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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:

...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.]

Posted by Sven at November 22, 2003 11:48 PM


i meant to add that comment to this essay, not the '80's one. power: authentic vs. false. everyone needs authentic power, not many know how to get it; hence oppression. oppression gives the oppressor power but it is insufficient because it is not authentic. when growing up a child in an adultist society, children and youth learn to gain powerby taking it from others, i belive that adultism is the "core" of other oppressions because of this dynamic. we must move beyond this idea of power, or we will never move beyond our issues of power.

Posted by: Tonia Valadez at November 23, 2003 10:59 PM