In a recent post, Stefan Muller pointed out that many young people do not support youth rights. Stefan contends that young people often hold ageist views in order to distinguish themselves – in order to seem more mature. Unfortunately, Mr. Muller is correct in his assessment. When I speak to other young people, I am often frustrated by their disregard for their own rights, and their contempt for slightly younger people.
I think one of the reasons behind this attitude lies in the fact that youth is an impermanent condition. A woman supports women’s rights because she knows she will be a woman forever. A black man supports civil rights because he knows he will be black forever. A gay man supports gay marriage because he knows he will be gay forever. But the young man only needs to wait a few years, and he will be free.
When I turn eighteen this coming May, many of the ageist policies I am fighting against will no longer apply to me. Yet I know that for every young person who passes over that arbitrary line in to freedom and equality, another new born is sentenced to eighteen years of protectionist repression. So in a sense, youth rights activists must posses the deepest unselfishness, because they are fighting not for their own personal freedom, but for the freedom of the unborn masses. When I speak to my friends about youth rights, the question I am asked more frequently than any other is “will you still care about this when you turn eighteen?” We must all answer this question with an unflinching and resounding “yes.”
When young people realize that the movement exists not only for their own selfish benefit, but to eradicate an evil that has existed since the beginning of civilization, perhaps they will be more open minded. When more young people begin to realize that youth is not a permanent condition, but that young people are a permanent fixture in any society, perhaps they will be more inclined to support our cause.
The fleeting nature of youth also makes it hard to employ radical rhetoric. Malcolm X could hate white people because he knew he would be never white. But how can I hate older people when I will soon be older myself? How can I hate older people when so many of them have lent their support to the movement? These circumstances dictate that there can never be a youth nationalist movement or a youth supremacist movement.
While the impermanent nature of youth makes it impossible for the youth rights movement to create the kind of class consciousness that accompanies so many other civil rights movements, young people do indeed have a lot to be proud of. Josiah, one of Judah’s most righteous kings, ascended to the throne when he was only eight years old. It was a young man who shed the first blood for the cause of American independence. When Dr. King and Reverend Abernathy lead the Nonviolent Army in Birmingham, young people were their foot soldiers. Young people stood before the dogs and the fire hoses, and it was four young women who died in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. Today many of the young men and women fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan never had a chance to vote for the leaders who sent them there – and many of them are still subject to ageist status offenses when they come home.
I say that when a young person denounces his own inalienable rights in an attempt to convey maturity, we ought to remind him of all the things young people have done to defend the rights of others. When a young person tells you that he is willing to wait, remind him that his willingness sentences countless future generations to the same reality that he is just beginning to escape.