Activists in Massachusetts Make Progress in Lowering the Voting Age

Posted by on August 16th, 2017

Massachusetts map of towns lowering the voting age

In Massachusetts, two best friends made headway in the push to lower the voting age. Aaron Nelson and Max Carr passed articles in their hometowns of Ashfield and Shelburne, to lower the voting age to 16 for local elections. Carr has made a website explaining how lowering the voting age works. Their House of Representatives members have now introduced bills to allow these towns to lower the voting age. The bills are currently awaiting a public hearing before representatives vote on them.

We asked Max Carr a few questions about his project.

  • How are your efforts going? What stage of the process are you on right now?

Our efforts are going great. At this point we are finished with town meetings, and the three towns that have voted for this have sent petitions to their representatives in the Legislature. These representatives have now introduced bills in the House of Representatives that will allow their towns to lower their voting age. These bills have been referred to the Elections Committee and a public hearing will be held before they are voted on. If the bills pass, each town will make a final vote to amend their by-laws to allow sixteen-year-olds to vote.

  • What was your inspiration to try and lower the voting age to 16?

Mainly we were inspired by the very low turnout among young voters in recent elections. Young people will be affected most by many decisions made by our leaders, so we believe it is important that their voices are heard. By lowering the voting age we aim to allow citizens to develop voting habits at a young age, turning them into consistent voters throughout their lives.

  • What do you think is the biggest obstacle to your project?

Honestly, we have not run into many major obstacles so far, most people we talked to in our towns seem to be supportive of this. The hardest part now will be getting our bills through the legislature. We plan to spend a day in Boston talking to our representatives to convince them of the importance of this issue.

  • If you were completely successful in lowering the MA or even the US voting age, would this be enough to achieve your goal on this issue? Or is lowering the voting age only a step towards some larger goal that would require many projects like yours?

Lowering the voting age is just one of many ways we can increase turnout among young people and create a more educated electorate. Other projects that could have similar benefits would be efforts to expand civics education in our schools, make absentee voting easier, or eliminate the electoral college. With the right election reform policy we can ensure that our leaders are accountable to their constituents, lowering the voting age is only the start of this.

  • Your website has a form to fill out in the “Get Involved” section. What kinds of things would people be able to do to get involved? Is there any way non-Massachusetts residents can help?

We hope to get people in other towns and cities to push for the same change in their community. While we are focusing on Massachusetts right now, we would be glad to assist residents in other states in lowering their voting age. Many other towns in New England outside of Massachusetts have an “open town meeting” form of government, so the process will likely be very similar to ours.

Be sure to check out Carr’s website or contact NYRA if you want to get involved in the campaign to lower the voting age.

Time Flies When You’re Having Fun, And Drags When You’re Young

Posted by on August 10th, 2017

When I talk to people about lowering the voting age to 16 or lowering the drinking age to 18 they often say “Why the rush? Two or three years isn’t so long to wait.” Or they will respond, dismissively with, “You young people are always in such a hurry, just be patient, you’ll be an adult before you know it.”

They dismiss the whole idea of youth rights, since unlike the denial of rights based on race, or gender, or sexual orientation, denying rights on the basis of age is a temporary restriction. But an injustice doesn’t become acceptable just because it isn’t permanent.

If you were imprisoned for a crime you didn’t commit would you just shrug your shoulders and wait it out? I guess it depends on how long. Maybe if it was just a day or two in jail, you’d be upset but you wouldn’t organize a whole movement against it. If it were few years unjustly in jail that’d be a much bigger deal.

But what if you were in jail for half your life? What if your civil rights were denied for half your life? What if you were treated as a second class citizen for half your life? What if you had no say over the most basic elements of your life for half your life? It wouldn’t be so easy to dismiss it as a temporary injustice then.

Well, according to French philosopher Paul Janet, more than half of our life is over by age 18.

At least, that is how we perceive it. Time is relative and as we get older it feels like time passes faster and faster. A single year for an 18-year-old is 5.56% of their total life span to that point. For a 35-year-old a year is only 2.86% of their life, so it feels like it is passing twice as fast.

I am now 36 and this is very true for me. I’ll swear an event happened just a few weeks ago, but upon reflection I’ll realize it had been several months. I am a new parent and older parents tell me all the time to cherish my daughter now, because before I know it she will be going off to college. They are right. 18 years of her life will pass by quickly for me, for her grandparents, and for other adults around her. But for her it’ll seem to stretch on forever.

