November 29, 2003
youthlib.com is mine!
Hooray! My good friend mph has just helped me purchase youthlib.com, which will become my new domain name.
I brainstormed over a hundred domain names before selecting this one. Unfortunately, my top pick, youthliberation.org was already taken. I was really surprised by how many of the obvious YL names were already taken -- and not being used, simply sat upon by companies that hope to sell them for an unreasonable profit.
A bunch of the obvious choices that were already taken: youthliberation, youthpower, youthrevolution, youthfreedom, youthjustice, youthfuture, kidliberation, kidlib, teenpower, radicalyouth, powertoyouth, adultism, smashadultism, agelessbeing, agelesssociety.
It’s not that big a deal, really. When I do a google search on “youth liberation”, the only two sites that have really good names seem to be freechild.org and youthrights.org. Knowing that, youthlib.com will do just fine.
Just for the historical record, here are all of the vaguely plausible website names that I brainstormed:
1. BASIC PERMUTATIONS
youth fight back
2. YOUTH [FILL IN THE BLANK]
youth lib HQ
youth lib tools
youth lib theory
YL think tank
youth led activism
youth led revolution
youth against adultism
youth are not property
youth won’t obey
radical youth lib
radical youth liberation
3. AGE, ADULTS, ADULTISM
fight adult control
adult abuse of power
adults don’t deserve power
adults are not better
adults aren’t perfect
youth are people
youth are equals
youth are oppressed
young people unite
by youth for youth
justice for youth
youth need power
power to youth
power to the youth
blueprint for revolution
tools for youth liberation
tools for yl
children are the present
older is not better
sven’s think tank
November 28, 2003
A Philosopher of YL... Approximately.
Tuesday I was at a presentation wholly unrelated to YL: “Unconventional Strategies for Managing Your Career”. Myself not being in a conventional line of work, it can be difficult to think critically about my “career”. I figured this event might spark some insights. Lateral thinking, y’know?
Anyway, my mind wandered and I started wondering what it would be like if I described my vocation as “YL philosopher”. Then, going a step further, I wondered what I would describe as my focus within YL philosophy (as if such a field existed!). After all, most academic philosophers would qualify their work, focusing on a particular sub-field (epistemology, ontology, ethics, etc.) -- or on a particular problem (e.g. the ethics of biotechnology). Just brainstorming, here’s the list of topics that I thought of as my “specialties”:
- the “organization” model of age
- age identity and self-concept
- the nature of power
- the practicalities of organizing an activist effort
I’ve got lots of other interests too. Violence against minors being perhaps the most notable. [My undergraduate thesis (in psych) was titled “Adult Supremacism: Violence against minors viewed through an oppression framework”.] Still, in terms of where my mind spends the most time wandering, I like this list. I find myself wondering how it would work as a structure for a book project...
Section 1: The organization model of age
In any book about the relationship between youth and adults, you’re going to want to know how I define “youth”. To start with, however, it’s useful to distinguish between three models of “age”: age as biology; age as personal character, a way of behaving; age as a legal status. Further exploration of “age as a legal status” leads to noticing that adults collectively wield power over youth, and thus can be likened to an organization. Like an organization, the group “adults” has members and non-members; it has a formal governmental structure; and it has members who lead, members who are passive, and members who are critical of the collective’s politics. [I’ve already covered most of this information in Age Lines: How to Define "Adults" and "Youth".]
Section 2: Age identity and self-concept
Any adequate theory of adultism and YL must answer this question: if youth suffer at the hands of adults, why do so many go on to become oppressive adults themselves? The organizational model of age deals with youth and adults as two social groups that are in conflict with each other; it would seem to suggest that youth must go through some kind of political conversion, disavowing their former solidarity with youth, in order to become true adults.
However, this is not the case. Most youth never truly feel solidarity with youth as a class -- from an early age, they are wishing that they could just hurry up and become adults themselves. This leads to an interesting subject area: how youth attempt to escape the stigma of being young. Strategies for increasing personal status include: denying youngness (“I’m not a kid”), emphasizing another identity (e.g. male), putting down others, using a fake I.D. or appropriating other trappings of adulthood.
The “adults as organization” model also suggests interesting ways for adults to relate to their own membership. Instead of simply accepting their privileged position in society as natural, they can become conscientious objectors to the policies of their organization. Instead of embracing the cultural mannerisms, clothing, and “age-appropriate” interests of their group, adults can “age-bend”. Instead of aspiring to embody “adulthood” and the qualities of “maturity”, we can idealize “ageless being” and personal characteristics that have no connection with how old you are.
