In 1842, Abraham Lincoln delivered a speech to the Springfield Washington Temperance Society. Lincoln shared the Society’s desire to quell alcoholism, but he was upset by the mean spirited way they went about pursuing their goals. Those who had gathered to hear him speak were dismayed by Lincoln’s speech, which promoted the use of reasoned argument and gentle persuasion in dealing with habitual drinkers. In the opening minutes of his speech, Lincoln said “If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart, which, say what he will, is the great high road to his reason, and which, when once gained, you will find but little trouble in convincing his judgment of the justice of your cause, if indeed that cause really be a just one.”
I think this is a lesson that we in the youth rights movement must take to heart. Our cause is truly just. Young people are oppressed in this country, and we must strive toward liberty in defiance of this oppression. But at the same time we must ask ourselves; what is the root cause of our troubles? I say there are three major forces working against the freedom of young Americans. These forces are misguided benevolence, ignorance, and mean spirited bigotry.
Those individuals who act out of ignorance or misguided benevolence ought to be dealt with in the way Lincoln described. While groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving do many things I am not fond of, I do not think that these organizations are run by evil people. Wendy Hamilton is regarded as a kind of anti-christ in youth rights circles, and I do not think that is fair. I hate the drinking age. I hate zero tolerance policies for young drivers. But I can not bring myself to hate people who have oppressed me as a byproduct of their desire to ensure public safety. We should hate the sin, but we should not judge the sinner.
Instead, we should work to educate them. We should continue our efforts to inform the public that the Minimum Legal Drinking Age has not saved lives, and that if anything, it has lead to more fatalities. We should continue to highlight the fact that it is an injustice for any man to be denied the right to consume a beverage, especially a man who has served in the military.
This past summer, I began volunteering for my State Assemblywoman, Sandy Galef. Galef has stood behind efforts to limit the use of eminent domain in New York State. She is leading a campaign for the use of paper ballot/optical scan voting machines in New York State, to ensure that electronic voting does not compromise the democratic process. Her office answers nearly every letter they receive, and she does a lot to help her constituents that is never publicized. I agree with ninety percent of what Assemblywoman Galef is doing, and I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to work for her.
I did however; take issue with one bill that she has sponsored. Assemblywoman Galef sponsored a bill to raise the smoking age to nineteen in New York. She asked me to do some work on behalf of this bill, and I told her that I could not be a party to any kind of ageism. I explained why I felt the smoking age should not be any higher, but I did so in a way that was not perceived as rude or disrespectful. Assemblywoman Galef is not seeking to raise the smoking age because she hates young people, she is seeking to raise the smoking age to discourage smoking. It is a benevolent act, but what a shame that it is also a misguided one.
In a recent entry, Katrina Moncure wrote about how she dealt with an ageist pet store in a similar fashion. I echo everything Katrina said, and I hope that people will combat ageism with more zeal for justice than distain for injustice.
That being said, we ought to make a distinction between kind pet store owners with ageist signs, and those whose prime and true motive is the oppression of youth. Many of the people who are keeping our young sisters and brother in the gulags are not moved by the same forces that move the protectionists at MADD. Rather, they are motivated either by financial greed or mere sadism. While I do not wish ill upon any of these people, and I welcome any one from the behavior modification industry who wishes to defect to our movement, it must be recognized that these people can and should be dealt with harshly. Anyone who operates a facility like Tranquility Bay must be filled with such evil that Abraham Lincoln’s drops of honey may never catch their hearts.
When Stefan Muller heard about the proposed curfew in New York City, he assumed that Councilman Oddo fell in to the first category, that his bill was inspired by ignorance and misguided benevolence. Stefan sent Councilman Oddo a long and insightful letter detailing the issues that he had with youth curfews. The arguments presented in the letter would convince most reasonable people that youth curfews are both ineffective and authoritarian. Councilman Oddo could have responded in one of three ways. He could have told Stefan that he was not convinced, in a respectful tone. He could have admitted that he was wrong, withdrawing his support from the curfew effort. Instead, he chose to send Stefan a rude, offensive email.
Since the incident with Stefan, which took place well over a year ago, Councilman Oddo has continued to be a thorn in the side of the youth rights movement. He publicly criticized Councilwoman Brewer’s voting age bill, and once again he chose to express his feelings in the most rude and unprofessional way one could imagine. People like Councilman Oddo are clearly not drawn to ageism by any noble desire, and they can almost be lumped in with the people running the gulag schools.
Different manifestations of ageism should be dealt with differently, and not everyone we disagree with should be regarded as an enemy. When it comes to those who wrong us out of spite or greed, I hold them in contempt. But as to those who wrong us and know not what they do, I will not judge them.