Which is why we can’t tell someone younger than us how long they should wait, or whether a restriction is or isn’t a big deal. Our perspective, even how we perceive time, is radically different.

Adults routinely mock teens who despair after losing a relationship that lasted for a year or two. “Get over it,” they say. “You’ll meet someone else,” they say. To teens it must feel like a millionaire mocking a poor person who lost $500. It isn’t much money to a millionaire, but it is incredibly important to someone who is struggling.

Our different perceptions of time affect our memories as well. Research has found that we remember things that happened between the ages of 15 and 25 more vividly than later experiences. That hurtful breakup, that cruel joke someone told about you at lunch, that amazing summer after sophomore year, those experiences have more of a lasting impact on us.

Our culture treats the experiences of young people as less important, when in reality they are more important. Our experiences and memories when we are young create our identity and build the story of our lives. So why do we dismiss the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of youth?

Because of ageism. Because to do otherwise is to admit the great impact that our ageist laws and attitudes have on youth – and indeed on all of us. And because we would admit that there is nothing temporary about the injustice young people face.

The Manager’s Pocket Guide to Generation X

Posted by on February 17th, 2017

Book cover of The Manager's Pocket Guide to Generation X

I recently found a secondhand book called, The Manager’s Pocket Guide to Generation X, by Bruce Tulgan. The publication date was 1997 — not surprising, as the cover looked like a screenshot from one of the Health videos I watched in middle school.

Much of the book deals with misconceptions about Gen X, which at that time was entering the workforce. They were “disloyal,” “arrogant,” had “short attention spans.” These insults were all very familiar to me. Of course, I’d always known that Millennials were not the first generation to be portrayed negatively by the media. But I was still delighted to hold proof in my hands.

The author does a fair job of explaining the situation Gen X faced in the 1990s. A changing economy, more uncertainty, etc. — all of this led to a unique set of rational decisions that only seemed irrational to the older generations. And he argues that they did not deserve negative portrayals they got. In his introduction he even takes something of a stance against age segregation. “My work… is not about driving a wedge deeper between the generations… but rather about closing that gap and bringing the generations closer together for everyone’s mutual benefit.” For this reason alone, the book impressed me. It’s rare for a person in any time period to speak out against generational stereotypes.

Looking deeper, I found another point of interest: the author himself was an “Xer.” His audience, oddly enough, would have been mostly people older than himself. These were the Baby Boomers who were overwhelmingly hiring Xers in 1997.

Something about this — the fact that the author was writing about his own generation — made me feel uneasy. Maybe he can defend a generation when it’s his generation. But has he been able to keep up this commitment to foster community between the generations? Can he do it now that it’s no longer his generation that’s under the microscope?

Putting youthful idealism to the test

I looked him up, and found his most recent book, Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: How to Manage the Millennials. I was right to feel uneasy. Thematically at least, it was the same book he’d written in the 90s, just shifted up one generation. But even the title was enough to tell me something had changed. Let’s compare this title to that of the similar book he wrote on Gen X, published in 1995:

1995: Managing Generation X

2016: Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: How to Manage the Millennials 

Again, both books seem to have essentially the same content. Both have sections dedicated to dispelling misconceptions about the generation in question. Why such a different tone? Why the cheap shot at Millennials? Isn’t his goal to open up communications with them?

Just so people won’t think I’m making too much of the titles, which, after all, may have just been the editor’s decision, the books themselves reflect the same change in tone. Despite its apparent similarity, the newer book has an undercurrent of disdain. Let’s compare thesis statements from each:

1997: “The new workplace bargain Xers seek… offers tangible day-to-day rewards in exchange for daily contributions of time, labor, and creativity. Management strategies must evolve to facilitate the effectiveness of today’s workers…”

2016: “The message of Not Everyone Gets a Trophy is simple: if you want high performance out of this generation, you’d better commit to high-maintenance management… They need you to guide, direct, and support them every step of the way.”

Again, we see a difference in tone. Accommodating the new generation goes from something that “must” happen, like a force of history, to a sales pitch for a sports car. It may be high maintenance, but it’s also high performance.

