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October 12, 2005

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...

  • to not be hit or hurt
  • to not be physically violated via rape
  • to remove an unwelcome fetus from one's body
  • to not be imprisoned
  • to travel through public spaces
  • to assemble with people of one's choosing
  • to speak freely (so long as one does not violate another's space)
  • to leave the home of one's parents at will
  • to have consensual sex at will
  • to modify the body with tattoos, piercings, dyed hair, etc.
  • to leave school at will

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:

  • there are members and non-members
  • being a member grants privileges not available to non-members
  • there are formal processes for electing leaders
  • most members are not leaders, but merely beneficiaries
  • the line between members and non-members is policed
  • there is an informal "dress code" -- things that are deemed appropriate for adults to wear, say, be interested in

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:

  • treating physical "discipline" as assault
  • improved education re how the child protection system works
  • eliminating the curfew (to assist travel when escaping)
  • free public transportation for youth
  • access to short-term youth hostels / shelters
  • freedom to self-emancipate
  • access to financial welfare
  • access to free food and clothing
  • access to public housing / communal living situations
  • ability to establish foster parent relationships
  • college scholarships for youth who have left their parents

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:
  • promotion of a "bill of rights" for youths' powers within the family
  • creation of community-based mediation services to serve as a "court of appeals" for conflicts among family members
  • power over school hiring / firing / funding / curriculum decisions
  • right to run for office in public elections
  • right to vote in state and federal elections and referendums
  • establishment of youth lobbying groups
  • establishment of standing youth advisory groups

[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 October 12, 2005 07:21 PM


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