transitioned into their new role as adult allies. The result is that the actual youth participants in a group feel stepped-upon, not listened to, and lose control of their organization.

This does not necessarily mean that adults must not participate in YL groups -- but there is a case to be made for limiting participation. For instance: speaking in discussions but not voting, and not speaking in public in place of actual youth members. It is scary and awkward to confront an adult when they have said or done something that stings; adults should not presume that they have not offended simply because they haven't heard a complaint. Adults in YL groups should go out of their way to encourage youth to criticize them; it's a good idea to leave a time at the end of each meeting when youth are invited to talk about any interaction that "stung".

18. It is important that actual youth be the voice of, and in control of, YL organizations.

If the main purpose of YL is that youth should have control over their own lives, then they should also have control in the organizations dedicated to winning that freedom.

Youth activists have an authenticity that supporters of youth rights should put at the forefront of the cause. Youth know about the problems they experience first-hand, rather than abstractly; they have insight into the details and emotional impact of life as a young person that others won't think of, or simply don't feel as profoundly. Youth are motivated because they are being directly impacted; outsiders are less likely to care as passionately about youth issues, if the going gets rough. Youth activists also lack the conflict of interests that adults -- because they benefit from being in control -- have.

Youth are also likely to be heard differently than adult speakers. Youth opinions may be discounted as "naive" -- but it is unusual to hear youth speak out as a group, which will seize adults' attention. Youth talking demanding control of their own lives makes it believable that youth can control their own lives -- whereas this is a point of debate when adults discuss the matter amongst themselves. The ideal world that we seek to create is one in which adults listen to youth; it's good to introduce adults to this experience in a very practical way.

19. There is more to being a YL advocate than just being a youth.

Being a good advocate requires more than just being a youth -- but also more than just good ideas.

Being an adult doesn't mean that someone is a bad ally -- simply that they aren't cut out to be the formal leader of a YL group, or be the main spokesperson for the group. Adult allies must be conscientious about not taking over youth-led groups -- but this does not mean that they are bad people, or the same as Youth Liberation's opponents. Still, good ideas alone are not enough.

Neither is just being young enough to make one a good YL advocate. Many youth -- happy to just wait out youth and then assume adult supremacist power -- are actually against Youth Lib. Being young does not automatically "enlighten" a person and guarantee their support for the cause.

Being an ideal spokesperson for young people requires both the vantage point on society conferred by living in a young body, and also a youth-centered politics -- one that grows out of having personal relationships with others in the youth community, and having a historical perspective that that comes from studying the history of youths' position within society.


20. Youth are persons.

Young people -- by which I mean anyone who is legally a "minor" -- have personhood and humanity that is equal to that of adults.

Youth should be treated with the dignity and respect due to persons. People -- all people -- should be treated as well as possible (given constraints such as time, energy, resources, threat) at all times.

...Often they are not. Youth are one of several groups that are treated as inferior persons, less-than-persons -- sometimes even as sub-human -- by much of the U.S. population, much of the time.

Youth Liberation seeks to promote treating youth like persons.

21. Treating someone "like a person" means conscientiously respecting their right to control their own body.

The key words that Youth Power uses to describe a person's humanity are: boundaries, will, consent. Youth are no less adults' equals in personhood if they are seen as lacking in any of these qualities. Youths' humanity is inalienable. We use these words to help describe how to treat youth well.

Youth have innate boundaries. They are the sole owners of their own bodies. They have a human right to control the immediate physical space around their body. They are entitled to own property, which is to be treated as if it were an extension of their body. That is, the youth has the right to control whether these things are touched, moved, remain in place, modified, or destroyed. They have a right to refuse to exert their body or mind's energies.

Youth have a will. That is, an emotional or intellectual opinion about what they want with regards to control of their body. Where a youth's own body is concerned -- so long as they aren't violating another person's control of their own body -- the young person's will should be supreme, no other person having veto power. There is room for ethical intervention in cases where a youth has no discernable will, and another seeks to do care-giving. There is also room for ethical intervention where a youth has discernable will, but due to ignorance of an immediate and probable physically harmful consequence (e.g. stepping in front of a car), their action must be interrupted immediately. There is not an exception for overriding the youth's will when physical harm will not be immediate (e.g. drug use); but there is room for stating one's opinions. A second person may conscientiously choose to force a youth to do something against the young person's will, for the sake of serving their own needs or convenience; doing so may not cause harm, but it is ethically undesirable. The person who aspires to being ethical will conscientiously seek to create means to avoiding such situations.