In Not Everyone Gets a Trophy, he goes on to list a number of other tips for managers. Most of these seem to be the same as they were for his generation, though a few are new and bizarre. Perhaps the most troubling is something called “‘in loco parentis’ management,” which invites managers to think of their employees as though they were children. I could not find anything like this in his advice on Gen X.

What has changed?

Have young people really become more like sports cars? Or has the author, in spite of his expertise, allowed his irrational side to fall for the media’s story? Has he developed a subconscious disdain for Millennials that he could never have felt for his own generation? It’s hard to say. All we can know for sure is that something has changed.

Perhaps the saddest loss during that time period was the author’s original goal of unity: “My work… is not about driving a wedge deeper between the generations… but rather about closing that gap and bringing the generations closer together for everyone’s mutual benefit.” His new book does not convey this mission. It’s sheer irony that it claims to teach people how to market to and communicate with Millennials. Entire chapters deal with “sending the right message.” And yet the title alone proves that when it comes down to it, Millennials are the only ones to whom he is truly unconcerned with “sending the right message.”

Of course, we have to admit that he made a bold promise in 1997: to bring the generations closer together. In many ways, generations are not like the categories of “young” and “old.” If today, I want to be friends with people of all ages, how can I promise that I will always feel the same way? Generations shift, and I myself may change, until one day the people belonging to the groups “young” and “old” are no longer the friends I once knew. Maybe the author has found himself in this position. He may still be working to close the generation gap — or at least saying so in order to save face — and yet maybe his heart isn’t in it anymore. It takes an extraordinary person to keep the kind of promise he made in 1997, and to truly live by it for so long. And unfortunately for him, he’s right about one thing: not everyone gets a trophy.


NYRA Twin Cities: From Start to Success

Posted by on September 12th, 2016

Hello, my name is Amy O’Connell, I am the chapter leader of NYRA Twin Cities. I started NYRA Twin Cities when I was in middle school. I got involved in NYRA in 2011 after a teacher at my middle school was complicit in a bullying problem and I searched for “youth rights” to see if I had grounds to sue them. Sadly, the results I got did not give me the information I needed to know whether or not I could sue them, but instead showed results for websites about the youth rights movement.

NYRA was one of them, but because it is a D.C. based organization, I felt distant from the action as NYRA and so I started my chapter, NYRA Twin Cities, The first meeting for NYRA Twin Cities was on Sunday, February 5th, 2012 via video chat. Most of the new members that joined my chapter were connected to me via the NYRA membership list. An email blast about my chapter was sent out to the Twin Cities members of the NYRA membership list, and from that email blast, I got two of the founding members, Ashley and Robin, who are great friends of mine to this day.

After starting the chapter, I had to learn how to set up a business social media presence for my chapter. This was actually perhaps the easiest part as Facebook and Twitter both have great articles about how to set up a social media presence. What was challenging was at the time, I had not heard of the program GIMP, which means that I did all of the graphic design for my chapter in MS Paint. This was challenging, and very time consuming, but I was okay with how it turned out:
My parents have been supportive of my political views, but they are very afraid of activism and protesting to this day, and as so I had to transport myself to the in-person meetings. My saving grace for transportation was my blue push scooter. The library was very close to my house, so it was very simple for me to just go places. Because of this, I don’t really see cars as a symbol of youth liberation the same way that some of my peers do. I see my legs and my blue scooter as the ultimate symbols of youth liberation, with the internet coming in close second. It’s very interesting how the youth rights movement has altered my perception of the world. Because of the youth rights movement, I really internalized that it is not time that creates wisdom, but time use. Because of that, I really used my time to the fullest. I think I am one of the few people who wouldn’t want to travel back in time to change my past, because I know I used my time as well as I could.

Where my youth rights career has really helped me though, is in social media marketing. My close friends and I are going to try starting a YouTube channel, and just recently, I set up the YouTube account, a Twitter account, a Facebook page, an email address for fanmail, and turned a paper drawing of a logo by my friend into a beautiful web graphic. I even have been able to improve on the NYRA Twin Cities logo.

