This is not a poetry circle. This is a movement.
The following speech was given by Alex Koroknay-Palicz on July 28, 2007 to open the 2007 NYRA Annual Meeting in Washington, DC.
Who here has heard of John Holt?
Or Mike Males?
Or Robert Epstein?
Or Grace Llewllyn?
Or Richard Farson?
These are the luminaries of our field. The great thinkers and prophets who have dared to think differently. Individuals who have dared to challenge the status quo in radical and fundamental ways. Writers who looked at the lives of young people – really looked at it – and understood the injustice of being young in this country. Bold visionaries who realized that to be judged by one’s birthdate is as contemptible as being judged by the color of one’s skin.
But what have they done?
If Epstein put out a 12 volume set of books tomorrow that explored every intricacy of the teenage brain would youth be free? If Males wrote 17 dissertations examining the complex interplay between poverty, race, and age would anti-youth bigotry stop? If John Holt rose from the dead tomorrow and published another book, would we finally escape from childhood?
No. The bigotry would continue, the oppression would continue to get worse. All the studies and all the research and all the articulate, logical books in the world aren’t going to win the battle for youth rights. The only ones who can win the battle for youth rights is youth.
“Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform.” Frederick Douglass once wrote, “The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims, have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.”
“This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”
Young people have quietly submitted to more injustice and wrong than we have time here this weekend to detail. If such a litany of wrongs could be compiled this conference would have to be extended until July 2008 just to read it off a list. Then a new list would be written to include the many wrongs that took place during the interim.
Youth have submitted to A LOT. And for as long as they submit the oppression will continue to get worse. In the last year NYRA has collected over 500 news articles related to youth rights. I can bet you that the vast majority of them are negative. When will it stop?
Books written by a couple gray haired old men won’t stop it. They are incredibly valuable and inform and define and propel our movement in many ways but they won’t stop it.
The only ones who can stop it are YOU. US. NYRA exists to make the demand for freedom. NYRA exists to lead the struggle. But NYRA is just an empty shell without vibrant, passionate, dedicated people to lead us forward. People who don’t just agree with youth rights but feel it.
You have to feel it. Deep down in your bones you must believe that youth rights is right. Deep down you must KNOW it is right. Not only right but urgent and vitally important.
The most common reaction I get when I tell people about NYRA is a laugh. People chuckle. They don’t take this cause seriously.
Those people split into two camps. The people who somewhat agree with us and the people who oppose us. Both chuckle. The people who oppose us will make a sarcastic remark about “damn kids” or just say we’re crazy. The people who agree will say “yea, I understand your point, but aren’t you just wasting your time? Aren’t there more important issues to be working on?”
What is your answer?
If you can’t look that person straight in the eye and say, “No, there aren’t more important issues” then you don’t understand youth rights. You don’t understand this organization and you don’t understand this cause. You don’t understand ageism. You don’t understand the oppression of youth.
Until you understand you can’t help us.
Millions of people live in CHAINS in our society and we are the only ones with the key. Youth are not mildly inconvenienced by ageism – they are oppressed. Their lives are forever shaped by their experiences of being treated as an inferior to adults. That is a lesson that will not be forgotten and cannot be graduated out of. It affects our relationships with our family, our friends, and ourselves. It affects our economic system and our foreign policy. How we behave towards other human beings and how we view the world around us is shaped by the world we were raised in – and that world is oppressive, demeaning, brutal and demoralizing.
To fight for youth rights is to fight toward shattering that world and rebuilding a new world of hope, love, freedom and equality.
Doing so is not for the timid or the lukewarm.
You may feel that ageism is mildly inconveniencing. Perhaps for you it is. Perhaps many people in this room live fairly comfortable middle-class lives and don’t experience the worst this ageist world of ours has to offer. Maybe your parents weren’t so bad. Maybe your teachers treated you with respect. Maybe you had a good school, a comfortable neighborhood, and a happy home life. That’s great. No doubt it is why you have the freedom and ability to be here at this meeting today.
But for many, many people in this country ageism is not an abstract concept. It is not an inconvenience. For them it is a brutal, oppressive system that rips apart families and destroys lives.
How many people are beat by their parents every day? How many people have died in gulag schools? How many people has the juvenile court system failed? How many people have our schools failed? How many people have our political leaders failed? How many bloody corpses have flown back from Iraq having never known full acceptance as full, free, and equal Americans? How much human potential has been squashed? How many adults are in counseling because of their emotionally, physically, and sexually abusive families? How many people have never known a happy and healthy relationship with others because of the twisted power dynamics of this ageist world they were born into? How many beautiful paintings, cures for brain cancer and technological innovations have been forever destroyed by a culture that mocks, ignores, and silences its youth?
How much pain must be inflicted until you understand? Until you understand that ageism is not a mild inconvenience but a social ill that must be stamped out. Until you understand in your soul, in your bones, in your heart that ageism creates a destructive world and must be stopped.
It will not happen easily. It will not happen quickly. And it will not happen without sacrifice.
What are you prepared to sacrifice?
Your money? Your time? Your freedom? Your life?
Movements are not created by the half-hearted. Movements do not begin as hobbies. This is not chess club. This is not a poetry circle. This is a movement. A movement to reshape the world.
Where would this nation be if Sam Adams, George Washington & Ben Franklin didn’t risk everything in hope of creating a better world? How would this country look if Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Lucretia Mott didn’t give everything they had to the hope of creating a better world? Where would we be if Martian Luther King, Rosa Parks, & James Forman didn’t dare the impossible to create a better world?
Where would this organization be if you didn’t believe deeply and devote yourself in the hope of creating a better world?
No where, which is where we’ve been for years.
This organization will continue to be no where until you understand what youth rights is, what ageism is, and what NYRA is here for. If you understand you will be excited. Then the blaze of passion will be set alight inside of you and you will burn brightly until this world is set on fire by your passion. Your passion will destroy the oppression in this world and your name will be sung and remembered by all your ancestors freed by your voice. Your actions will be heralded and honored by every unborn generation liberated by your hand.
If you fail to understand then your apathy will be remembered by no one. If you fail to understand then your inaction will be honored by no one. If you fail to understand then the grim world of ageism will consume you and your children and your children’s children.
Now is your chance to take a stand, to make a difference, to reshape the world.