Youth have a right to give or withhold consent. Ideally, consent is an explicit verbal "yes", given enthusiastically, without fear or confusion. This is an ideal to aspire to; agreements are seldom so clear-cut. In virtually all situations, that which is consensual is also ethical. Whether or not something is consensual is the prime test for whether it is ethical.

Boundaries, will, and consent belong (somewhat obviously) not only to youth, but to all persons. The rights described here are those that should be enjoyed by all humanity.

22. It is unethical to treat any person as if they are human property.

That which is consensual is ethical. Doing something to a person -- or compelling them to do something -- against their will, without their consent, is unethical. The epitome of a non-consensual relationship is to treat someone as if they are property. Historically (in the U.S.) enslaved Africans, women, children have all experienced a similar level of subjugation, being treated as if they were the property to be owned.

The essence of this relationship is that one person commands and the other is expected to obey. If the "owned" person does not obey, the "owner" may inflict physical pain to compel obedience. The "owned" person is legally prevented from voluntarily leaving the relationship. [Whether or not an "owner" may at will transfer possession of the "owned" to another is perhaps a distinguishing mark of full slave status, but not, I think, essential to the persons-as-property metaphor.]

[Note to self: Here I am describing a relationship in which the oppressed are of use to the oppressor, e.g. as labor of some sort. But what about situation where the oppressed is seen as an obstacle to the oppressor? This would be the case for groups such as the Australian Aborigines, Native Americans, and Jews -- natives in the way of colonization, or perpetual outsiders. Oppression has two extremes: enslavement, and genocide. On the genocide side of things, I seem to be leaving questions about minimum care out. What about issues of neglect? An oppressed population can be suppressed with poverty, starvation, lack of funding -- as well as by violence.]

[This section sounds too similar to point #6 -- "The essence of control is to treat youth as if they are human property" -- and should probably be excised.]

23. Youth and adults are not identical.

Anatomically, biologically, mentally, and psychologically, there are important differences between children and adults. Of course, youth and adults are only artificially separate groups -- there is a continuum of age, "youth" metamorphosing into "adults".

At the extreme, you have babies, who are unable to understand language, find food or feed it to themselves, find clothes or dress themselves, walk, procure transportation, navigate to stores or buy things, procure or use money. They are profoundly ignorant and in need of assistance.

Youth as a group are not to be defined by this extreme, however. With amazing speed, these skills -- and countless more -- are acquired, and youth become capable of intelligently moving through the world. It is also worth noting that youth are not alone in their initial disabilities. For every disability that young people begin with, there is a significant number of adults who face the same challenge. There are adults who are illiterate, or who don't know how to speak English -- and there are adults with more significant disabilities, who are unable to feed or clothe themselves without assistance.

Rather than simply advocating that youth be treated identically to the average adult [which is what the Youth Equality movement does], Youth Power seeks to transform how we view the entire human population. Among the population as a whole, there is a diversity of ability. We must strive to make society increasingly accessible to people who do not have the abilities of the "average" adult citizen.

24. Youth require care-giving. This does not justify granting adults absolute power.

Youth Power finds common cause with the People with Disabilities movement. Both movements seek respectful rather than demeaning treatment. Both seek to maximize people's ability to live an independent life, following their own will. Both value the importance of good care-givers -- and believe that care-givers must at all times strive to assist the will of the ward, not impose their own.

Youth Power views parents primarily as care-givers. For having given a child existence, they are obligated to provide the necessities for continued survival; youth owe no obligation of obedience in exchange for this basic care. There is a presumption that birth parents will be the child's primary care-givers; we do not advocate automatically making children wards of the state. However, neither does Youth Power believe that obstacles should stand in the way of the youth leaving their birth family. A youth should be able to sever themselves from their family at will; severing the relationship of housing / care and severing the obligation of economic support should be two separate steps. Youth Power promotes alternatives to living with the birth family, such as creating youth communal housing, increased ability for youth to choose their own foster family, and increased access to welfare funds.

[This next bit is probably, again, off topic.]

In ancient Rome, fathers had (at least in legal theory) the power of life or death over their offspring. Offspring had no independent legal existence, being subsumed under the power of the head-of-household. They were expected to fulfill an obligation of obedience for having been brought into existence, and could be sold into slavery...

In England during most of the second millennium, a parent was no longer allowed to sell their child into slavery (although forced labor wasn't necessarily better), or murder them. A new legal obligation upon the parent to provide for their children came into being (to relieve the state of the burden). The obligation that youth give obedience and labor in exchange for existence remained...

In the U.S. during the first part of the 20th century, there was a major shift in adult-youth relations: youth labor was largely prohibited, and the prohibition was bolstered by compulsory schooling, which helped to remove youth from their parents' control. Youth were no longer obligated to give labor in exchange for material support -- but the obligation of obedience (and parents right to discipline) remain.

