Youth rights lessons from “Lord of the Flies”

Posted by on February 12th, 2018

Photo credit: englishosaca.wordpress.com

The “Lord of the Flies” argument

The “Lord of the Flies” argument goes like this. Let’s say I want to lower the voting age, or give students more constitutional protections in school. Someone using the argument would reply, “Bad idea. That would undermine adult authority and lead to a ‘Lord of the Flies’ scenario.”

However, this “Lord of the Flies” argument isn’t so much an argument as it is an appeal to a kind of folkloric fear of young people. Stories pass down, telling about a hell on earth created by empowered young people. If we buy into this mythology, then we have no trouble finding evidence to support it. But if we don’t, then we have no trouble disproving it. The “Lord of the Flies” argument convinces only those who are already convinced.

The actual book Lord of the Flies

Now, it’s important to clarify that the “Lord of the Flies” argument is not the same thing as the actual book, Lord of the Flies, by William Golding. On the one hand, the argument is used as a kind of parable to vindicate adult authority. On the other hand, the actual book has essentially the opposite purpose: it is a criticism of adult authority. This isn’t a fringe interpretation. It’s what the author himself has said:

The whole book is symbolic in nature except the rescue in the end where adult life appears, dignified and capable, but in reality enmeshed in the same evil as the symbolic life of the children on the island. The officer, having interrupted a man-hunt, prepares to take the children off the island in a cruiser which will presently be hunting its enemy in the same implacable way. And who will rescue the adult and his cruiser?

The problem Golding illustrates in his book isn’t that young people are evil without adult supervision. The problem is that everyone is evil, and that society will inevitably be a product of that evil. It has no power to “rescue” us.

What is the real conflict in the book?

The book’s main symbolic struggle takes place, not between uncivilized childhood and civilized adulthood, but between two systems of government. These are represented by two boys: the hero Ralph, and the villain Jack.

At first, everyone democratically elects Ralph as their leader. His power comes from the people, from the consent of the governed, and it stays that way. In his society, each person has an equal chance to speak in assembly. It’s also significant that Ralph never uses his power in a punitive way.

Jack, Ralph’s evil counterpart, is the first one to introduce the idea of punishment. He eventually secedes from Ralph’s society and becomes dictator (“chief”) of the island. He gets the other boys to join him by appealing to their lowest fears and desires. He also begins punishing disobedience with torture, thereby introducing the first criminal justice system to the island.

Are we Ralph or Jack?

If we look at these two boys’ political systems and compare them to our own, we will find that institutions like the public school system—supposedly designed to protect young people from their own savagery—are structured more like Jack’s dictatorship than Ralph’s egalitarian society. We can see this in the following table:

Jack’s Tribe Public School System Ralph’s Tribe
Absolute dictatorship Paternalistic oligarchy Democratic republic
Emphasis on tribal pride Emphasis on school spirit Emphasis on rescue
Distinctive war paint, hair tied back Distinctive uniform, face paint No distinctive dress
No individual rights Limited individual rights Rights to vote, assemble, speech, seek rescue
Violent paranoia about mythical “beast” Violent paranoia about gangs, drugs, etc. Fear mitigated by voices of reason
Consent of the governed disappears No consent of the governed Full consent of the governed through election
Outlets for id: dancing, hunting, feasting Outlets for id: dancing, sports, pep rallies Outlets for id: none structured
Based on fear of punishment, “beast” Based on fear of punishment, failure Based on shared goals and mutual respect

Young people grow up under a rule much more like Jack’s than Ralph’s. The goal of youth rights is to tip the balance the other way. Of course, critics could argue that young people aren’t capable of living in Ralph’s tribe—that’s why it fell apart. They could argue that a Jack-like tribe is all young people can handle. But if this is true, then we have to ask: who is our Jack? Who is our “chief” in charge of young people? The answer should be obvious.

When we first meet Jack, we see him as he was in “civilized” life. He was a prefect, the head of the boys’ choir. We see him force the other boys to wear their hot choir robes and march in file. Whom in our society does he remind us of? Who places a similar importance on titles and ranks? Who makes young people wear uniforms and march in single file? The answer should be obvious.

Who is there in our society who, like Jack, appeals to young people’s worst nature? Who, like Jack, uses fear and bribery and manipulation in order to get young people to do as they say? Who, like Jack, enjoys jokes about mistreating or hurting young people, and sometimes actually carries them out? The answer should be obvious.

It is adults who play the role of Jack. It is adults who run this society, this “tribe”. And it is adults who have most refined and exalted the evil part of human nature.

The great irony of Lord of the Flies

The greatest irony of Lord of the Flies is that most readers think the boys on the island are monsters. To think this way is to fall into the exact same trap the boys did. They took their own sins, and projected them onto an imaginary external monster: the “beast”. Yet even though most older people have read this cautionary tale at some point, they haven’t learned from it. Instead, they’ve actually used the story to project their own sins onto yet another external monster: young people. They might as well chant Kill the beast in the hallways when they paddle misbehaving students, or tackle middle schoolers for trying to break up fights.