As young people in the youth rights movement, there’s often a pressure to prove that you are an adult, and this was especially true for me when I was able to become a NYRA board member. The drive to prove that you are an adult can be very stressful, especially due to all of the ageist social constructs that ultimately prevent you from doing a lot of things that adults don’t even think about. I even felt like I was battling my own schedule, I was brutally aware of the fact that there was nothing I could do to help NYRA while I was sitting in a classroom listening to a teacher drone on about the delightful powers and real world applications of the quadratic equation. I was also brutally aware of the fact that a quadratic equation in no way would help me fill out a non-profit corporate tax form, or raise funds, or even eloquently convey ideas in a board meeting. The truth is, I wasn’t an adult. But the adult itself is a mythos of society. To try to be an adult is to try to be god. The truth was, the other board members sitting next to me had jobs, and had the same amount of confusion that I did over taxes. The truth is that nobody is an adult. The adult is a mythos to justify the oppression of youth. Adults vote stupidly, drive stupidly, behave stupidly after dark, and do stupid things with alcohol. The media message of a capable adult is a lie. What I realized was that we are all humans and that we are all fallible. It’s not that young people are capable of becoming adults; rather it is that adults do not exist.

One thing I realized about youth rights, that isn’t recognized by a lot of other youth rights supporters, is that when other people are being ageist, they generally have ulterior motives, and usually those ulterior motives have something to do with biases against other groups. Intersectionality is as much important in the youth rights movement as it is in any of the modern movements like #BlackLivesMatter, or modern feminism, perhaps even more so. I can guarantee you that a gas station with a sign about only two teenagers at a time isn’t focusing on white teenagers.

The one big thing that NYRA Twin Cities has done, was it partnered with an organization called “The Hitting Stops Here” and protested for a bill to be passed that would make child abuse illegal. I was unable to participate in most of the protests that my chapter did due to my parental situation, but there are lots of important things that a youth rights supporter can do that isn’t out in the field with a piece of poster board taped to a fence post. Sometimes it’s the little things that matter, like discussing youth rights with friends and relatives.

My advice for anyone that is starting a new chapter is actually very practical: learn how to ride the bus. The bus system will give you both freedom, and a more important skill, the ability to have a more realistic fear of strangers. In activism, it is important to meet many people that share your views. It is also important to be safe. The bus will teach you both. That is the one thing I would go back in time to teach my middle school self, how to ride the bus. Ultimately though, I think the best advice I can give you, is to not be afraid to fail. Failure is an inevitable side effect of being human. You will fail, but it won’t be as bad as you think.

If you would like to join NYRA Twin Cities, you should message us on our Facebook page. We are currently working on lowering the voting age.


Pokemon Go Raises Awareness for Youth Rights

Posted by on August 22nd, 2016
Pokemon Go

Photo: Niantic/Nintendo

When you say discrimination, people know what you’re talking about. There’s racial discrimination, religious discrimination, sex discrimination, and many others. But when you say age discrimination, people respond with a “Huh?”. Being an adult means that you were once a child. As children, we shared similar experiences such as curfews and being grounded. Did you ever wonder what your childhood would have been like if you were treated the same as an adult? Adults don’t have curfews. Adults can’t get grounded. Adults aren’t banned from R-rated movies. Adult can spend their money how they want. It is a fact that youth are treated differently than adults and sometimes this differential treatment manifests itself as age discrimination. The latest example of this is how children playing Pokémon Go are treated versus adults playing the game.

The mobile app Pokémon Go has been catching headlines since its release in June, but feelings about the app are mixed. This addition to the Nintendo franchise allows users to play in real-time based on their location and is credited as one of the first augmented reality games. The goal is to catch all 151 Pokémon and become the ultimate Pokémon trainer.

Many argue that Pokémon Go is a danger to public safety and makes youth especially vulnerable to sex offenders. Several members of Congress have already started drafting Pokémon Go legislation. Felix Ortiz, Assistant Speaker of New York State Assembly, has recently made comments about Nintendo’s responsibility to “make sure that its customers don’t make terrible decisions”. New York State Senators Jeff Klein and Diane Savino are drafting a bill that would ban PokeStops and Pokémon Gyms within 100 feet of convicted sex offenders homes. Savino commented “We love new technology … but we believe that the makers of this game and others to come have a responsibility to help us protect children and all society from those who would prey upon us”. However, what isn’t mentioned is that children are most vulnerable to sexual abuse by people known to them. The National Sex Offender Public website cites that “An estimated 60% of perpetrators of sexual abuse are known to the child but are not family members, e.g., family friends, babysitters, child care providers, neighbors”. This means the classic perception of stranger danger is much less likely than a child being sexually abused by someone he or she knows and being outside playing Pokémon Go is not as dangerous as parent might think.