Youth Power challenges this fundamental notion that because a parent gave you existence, you owe them obedience. Rather, we believe that for forcing youth into existence, parents incur an obligation to support the person they have created -- and youth are not obligated to make "payment" to them of any sort.

25. Babies and fetuses fall outside of Youth Liberation's purview.

Youth are no less persons if they are unable to communicate. However, since Youth Liberation is primarily concerned with amplifying youth's ability to have their will (in matters of their body) win out, in practical terms our interests begin with verbal speech, when a youth is able to articulate will themselves. [Youth Liberation, then, has at least some interest in teaching infants sign language, as a means to making contact via articulate communication even earlier.]

With regards to fetuses, if one chooses to view them as persons, then there is a conflict between two segments of youth: fetuses and young women who would choose not to have the fetuses inside of them. In this situation, the rights of the girl win out, because no person -- adult or fetus has a right to inhabit her body without her consent.

The situation is likened to rape: a man has no right to be inside of a woman's body if she does not want him there. If there is a way to stop a rape mid-progress without killing the man, then that is the ethically preferred option. However, the man's life is forfeit if he refuses to leave. Rape, as we understand it, encompasses not only assault by strangers, but also rape that occurs on dates or within marriage. Sexual intercourse that began consensually may become rape if a man refuses to leave the woman's body. By the same reasoning, then, it may be ethically preferable for a woman rid herself of an unwanted child in a way that is non-lethal -- but the fetus' life is forfeit when it does not leave her body when she wills it. And, just as consensual sex may become rape, whether or not the woman consented to the sex that led to the pregnancy is irrelevant to the issue of whether or not fetus has a right to continue inhabiting the woman.

[Youth Equality is more likely to avoid the issue of abortion (because it's controversial) or be pro-life (viewing fetuses as the youngest of youth); it has less of an emphasis rights originating with ownership of one's own body.]


26. The line between adults and youth is artificial.

There are main ways of defining "adulthood": as (1) a biological phase, (2) a set of characteristic qualities and behaviors, or (3) a legal status.

Youth Power tends to focus on adulthood as a legal status, which is inherently artificial.

Youth Power tends to view the characteristic qualities and behaviors that distinguish adults and youth also as artificial. We posit the existence of "adult culture", which is not inherently superior to "youth culture".

Adult culture sets its ideal for behavior as "maturity", a word that perhaps means all positive traits: wisdom, responsibility, seriousness, emotional stability, competence, intelligence, etc... Adults collectively blur the distinction between "maturity" as an inevitable biological state and "maturity" as a personal achievement: thus, if you don't have one, at least you have the other. Youth get the short end of the stick with this arrangement. The opposite of maturity, "immaturity", is equated with nearly everything negative: foolishness, irresponsibility, silliness, emotional instability, incompetence, stupidity, etc. Youth are stigmatized for being immature of character -- but even if they are "mature" in this way, they are still by definition immature biologically. Biological youth then, is smeared by association. There is no way to escape the stigma of simply being young. [The Youth Culture branch of YL focuses on reclaiming youthful qualities as valuable: e.g. playful, emotionally engaged, curious...]

In addition to "maturity" as an ideal to aspire to, adult culture divides the world into "adult" stuff and "kid's stuff". There's adult music, adult movies, adult books, adult clothing, adult hairstyles, adult food, adult art, and so on. Adults are enticed to embrace their own culture, and to avoid / speak badly of youth culture. Just as it should not be said that Japanese cultural expressions are superior to Mexican cultural expressions (or some other such ridiculous example), it should not be said that authentic products of youth culture (e.g. youth music, fashions) are inferior to those of adults. They merely have a different aesthetic. [To what extent youth are able to have an independent culture that has not been marketed to them by adults is another matter.]

With regards to biological age, there are firm markers such as puberty, losing one's "baby teeth", growing taller, etc. However, there's a great deal of interpretation that can be done about what these things mean. Much of the behavior markers of youth that others would attribute to hormones and brain development, Youth Power would attribute to cultural or existential differences. ["Existential" here referring to things such as what it means to have had less time to explore the world.]

[Note: The bits about culture go on to long. It's also interesting that I skipped the usual bit about how definitions of adulthood have varied during different time periods, and in different places. I skipped issues of a drawing a numerical age line entirely... Very interesting. The "Adulthood is a membership organization" approach may make that bit obsolete now. It's not necessary; it's sufficient just to say that there is an organization that does set age lines and polices them.]