Section 3: The nature of power
The essence of power is perhaps a “command / obey” relationship between two people. It’s understandable that given the physical, social, and economic disabilities that human beings experience at the beginning of life, adults should play a strong role of assistance. However, just because youth have real needs, this should not give parents free reign. “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely,” is true with regards to adult-youth relationships, as much as anywhere else. Acts of petty or malicious tyranny by adults are a real problem.
We can all understand the desire to have power and control: it simply means getting your own way. However, desire for control must be tempered by an ethic of consent, or else little but the threat of negative consequences will prevent using force -- which regardless of physical harm, is experienced as harmful if one’s interest in self-determination is violated. Adults have projected the “command / obey” relationship originating within the family onto society as a whole: it is the model for how adults and youth relate in the governmental system, the school system, in public accommodations, etc. Because adults have an personal stake in maintaining control -- and few have a strong ethic of consent -- youth should not depend upon adults to divest themselves of exclusive power voluntarily. Youth must engage in activism, making it too uncomfortable for adults to not change.
The historical relationship between adults and youth can be described as one of “oppression”. Using this language enables YL to make connections with other liberation movements. [I’ve been playing with the idea of excising the word “oppression” from my writing. However, perhaps this is the appropriate place for it: toward the end of a discussion about power in general, being used specifically to connect this movement to others. Previously I’ve started with the definition of oppression, and then endeavored to show how adultism meets its criteria. Too academic, too dependent on semantics, not enough describing the phenomena of adultism in its own terms.]
Section 4: The practicalities of organizing an activist effort
In the context of one young person’s daily life, there are many casual indignities, minor battles, and inconvenient legal constraints. Working alone, individuals can bring about some change; however, if one wants to change institutional systems (which foster so many of these injustices), there are strong benefits to working as a group. A group tends to be taken more seriously than an individual; a group can provide mutual encouragement to take action; a group can harness the strength of multiple intelligences and points of view; a group can often survive past the loss of a single member.
Some practical considerations...
- Youth face special challenges as activists (lack of transport, parental interference, homework, summer vacation), but also have some advantages (suppression of past criminal record at 18, strong social net via school, appealing subjects for news coverage).
- Running an organization requires finding meeting space(s), publicizing the meeting or otherwise recruiting participants, actually getting people to the meetings (reminders, transportation), setting agenda for discussion, facilitating discussion and having a formal process for decision-making, having a process for choosing / replacing leaders.
- Should adults be allowed to participate as equals in the decision-making processes of a YL organization? To prevent adults from steam-rolling youth, I recommend establishing certain limits. However, it is also useful to recognize roles that adults are especially suited for within YL: acquiring space and material resources, doing research, transmitting YL history and theory to the next wave of activists.
- In pursuing activist goals, youth are well-suited to “direct action” activism: identifying target individuals who have the power to make policy decisions, and using leveraging tactics to convince / pressure them into doing so.
- It is not necessary to establish a permanent meeting space or get funding in order to do effective activism. Institutionalizing a YL group raises additional organizational issues.
- Organizing at the national level is largely about connecting with other YL organizations via road trips and the internet, and then coordinating with them to pull off an action in multiple cities on the same day. Conferences can play an important role in the movement, offering an appealing opportunity for geographically separated activists to gather and get work done (not necessarily within workshops).
Beyond the basics of how to do activism, there is a larger question about what constitutes a “movement”, and what a minority movement such as YL can hope to accomplish. While I embrace the idealistic vision of a YL revolution, I think it is more realistic for YL groups to envision themselves as watchdog groups, participating in a never-ending negotiation for justice between the many “special interest groups” that make up society. [See The Future of Youth Justice for more on this subject.]
...Hm. Looks like that list I mentioned at the top could work pretty well as a book structure!
At the presentation on Tuesday, another idea I had was to try taking an essay concept, and expand upon it through successive stages: several disjointed words, becoming a few unrelated sentences, becoming a page of free-floating paragraphs (like the abstract at the start of an academic article), becoming a full-on essay with several subsections, becoming a book with chapters broken into several sections. In a small way, that’s what I’ve tried here. My word of the month is “approximation”; this seems to be a good way to test a big concept before getting too invested.