This fundamental misunderstanding of the book is the reason the “Lord of the Flies” argument exists. It’s a grotesque parody of Golding’s lesson—or perhaps a grotesque kind of tribute to it. Those who fall into this trap of scapegoating have not only missed the point of Lord of the Flies, but have proven it as well.

Two Maryland cities consider a lower voting age

Posted by on December 21st, 2017

Members of the Greenbelt City CouncilMembers of the Greenbelt City Council consider a bill to lower the voting age.

On Monday, December 11, 2017, Greenbelt, Maryland came one step closer to becoming the third city in the United States to lower the voting age to 16 for all local elections. After successfully gaining the support of the majority of voters in a non-binding referendum, the Greenbelt Youth Advisory Council submitted their proposal to lower the voting age to the Greenbelt City Council. Members of NYRA-DC attended the council meeting where the bill received its first reading. It is believed that because the measure has the support of the voters, the city council is likely to vote in favor of the bill at its next scheduled reading on January 8th. NYRA-DC Chapter members will lend support and speak in favor of the measure at the meeting.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t all good news for voting rights that night. Back in November 2016, Glenarden, Maryland became the third town in the United States to grant voting rights to people aged 16 and 17. Merely a year later, members of the Glenarden City Council, many of which were newly elected in the last year, chose to reconsider the right to vote for young people.

That night, members of the NYRA-DC Chapter also attended the Glenarden City Council meeting and along with other voting rights activists expected to be able to inform the council of the many benefits of a lower voting age. However, the city council decided to vote on the repeal without hearing from the public, despite requests to do so. The Mayor also suggested putting the repeal to a public referendum, but this was also denied. Unfortunately, the council decided to remove the voting rights of 16 and 17 year olds by a count of 5-2. NYRA has attempted to contact Glenarden’s newly formed Youth Advisory Committee in hope that they might take up the fight for voting rights.

If you live in the area, and would like to attend Greenbelt’s next council meeting, join NYRA’s DC Chapter, or even start a voting rights campaign in your town let us know.

 

Big Day for Voting Age in Maryland

Posted by on December 11th, 2017

Jeremy Tuthill and Julia Sharapi of Greenbelt's Youth Advisory Committee campaign to lower the voting age.

Today is a vote-a-rama for the movement to lower the voting age with two Maryland towns taking up the issue at their meetings tonight.  In Greenbelt, Maryland, the city council is voting on Resolution 2057 to lower the voting age to 16.  After voters last month passed an advisory measure in favor of lowering the the voting age in Greenbelt, tonight’s meeting will enact the voter’s will.

This is very exciting and while we thought this would make Greenbelt the third city with a voting age of 16, it turns out that Glenarden, Maryland quietly lowered their voting age to 16 last year.  Unfortunately, that progress is under threat as the new city council is voting tonight on a measure that would raise the voting age back to 18.  NYRA members will be in attendance at the Glenarden meeting to try and stop Glenarden from disenfranchising current voters in the city.

If you would like to submit a comment in support of a 16-year-old voting age in Glenarden, please e-mail the council clerk.  And if you are in the area, please attend the meeting and join NYRA in supporting youth suffrage.  Tonight’s meeting begins at 7:30 PM, December 11, and is held at 8600 Glenarden Pkwy, Glenarden, MD 20706-1522.

 

Lowering the drinking age could be cost effective

Posted by on December 7th, 2017

Can of beer wrapped in a $100 bill

In the 1980s, states decided to raise their drinking age to 21. Surprisingly, it wasn’t because of safety, public pressure, or even their own emotions. The main reason states raised the drinking age was because they risked losing 10% of their federal highway funds to the National Minimum Drinking Age Act (NMDAA). The Supreme Court called this a “relatively small” amount of money.

What would a lower drinking age cost society?

Losing highway funds might affect state governments, but it wouldn’t be a true “loss” to our society. It would just be money that belonged to the federal government instead of the state governments. The actual net loss for society would be 0. The better question is, what would be the real financial cost if all states lowered their drinking ages to 18? As far as I can tell, no one has seriously examined this question. We have some data, but we’re going to need a lot of guesswork.

Financial Losses from Lowering the Drinking Age to 18
Revenue from fines would decrease. In the US, there were about 292,378 liquor law violations in 2015. We can guesstimate that about 3/4 of these arrests (220,000) resulted from under-21 drinking and its related crimes. Let’s say each arrest resulted in an average fine of around $500. 220,000 x $500 = $110 million in fines. The next question is, how much of this money would be lost by lowering the drinking age? Well, the population aged 18-21 (just under half the arrests) is about equal to the population that would no longer be arrested with a lower drinking age. That would decrease revenue by about $49.5 million. -$49.5 million
Greater social cost. One study claims that under-21 drinking costs the country $61.9 billion a year. This comes from healthcare bills, lost quality of life, lost labor, crime, etc. So how might lowering the drinking age affect this number? There is no real way to know—you’d have to be God. But to get an idea, let’s try using traffic fatality trends as a representative sample of all social costs. Critics of Legal 18 argue that raising the drinking age reduced traffic fatalities (and presumably, associated costs) among drivers aged 18-21 by 13%. Unfortunately, it also raised fatalities among drivers aged 21-24. Taking this into account, one study actually estimates that lowering the drinking age would reduce overall traffic fatalities among all drivers aged 18-24 by about 2.7%. Other studies have found no significant change from the federal act. But since supporters of Legal 21 seem so sure, I’ll make a gesture of good faith. Let’s say that lowering the drinking age would increase all social costs of under-21 drinking by, say, 5%. This is a number I’ve conjured out of thin air. But it seems just as good as any other. $61.9 billion x 5% = $3.1 billion. -$3.1 billion
Total -$3.149 billion