[It might have been useful in this section to say something about how youth don't naturally have qualities different than those of adults, that youth are able to display all those qualities that constitute "maturity" when it is what is they feel inclined to do...]


Posted by Sven at 12:00 PM | Comments (0)

October 03, 2005

The "Youth Power" Framework (part 1)


1. The primary problem is parental tyranny and its inevitable result, violence against minors.

There are several varieties of YL thought. All branches of YL are concerned with these three areas: (1) unfair laws & rules, (2) use of force against youth, (3) disrespect. However, each of the branches assigns different weight to these areas, and describes the relationship between them differently.

Youth Power does not necessarily prioritize which area is more important than another to work on, since issues tend force themselves upon activists -- however, it does view certain issues as more central to what causes adultism. Youth Power understands centrality and describes relationships thus:

primary problem:
parents being tyrannical, teachers being so in loco parentis

secondary problem:
nearly absolute parental control elevated into law, so that all adults have control over all youth

tertiary problem:
this order of adult power over youth is bolstered by pro-adult, anti-youth propaganda

[To contrast: "Youth Equality" (a.k.a. "Youth Rights) views unfair laws as primary, and tends to view disrespectful beliefs ("stereotypes" and "prejudice") as a secondary concern -- often positing these beliefs as the original cause of laws that discriminate. Parental tyranny tends to be ignored, except in terms of where it overlaps with the legal rights that a full adult citizen would enjoy.]

["Youth Culture" tends to posit disrespect of youth as the primary problem, largely ignoring both law and family as issues -- except with regards to how they constrain youth from being themselves. (School, however, does play a fairly large role in "Youth Culture" thought.)]

2. The family is the fundamental institution of adult oppression.

Stated differently, Youth Power views the family as the fundamental institution of adult oppression. Parents' power over their children is the model upon which all other institutions dealing with youth are based. The family is a hierarchy, wherein adults claim the right to command youth, and youth are expected to obey.

3. The all-adult government elevates the order of power within the family to a societal level.

The current government, because it explicitly excludes youth from political participation (running for office and voting) is appropriately termed an "adultarchy". The system of government we have elevates the familiar order of adults-over-youth to a societal level. At the familial level youth are essentially the property of their parents; at the societal level, youth are a resource owned collectively by all adult citizens. Adult society claims the power to limit youth freedoms in ways similar to the family (e.g. curfews, driving privileges...). The power of adults as a collective may override the rights of individual parents.

4. Negative beliefs about and caricatures of youth are propaganda that supports the order of power.

Negative beliefs about youth serve to rationalize adult's dehumanizing power over youth, in the face of youth's humanity. Anti-youth beliefs are transmitted in many forms, including: commiseration between adults, derision of youth culture, slanted news items, punditry asserting that the current generation is a sort of "problem people", scientific research that demonstrates youths' supposed irrationality (etc.), and public campaigns urging adults to take a stronger hand in supervising kids.

The fact that such propaganda has been going on for so long means that there's a feedback loop, so that adults exert control because of their beliefs. However, Youth Power differs from Youth Equality because it sees this propaganda as serving a motive of control, rather than being an original cause. Youth Power is critical of Youth Equality for not explaining where negative beliefs come from, rather explaining them as free-floating "stereotypes" arising from over-generalization.


5. Adultism is motivated by self-benefit: the desire to be in control.

Human beings are innately self-interested. It is natural to try to make the world around you suit your preferences. However, in dealing with other people, forcing them to do what you want is usually unethical. Self-interest is transcended when one is conscientious about the boundaries between oneself and others -- only enforcing one's will when one a matter when within one's rights, striving for consensual arrangements otherwise.

When another person is under someone's control, if there isn't a strong motive to be conscientious (or push back from the person being commanded), there is a gravitational pull to use power in ways that are not in the other person's "best interest" but simply suit the authority's preference, mood, or whim.

As infants, youth require focused care-giving to survive. As youth become able to care for themselves, they still require material and economic support. This is an inconvenient and sometimes burdensome situation for parents. It is convenient and desirable on selfish level to have absolute command over youth.

6. The essence of control is to treat youth as if they are human property.

"Power" and "control" are fairly abstract words. A more understandable term is "command/obey relationship": adults feel entitled to command youth, youth are expected to obey. When a person is expected to obey, but has not entered into this relationship voluntarily, and has no way of opting out of the relationship at will, then they essentially become the property of the person commanding them.

Historically, women, youth, and slaves (think not only of Africans abducted to America, but also slavery as it existed in Roman times) have suffered this status similarly -- and only during the past three centuries has the rightness of people-as-property begun to lose its veneer of naturalness. Youth Liberation joins in the project of erasing the last vestiges of people-as-property from the world.