Fear of pedophiles isn’t the only concern parents are voicing. They also question how the game affects their children’s mental health. Journalist Nicholas Kardaras expresses that “children have additional vulnerabilities when they interact with interactive and immersive screens; their brains and what psychologists call ‘reality testing’—the ability to discern what’s real and what isn’t—are not fully developed yet”. Kardaras also states “If you’re an adult, have at it! Pokémon Go to your heart’s content; wander the streets looking for the little augmented reality buggers”. So is playing Pokémon Go bad for youth but okay for adults? Many would disagree.

Pokémon Go has helped youth tremendously by improving mental health. The creators of the app had no way of imagining that the game would create such a profound effect on the mental health of youth, but it did. Depression and anxiety are common illnesses among youth and often leaves individuals without energy or motivation. Many youth players say Pokémon Go gives them “a reason to leave their beds and go outside”. This unintended consequence has pleasantly surprised many people and has given parents a reason to allow their children to wander freely.

In addition to incredible health benefits among its users, the app has also has helped paved the way for the Free Range Kids Movement. Allowing youth to engage in the Pokémon Go app means allowing youth to move outside of supervised areas such as a house or yard. Exploring the world is an important part of learning for youth and adults alike. Providing more freedom to youth allows more opportunities for them to learn and grow. Youth are just are capable as adults and deserve the chance to seek out things that interest them. If playing Pokémon Go is one of those interests, then tell them to “Catch ‘em all!”.

NYRA-Broward County: Calling for New Members!

Posted by on August 16th, 2016

NYRA-Broward County has been active for several years now, mostly thanks to their President Elijah. Elijah has been interested in youth rights from a very young age. He worked with NYRA for a years on the voting age through social media, as well as his activities at school. After building experience after experience, the chapter started after Elijah went to the county commission himself to ask for the municipal voting age to be lowered to 16. NYRA continued to help Elijah by promoting the 16 to Vote campaign over Twitter and other social media, and then NYRA President, Alex, asked him to start a chapter as he had been so active.

Today, the chapter is going through a lot rebuilding. Elijah has been focusing on recruiting, and plans to dedicate more time to the chapter after the recruitment process

As always, Elijah stays close to the voting age issue. He is active through his participation in county commission meetings, private meetings, research, and gaining a large presence on social media.

Interested in joining NYRA-Broward County? Email Elijah at today!

NYRA-Twin Cities: Going Strong!

Posted by on August 9th, 2016

NYRA-Twin Cities has been in operation for several years now. Amy O’Connell, President, has been leading the group for almost half a decade.

Amy’s passion for youth rights came from her own experience dealing with adults. She was largely bullied in middle school and found that adults made the problem worse. She became involved in student rights and found NYRA through a quick online search. Though Amy was passionate about youth rights, she felt secluded from NYRA from her hometown in Minnesota. She decided the best way to feel active in NYRA was to create a group of her own right in her own state. And so, NYRA-Twin Cities was born in August of 2011. With NYRA’s help, she was able to gather a group of other local NYRA members, as well as some friends.

NYRA-Twin Cities has been involved in a number of campaigns over the years. One of their biggest was their partnership with The Hitting Stops Here, which was a campaign to encourage their District Congressman to sign HR 3027 (a bill to end the use of corporal punishment in schools). Though NYRA-Twin Cities has been a part of many types of campaigns, their focus has largely been on lowering the voting age to 16. They’ve promoted the #16toVote campaign on Twitter, and have supported other NYRA chapters in their endeavors. They also take on other campaigns not necessarily affiliated with NYRA. Recently they have been in contact with their local and state government representatives. Other efforts include recruitment, so as to better raise awareness in their community.

Want to get involved? Email Amy at and also check out their Facebook page!