November 22, 2003
Four Thoughts About Power
I’ve got several ideas in my mind right now that suddenly seem as if they might go together. Perhaps as a short and snappy essay on power...
Thought #1: A while back I was thinking about the concept of “freedom”. I came up with a list of what might be the five essentials:
- freedom of thought / speech
- freedom to control one’s body
- freedom of movement
- freedom to access resources necessary for survival
- freedom to participate in decision-making processes that affect you
...It seems to me that most of the issues important to YL are covered by these categories. For instance, “freedom to control one’s body” dictates an anti-spanking position. The struggle to abolish curfews falls under “freedom of movement”. And participation in “decision-making processes that affect you” would address voting in national elections -- as well as hiring, firing, funding, and curriculum decisions within the schools.
Thought #2: Adultism is founded on the belief that adults should command and youth obey. The words “oppression” and “hierarchy” seem so abstract; the phrase “power and control” only somewhat less so. Talking about the “command / obey relationship” is the clearest way I’ve found to name what’s wrong with how adults and youth relate. [I read an essay on the NYRA website today, “Understanding Adultism” by John Bell, that describes adultism as disrespect of young people. I like that; it’s better than definitions that focus solely on stereotypes / discrimination -- yet, to my mind, it still doesn’t say enough about how adultism is built into the structure of society.]
Thought #3: A few years ago, I went to a workshop on direct action activism by Sisters in Portland Impacting Real Issues Together (SPIRIT). They gave a definition of direct action that I’ve found very useful: applying leverage to a target (a person) to influence a specific decision (that they have the power to make). I appreciate this definition because it helps focus action. If you want to be effective, then you have to identify the individual(s) who have the power to make your desired change, and then apply pressure on them to do so.
Thought #4: When a minority is stigmatized, negative attitudes are a means of justifying domination -- not the original cause of domination. Being powerless, or under the power of someone else, is undesirable. It necessarily puts one in a stigmatized position. People who wield power over others need to find some way to rationalize why they have this power; finding fault in the people below them does this. In the case of adultism, adults were once members of the group that they now oppress; it’s a situation bound to create cognitive dissonance. The need to justify one’s rise to power is great enough to cause many people to revise their personal histories -- professing now that they were “stupid” or “so naive” as youth... [Of course, it’s not as if youth regularly renounce their solidarity with other youth. Most young people identify with adults’ point of view from the start.]
November 21, 2003
Where was YL in the 80s?
It seems like a new wave of YL leaders is beginning to crest...
I've recently been contacted by Adam Fletcher of freechild.org and Tonia Valadez of the newly forming Youth Centered Youth Development Institute. All three of us are in the NorthWest: Adam in Olympia, Tonia in Eugene, me inbetween here in Portland. We're discussing when and where to meet each other. I've also been participating in the YouthRightsLeaders list formed by Alex Koroknay-Palicz, president of the National Youth Rights Association. Alex is discussing how to raise $100,000, in order to get NYRA an office and paid staff, take it to the next level.
It may be largely subjective, but it feels a bunch of people who've been working on YL in isolation are just beginning to find each other. These are people who (I imagine) read John Holt's Escape from Childhood and Richard Farson's Birthrights ten years ago, and who are finally coming into their own as powerful activists.
The "first wave" of YL (if I may call it such) first hit around 1970, at the same time that women's lib, gay lib, and other "lib" movements were coming onto the scene. Youth Liberation of Ann Arbor is the best documented YL organization of this period, and it lasted through most of the seventies...
YL entered a new phase around 1995, when the internet started becoming mainstream. How can I possibly overstate the value of the internet to YL? Youth don't have much money for road trips or long distance phone calls. It's difficult to get published, and so YL has little written history -- zines are precious historical documents, some of the only evidence we have of the continuing existence of YL through the 80s. The net changes all this: youth can now communicate with each other from opposite ends of the nation for free, and web pages establish a history of written documents.
Still, I'm left wondering: where was YL in the 80s? Who carried the torch? What courageous activism occured in isolation, forgotten because it went undocumented? What legal wins did we have at the national level that I'm simply unaware of because books about the "Children's Rights Movement" (for the most part) went out of vogue?
First Post to Notepad
Hi everyone. Welcome to "Notepad". This blog is meant to compliment The Generator... Whereas Generator is where I post semi-polished essays, Notepad is where I'll put more fragmentary thoughts about Youth Liberation (YL).