7. Parental tyranny inevitably produces situations of violence against minors. This is the epitome of adultism's harm to youth.

Not all parents use violence against minors; however, intentionally inflicting physical pain is a tool of control legally available to all parents. Violence is a means to an ends: a means to compel youth to obey. Given the legal mandates for parents to control their children, and the culture sets up adult maintaining youth obedience as an end in itself, it is inevitable that some parents will use the tool of violence. Furthermore, it is inevitable that a minority of parents will not only cause suffering -- they will cause physical damage or death. Child abuse is not abnormal; it is a product of status quo attitudes. Legally "child abuse" is not prohibited; it is merely regulated.

These are the stakes for Youth Liberation: life and death. Violence against minors is adultism taken to its logical conclusion. It is the epitome of adult power over youth. It symbolizes what youth activists are fighting for, and is a tangible test for whether our proposed policies are on the right track: do our proposals help youth defend themselves against violence?

8. Right treatment of youth is founded upon their consent (and their freedom to not consent).

The antithesis of coercion is consent. Whatever a youth consents to -- fully understanding the bargain, without fear, and consent given explicitly -- is ethical. Consent is an ideal; most interactions fall somewhere along a continuum of consent and coercion, being neither extreme fully. The younger a child is, the more difficult it is to negotiate a consensual arrangement. Consent is an ideal to aspire to; failure is not always a terrible wrong -- but without aspiring to create a consent-based relationship, terrible wrongs are likely to occur.

Consent-based relationships represent an ideal for interpersonal relationships not just for youth, but for all people.

[To contrast: Youth Equality bases its understanding of "right treatment" upon the notion of identical treatment. Justice, according to this framework, is a matter of non-discrimination, of treating all people the same. This leads to several difficulties: (1) Are we to ignore the biological differences between people and different levels of need for care-giving? (2) Who is the standard person upon whom rights should be based? (3) What if the benchmark for how all people should be treated is low? [It's no good to be treated the same if everyone is treated badly.] (4) Attempting to be "age blind" blinds one to the ways in which youth and adults are treated differently. (5) It is impossible to not make generalizations about people, and some assumptions turn out to be well-founded -- trying to deal with everyone purely as an individual ignores this intelligence.]

[To be fair, the Youth Power principle of consent is also problematic. For instance, what is a parent to do if they are out in public with a young child who is doing damage to a merchant's merchandise? Consensual interaction becomes difficult or impossible if the youth is for some reason unable to engage in rational discussion... I expect that there are work-arounds for situations such as this, that arrive at some sort of ethical solution, one that minimizes coercion.]


9. Youth should have the power necessary for self-protection, without mediation.

Youth must have the power to protect themselves from suffering, without having to call upon an adult to represent them. [Note the "no, go, yell, tell" and "stranger danger" programs.] This is not an ideal world; adults do not necessarily believe a young person's complaint, or believes considers just, or simply ignores the problem. Youth should be given the ability to use physical self-defense in the moment, trained in how to do emergency planning, and be given many options for how to escape situations of suffering. [I am thinking here most of abusive parents, but a bad school situation, or oppressive laws also fall into this domain.]

[Self-protection does not preclude there also being adult-run advocacy groups. It's just that youth should not be compelled to be utterly dependent upon the protection of others.]

10. The most important freedom for Youth Liberation to win is the ability for youth to escape situations of suffering, at will.

There are "positive" and "negative" freedoms. A positive freedom is the legal right to do something: to vote, to drive a car, to hold a job. A negative freedom is a guarantee that one will not experience something: hunger, child abuse, discrimination. [Laws cannot actually guarantee negative freedoms -- they can only set up service programs (e.g. free school lunch) or punishments if a perpetrator is apprehended.] The freedom that Youth Power is most interested in is termed "exit freedom" -- the ability to leave situations of suffering at will. It is a power that it can be bolstered by appropriate laws and service programs, but which is ultimately invested in youth themselves.

Examples of things that would support youth escaping a violent home: a knowledge of physical self-defense; hostels, shelters, or safe-houses to immediately escape to; no city-level curfew in the way of traveling; inexpensive or free public transportation; laws that deal with violence against minors as assault rather than "discipline"; eradication of laws against running away; easier ability to self-emancipate ("divorce one's parents"); independent access to welfare; guaranteed scholarships for school based on having left one's parents; access to free healthcare (in cases of injury); youth control over the decision to stay with or leave their parents; partnerships between child protection agencies and schools, so youth are familiar with their options; legal aid funds for youth who allege violence.


Posted by Sven at 12:00 PM | Comments (0)