The First “Underage” US Presidential Candidate Does Well in Green Party Primaries

Posted by on August 6th, 2016

Elijah Manley speaks at Green Presidential Nominating Convention 2016
History was made yesterday when 17-year-old Elijah D. Manley gave a speech at the Green Party Presidential Nominating Convention on Saturday, August 6, 2016, in Houston, Texas. Elijah is the first “underaged” presidential nominee to make it to a state ballot – two states, in his case – of one of the two largest third parties in the USA. This took a huge amount of work on his part, along with considerable support from the many true progressives within the Green Party. This also happened despite strong ageist opposition and obstruction from the centrists who are part of the Greens (which, sadly, includes the Co-Chair of the national party). In a big leap forward for youth rights, Elijah got on the Green ballot in two states, Maryland and his home state of Florida, where he took 41% of the vote, with only Green powerhouse Dr. Jill Stein coming in ahead! Though all the delegates from Maryland gave their votes to Stein, three of the seven delegates from Florida gave their votes to Elijah, with Stein receiving the other four. Unexpectedly, the District of Columbia gave Elijah a quarter of its delegate votes, with another quarter going to William Kreml and the remaining one and a half going to Stein. This was an extraordinary primary turn-out from the first “underage” presidential candidate to run a serious campaign.

Moreover, from listening to recordings of that speech, you will see that Elijah made a strong endorsement of incorporating youth liberation into the national platform of the Greens, to which he received a loud round of applause. He received further applause upon mentioning the hard work he has done for the recent initiative to lower the voting age to 16 in many U.S. municipalities, including his home Florida county of Broward. Elijah has been working to establish a chapter of NYRA in Broward County, whose Facebook group you can find here.

Elijah’s platform on youth rights, both for his candidacy as a Green and for the youth liberation organization Continental Youth Assembly (which he co-founded), have included not only the end to age restrictions on voting, but also opposition to corporal punishment, a ban on infant circumcision, the democratization of the schooling system – including student membership on the local school board, the end to standardized testing and the demeaning grading system, and the availability of alternative opportunities for receiving one’s education – the end of enforced age segregation in public places, the end of curfew laws, opposition to the drinking laws, support for the right to bodily autonomy, allowing youths to enter the labor force and receive full remuneration for doing so, the end to gulag camps, freedom of speech and access to information, freedom of religious worship (including the right to dissent from religious worship altogether), and a legal declaration that children and younger adolescents are not the property of their parents.

As Elijah’s campaign manager, I understand that many youth liberationists do not support the Green economic policies, but that is not the issue here. I’m hoping this will simply spur our fellow youth liberationists to encourage their own political party of choice – e.g., the Libertarians (which has often been youth-friendly in the past), Democrats, Republicans, etc. – to likewise adopt youth lib into their national platform. We do not want youth liberation to ever become a partisan issue. Where all of us may differ with agreement on various economic issues (or even certain domestic and foreign policy issues), we can nevertheless unite on the basis of getting all political parties to support and incorporate youth liberation into its mission statement.

This accomplishment from Elijah should be applauded by all youth liberationists, regardless of which political affiliation you stand behind, as it has taken all of us one further step towards bringing youth liberation into mainstream politics in general. Even as we strive to get the Green Party to incorporate youth lib into its national platform, so can non-Green youth liberationists take this as encouragement to work equally hard to get your own political party to do the same!

Watch Elijah give his historic speech about the importance of youth rights (video starts at 1:25:13):

The Texas #16toVote Story

Posted by on July 18th, 2016

Bryce Hall is the current President of the 16toVote Texas chapter located in North Richland Hills. Read more about what his group is doing here.

One afternoon I was sitting on my couch watching an innocent teenager being detained on the news. His mom and step-dad were extremely abusive and he didn’t want to leave his dad’s house. But by law, he must. So his mom ordered the police to use all force to remove him from the vehicle.

That one clip got me thinking; that teenager should have some rights over himself. Later on, more and more examples started clicking in my head and made me finally realize something. The youth of America and I have no rights whatsoever. We’re all equally looked down upon by the elderly as delinquents and trouble-makers, not as hard-working, young adults. We pay taxes, we’re learning more political information everyday, and we’re being unfairly drafted. For example, the 2016 election, whichever candidate wins has the authority to declare war. I will be 18 in 2 years and so the president can draft me into that war. I had no say in determining whether that candidate was right for office.   

I had to do something that would put an effort into stopping this. And that was to vote. Voting does a lot in our lives. It makes all of us proud to be free to choose who would make our lives more successful, and more free. If I had the right to vote, I could vote for whoever was on my side, a candidate that believes in Youth Rights, and understands the troubles in life that we deal with.

