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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 It's difficult to get published, and so YL has little written history -- zines are precious historical documents, some of the only evidence we have of the continuing existence of YL through the 80s.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?

Posted by Sven at November 21, 2003 07:13 PM


my favorite definition of "adultism" is the suppression of a child or youth's emotions and self-realization. (Jacob Holdt, American Pictures)
The reason why I am most fond of this defintion is that I believe that the oppression of children and youth is a spiritual issue. We are an spiritually unhealthy society (cancerous). We force people away from their own authenticity, from birth and don't allow them access to the most vital abilities that humans have; expresion of emotion and expression of self.
i like this page sven. how fun to dialogue without the shortcomings of email. in solidarity, tonia

Posted by: Tonia Valadez at November 23, 2003 10:54 PM

Interesting! I have Jacob Holdt’s book on my shelf, and have seen him speak on two occasions. I didn’t realize that he explicitly mentioned adultism in his text... I’ll have to take another look.

I’m wondering if you have a connection to co-counseling / the re-evaluation counseling (“RC”) communities. RC is where I first heard the term “adultism”, and (I believe) continues to be one of the main domains where it’s in use.

...For anyone not familiar with RC, it’s sort of a form of “therapy” based on peer counseling. It was founded by Harvey Jackins, an acquaintance of L. Ron Hubbard, and bears striking similarities to Dianetics (when you look into the subject). RC’s philosophy focuses on how, beginning in youth, people get messed up by “distress” (stressful experiences); it proposes that healing can be accomplished by cathartic experiences like crying, shaking, and laughing -- and how this catharsis can be facilitated by receiving attention from a peer who is an active listener.

RC posits that we each have an exuberant, authentic self that has been suppressed by life in society. This makes it an easy fit with YL. However, as I understand it, RC’s emphasis on healing from oppressions (racism, sexism, classism, etc.) didn’t emerge until the seventies, and not without some pressure on Jackins from activists from outside liberation movements. [The term “adultism”, I believe, was coined in the mid 70s -- but not by RC folks. I have a photocopy of a psychology article that may be it’s first appearance... Though, now that I think about it, I should check some dates. Hm.]

Personally, I have to acknowledge that RC was an early influence on my path to activism -- but I now renounce connection to the community. I’ve read allegations about sexual abuse committed by the high leadership under the guise of “therapy” that seem credible to me, as well as testimony about how critics have been severed from the organization.

I also have disagreements now with RC’s philosophy. I find the notion of reclaiming an authentic, exuberant self appealing. However, attributing the origins of all oppressions to “distress” seems wrong.

“Young people are hurt, and so they perpetuate the cycle of abuse by going on to hurt others” is too simplistic. I mean: why? Adultism is not reproduced simply by imitating how you were treated as a young person; maltreating youth is wrapped in rationalizations about how it’s the scientifically right thing to do, and written into institutional policy (government, school, church, court system, etc.). With a purely psychological explanation of the origins of adultism, I find myself feeling that the full weight of history is being ignored, that proponents of the “dad hit mom, mom hit me, I kicked the dog” theory must think adultism is invented brand new from scratch for every individual.

...Anyway, I asked about your connection to RC in the first place because some of the language you used made me think that you might have a link there. The word “authenticity” caught my attention. Of course, there are other circles where it comes up, too.

I’m interested in your perspective on adultism as a “spiritual” issue. I tend to talk about oppression in terms of material interests. Being in power / control gives tangible benefits: convenience, getting what you want, not having to spend time and money in ways that you don’t want to, etc. I feel that this approach is very useful for activism -- it provides clarity. Like the old addage “follow the money” -- look for who benefits, and you’ll understand why a thing exists. However, there is a way in which I think this perspective may be lacking: it doesn’t necessarily speak to people’s hearts.

A postscript: You might be interested in looking at the book “Illness as Metaphor” by Susan Sontag. It’s been a very long time since I read it; but as I recall, it talks about how using a word such as “cancerous” as a metaphor impacts people who actually have cancer, and how such metaphors maintain the stigma of being ill. ...Which is not to say that you shouldn’t use the word in this way; it simply struck me that you might be someone who would be interested in employing this kind of “consciousness” with words.

Posted by: Sven at November 27, 2003 07:42 PM

yo yo, so, um, i was reading your most recent essay. interesting. i actually did something similar when planning a possible book. i took my definition of "youth centered youth development" and made each idea a chapter-is that similar? i think. ha!
you know when i think about my niche in the anti-adultism movement (YL movement) i do not consider myself a definer of adultism, nor the specifics of the oppression itself. i have been trained and i would be prone, until the ycydi arose, to define adultism as: institutionalized adult power/privilege + institutionalized youth discrimination/prejudice.
as i focus on my own particular topic of interest i find that i am most interested in the topic of healing relationships between youth and adults, and preventing the oppression of youth through adult education.
by the way, have never been involved in RC. (inspirations: Gary Zukav, Carolyn Myss, Jacob HOldt, the unschooling/homeschooling literature-John Holt/John Taylor Gatto) I find these to be rich with not only information on youth oppression but also how to heal around it.
spirtual disease? i'd have to think about that one. it is not based on any religion's theology. but i will have to expand it personally-one of the chapters in my book.
you know what would be too too cool, if we could get support from either PSU, U of O, WSU or U of W...we could put on a conference-if it was hosted by a program through a university. it would be exciting to collaborate and see how all of our theories both overlap and also compliment each other through differences.
so, let's do it!

Posted by: Tonia Valadez at November 30, 2003 06:18 PM

Not a whole lot was happening in the 80s, but one group I've seen seemed to provide a nice transition between the protectionist children's rights groups of the 80s and the more liberation minded youth rights groups that emerged in the mid-90s.

That group is the National Child Rights Alliance, or NCRA. They had a focus on child abuse and such, but took a decidedly liberation approach in their later years. I believe they were the ones behind that famous case of the kid who divorced his parents in the early 90s.

Some of the early founders of ASFAR and NYRA were involved in NCRA to a small extent. NCRA fell apart in like '99 or '00. I contacted the former ED, Jeanne Lenzer, and she gave me her stock of back issues from the "Freedom Voice", their newspaper. Its a high quality publication, and all I really know about the group I learned from reading these old copies. I also bumped into Jim Senter a year ago at an anti-war protest here in DC. He came up to the NYRA table.

Posted by: KPalicz at March 2, 2004 09:41 AM