History Versus the Future?

In today’s body slam match its history versus the future. Weighing in at 5 million pounds comes History, carrying the brunt of civilization on its back, including wars and famine, as well as enlightenment, society and knowledge. In the opposite corner, weighing in at a mere 129 pounds, is The Future, who has broad prospects, possibilities and hope in its support crew.

This morning I’m thinking about the relationship between the historical children’s rights movement with today’s youth rights movement. The two sound like they are from different planets at times:
  • Youth rights vanguard like the National Youth Rights Association call for the need for youth involvement and the expansion of youths’ civil rights to include voting, driving, drinking and other important issues. They rarely approach basic human rights, although collectively there is a growing sophistication that is bringing that into play.
  • Children’s rights titans like the Children’s Defense Fund and Save the Children calling for young people to have their basic needs met, namely food, shelter, water, clothing, education and health. They rarely vere towards youth engagement, although the topic is gaining popularity. 
There has been both agreement and disagreement in the past, and I have shown some of the connections and disconnections before. My friend and ally Alex Koroknay-Palicz and I have frequently talked about the differences. He emphasizes the difference between the inherently paternalistic perspective of the CR advocates and the empowering perspective of YR advocates. While I see that and readily acknowledge it, I don’t think we have to have an either/or perspective about this. At the core of the whole conversation is the remote prospect that yes, they are calling for the same thing – we just need to find the common ground.
There was a time when these two perspectives hadn’t diverged. In the 1970s Beatrice and Ronal Gross wrote a book called The Children’s Rights Movement: Overcoming the Oppression of Young People, and it was a uniting clarion call for folks ranging from John Holt to Marion Wright Edleman. Powerful statement. But that force was lost somewhere in the 80s when As Soon As You’re Born They Make You Feel Small: Self Determination For Children was printed and sold in mass production in cities around the US. This booklet really served as a primer for youth liberation, and threw down the gauntlet between the two movements. NYRA picked it up after that, and has practiced youth-driven, youth-led and youth-motivated action since.
With the weight of history on their backs many young activists today know they’re standing on the shoulders of giants. The future awaits, too, as 5-year-olds today are being raised knowing they have rights to the basic and essential human rights – which include involvement. Let’s get to work helping the two ends meet, because even if we don’t they’re going to. 

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