In January 2016, I was extremely determined to turn my dream into my goal. I started printing out petitions and getting signature after signature. Many friends believed in my goal and joined in the campaign. This was getting big.

On March 16, 2016, my Vice President and I visited the Capitol Building in Austin. We visited many Representative offices. We even had a meeting with one! It was truly amazing. This was the day I finally admitted, “there’s no turning back”. That was the day we officially started our campaign: Texas Vote16.

That next month, my staff and I were on track with this campaign! We started e-mailing representative after representative, and having more meetings and discussions. We all felt so grateful that there’s some hope that this might actually turn into a reality. Later on, I was surfing the web looking for more resources on this issue and I came across the National Youth Rights Association. I immediately emailed them and explained our campaign. That week I got an email back stating how much support and information they would give our campaign.

Now, my staff and I are taking a huge step forward by hosting a rally! NYRA has been so helpful, and is still our backbone through this campaign. I plan on keeping this campaign growing by the minute, with all the help from my staff, supporters, and NYRA. I have learned so much from this campaign. I already knew not to allow anyone to look down upon me because of my age, but now I have learned to set an example for other young adults who have dreams just like me.

Ageism and a Bike Thief: When We Should and Shouldn’t Respect Our Elders

Posted by on July 13th, 2016

I recently got into an argument with a stranger who was trying to cut through my bike lock with a torch. This was in the middle of a crowd, and I knew he would be long gone if I waited for the police to show up. When I saw him at work, I figured that this is someone who slinks around looking only for unguarded valuables. He’s not scary, and he knows it.

Sure enough, as soon as he realized he’d been found out, he immediately started offering me money—first for my bike, and then as a bribe. But in a fit of adrenaline-fueled outrage, I simply said to him, “That’s really sad you don’t have anything better to do with your life than steal a cheap bike off the street.”

He stammered and then eventually said, “I do have something better.”

I gestured for him to leave. “Go and do it then.”

He started to go, and then turned back and said, “Hey, you can’t talk to me like that. You’re just a kid, you gotta show some respect. You can’t talk to me like that.”

I started trying to take his picture, but he ran off into the crowd, and that was it.

When I told the story to my family, they were of course surprised to hear that I was the “kid,” not the bike thief. It doesn’t even occur to most of us that a middle-aged adult could commit a petty crime against someone younger. Worse crimes (abuse, abduction, etc.) we can see, but it’s difficult for us even to picture an older adult vandalizing or stealing a young person’s possessions. Such a thing would be absurd, almost comical, like something out of a Seth Rogen film.

But this really happened to me. And the incident left me—for the thousandth time since I was a teenager—unsure about whether I really am a kid. Recently, I’ve found that I’ve unconsciously identified with adulthood, using “we” whenever I refer to this group. But the instant I feel sure the world has recognized that I’m not a kid anymore, someone will call me one, or treat me like one (e.g. liquor store clerks pointedly scrutinizing my ID far longer than they could possibly need to).

I’m in a period of life psychologists have recently started calling “emerging adulthood.” Evidently, adolescence isn’t enough of a buffer between childhood and adulthood, so another one had to be tacked on. No doubt within a decade or two, psychologists will have discovered yet another period of development after emerging adulthood, and called it “new adulthood,” or something similar. As depressing as this trend of inventing more and more age-based labels may sound for youth rights (two was more than enough), the good news is that if it goes on unchecked, we must inevitably reach a moment when there are so many stages preceding adulthood that hardly anyone ever reaches it. Once that happens, youth rights will have to become relevant to everyone.

The concept of emerging adulthood allows society to see me as a kid—when it’s convenient. If I were arrested for a crime (especially one that people are currently eager to see punished), this same society would reverse its opinion, and decide that I was an adult—though it would, of course, continue to call me a “kid” out of pure spite. Nothing can get me out of being called a kid—not good behavior, not bad behavior, and not anything in between.

My thief knew this. I suspect that the reason he chose to point out our relative ages was that there was no other way for him to win the moral high ground. He couldn’t even fault me for being more privileged than he was, since he clearly wasn’t starving or homeless. He could also apparently afford quality sneakers—not to mention a quality blowtorch (assuming, of course, that he didn’t steal these things). And not only did he offer me money, he also admitted to me, “I do have something better [to do with my life].” It seems pretty clear, all things considered, that stealing my bike was something he was doing by choice, not out of resignation or desperation.