 

Financial Gains from Lowering the Drinking Age to 18
Spending on enforcement and prevention would decrease. I’ve done my best to estimate our country’s current spending on enforcing and preventing underage drinking:

  • Federal spending: $70 million in grant money. We can guess that at least another $70 million goes to implicit costs, such as administrative time, and extra attention from federal agencies (CDC, SAMHSA, NIAAA, etc.)
  • State spending: $500 million, from complicated guesswork based on a report by the US Department of Health and Human Services. We can reasonably add another $500 million for implicit costs such as administrative time, regular police time, regular school time, and attention from state agencies.
  • Local spending: Information on local spending is especially hard to find. Numbers can run from $46,000 to $75,000. However, these numbers do not include implicit costs, such as regular police time, which represent far greater costs. We can conservatively guess that the average US city/town/village actually spends on average $100,000 (explicit and implicit costs) on enforcement. As for prevention, let’s say that on average each city/town/village in the US spends an amount equal to the salary of a single substance abuse counselor (about $50,000). This means that on average, each city/town/village spends $150,000 per year on enforcement and prevention. There are about 20,000 cities/towns/villages in the US. Together, these add up to around $3 billion.
  • Total: Conservatively, $4.14 billion in explicit and implicit costs. Based on arrest numbers, just under half of this money ($1.863 billion) aims at illegal drinking by people aged 18-21.
+$1.863 billion
Spending on incarceration would decrease. It costs about $25,000 to keep one person in state or local jail for one year. As we estimated above, the US arrests about 220,000 people a year for crimes related to underage drinking. Just under half of these (99,000) are people aged 18-21. We can imagine that this is roughly the size of the population that would go free if the drinking age fell to 18. We can also guesstimate that on average, for every 25 underage drinking arrests, police sentence 1 year of jail time. 1 yr jail time/25 arrests x 99,000 arrests x $25,000/yr jail time = $99 million. +$99 million
Police could address other crimes. Lowering the drinking age would free up a significant amount of police time, since underage drinking would no longer be a “top priority” for law enforcement. Presumably, this would increase the ability to address and prevent other costly crimes. For example, each robbery costs society $21,400. If lowering the drinking age freed up enough resources to prevent, on average, a single robbery in each city/town/village, this alone would save society $428 million. In all, new police priorities could save the country somewhere in the range of $1 billion. +$1 billion
Revenue from taxes on the alcohol industry would increase. State and local governments collect $50 billion from the alcohol industry, half of which comes from indirect taxes, such as corporate, personal income, property, and other taxes. Meanwhile, the federal government collects $9.7 billion in excise taxes. Presumably, it also collects roughly another $9.7 billion in other taxes on the alcohol industry. About 10% ($7 billion) of the combined total comes from under-21 drinking. If lowering the drinking age increased social costs by 5%, as we guessed above, it would also probably increase consumption by at least 5%. 5% of $7 billion is $350 million. +$350 million
Total +$3.312 billion

Lowering the drinking age might even be cost effective for states.

Federal highway funds represent so little money, they wouldn’t make much of a difference, compared to some of the other costs and savings we’ve looked at. To prove this point, let’s look at the case of North Carolina:

  • My extremely rough estimate puts the country ahead by $162 million if every state lowered its drinking age to 18. By population, North Carolina would account for $5.4 million of this. Bear in mind that it’s not the exact number that matters here, but the order of magnitude.
  • North Carolina’s total highway budget is $4.7 billion, 20% of which ($940 million) comes from the federal government. Since 2012, the percent congress threatens to withhold in the NMDAA decreased from 10% to 8% of federal highway funds. 8% of $940 million is $75 million.
  • By lowering its drinking age, North Carolina would run a deficit of around $69.6 million. This is only 0.16% of North Carolina’s budget, or 11.6% of its ordinary spending increase between 2015 and 2016.

The finances could easily work.

There are a lot of reasons to want to lower the drinking age. Finances could easily be one of them. Although the numbers I’ve presented here are highly speculative, I hope I’ve at least shown that lowering the drinking age could be cost-effective, even if states lost their federal highway funds. Even if most of these numbers turn out to be way off, I doubt the end result would be much different. Society could recover even a relatively large net loss by increasing alcohol taxes or DUI fines.

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:
407883_360972733916418_508635959_n
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.

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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 elijah.manley@usa.com today!

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.