It’s easy to laugh and say he was talking nonsense. After all, who has the gumption to criticize the manners of someone he’s just tried to rob? But then we have to remember that there are many people in this country, and in this world, who would hear my story and stand up for my thief, and tell me he was right: I had no right to talk to him the way I did, even in light of the circumstances. Respect for one’s elders, they would argue, is unconditional. Even if a young person has to call the police on someone older, he should never forget his place: he should show respect even while dialing the number.

As I understand it, this expectation is based on the principle that every adult is a representative of the institution of adulthood, just as the president is a representative of the government. To disrespect one adult is to disrespect them all. I wasn’t just showing contempt for my bike thief, but for every single one of my elders, all the way from my parents to my grandmother to the Pope.

But this justification is problematic. When one person represents a whole institution, that institution is also responsible for his actions. If my bike thief behaved disgracefully in his capacity as a representative of adulthood (which he did), then the entire institution of adulthood behaved disgracefully. When this happens, an institution has the responsibility to impeach its representative. Yet to my knowledge, no adult in the history of Western civilization has ever been “impeached”—that is, stripped of his status as an adult—because of his disgraceful conduct. Even if I’d succeeded in getting him arrested and sent off to jail, it would never happen. According to our view, no middle-aged adult could commit a crime so heinous that he deserved to be taunted by children, or even by older “kids” like me. If this isn’t clear, we should imagine what would happen if I visited my thief in his jail cell, in the company of other adults his age. They could scold him and disrespect him without any problems. But if I did the same, these adults would become extremely uncomfortable and likely object to my behavior, reminding me that even though he was in jail, he was still my elder. They would want me to show him special respect, no matter what he’d done.

But it is immoral for a person or institution to demand privileged respect—even from a child—without accountability. In fact, it is amoral, since without accountability, morality cannot exist. This idea goes back to Locke: to give anyone unconditional privilege is inconsistent with a civilized society.

This is something children understand intuitively. It’s only through “teaching” that that they come to forget it: a process that begins well before adolescence. If we’re lucky, in our teen years we still have enough good childish sense to distrust words like, “respect,” which are touted as “pillars of character”—yet are hardly ever honored by the adults we are supposed to be emulating. I was one of the only people I knew who managed to escape both the hypocrisy of my elders and the nihilism of my peers, repeating over and over again, “I believe in respect, but I won’t respect a teacher who doesn’t respect me.”

There is only one way for adults to rightfully deserve special respect from young people (or from anyone): by being kind and honest, and generally doing good things for humanity. Needless to say, there are many adults who pass this test. But truly respectable people don’t feel the need to be constantly reassured about it. If we pay close attention, we’ll see that the adults who are most adamant about their juniors showing them respect tend to be those who least deserve it: those who are insecure, having little to be proud of, and few real accomplishments to their name. Truly respectable people have the humility—or the dignity, depending on how you look at it—not to strut around “teaching people their place,” and demanding that their critics retract disrespectful statements under threat of punishment. The only possible reason to behave this way is a deep-seated fear of being, in reality, unrespectable: a fear that proves itself true the more we use force to try to assuage it.

It’s sad that so many people reach middle age without either understanding or deserving respect. And it’s also sad that many have nothing better to do with their lives than to try and make young people as miserable as possible—or what is essentially the same thing, to disregard (or even brag about) the suffering we cause them in our quest to “benefit” them. This is a cycle: a virus of bitterness that gets passed from one generation to the next. This virus depends on the model of treating elders with unconditional respect, and young people with unconditional disrespect, reinforcing the notion that how we behave doesn’t matter, that fairness is nonsense, and that to improve our lot is beyond our control.

None of this would be possible if we started applying moral rather than amoral expectations to people of all ages: considering everyone to be capable of earning or losing respect according to their actions, not their age. If we could accomplish that, the chances of someone abandoning morality and reaching middle age without having done anything respectable would be far smaller. At the very least, thieves, bullies, sadists, and hypocrites would no longer feel entitled to special treatment from their juniors, when in fact they did not deserve it from anyone.

NYRA’s mission centers on challenging age discrimination against young people, both in law and in attitudes and supporting the basic freedoms afforded to young Americans in the Bill of Rights.