There is a problem that plagues almost every attempt CommonAction has made to promote youth engagement in schools and communities. I’m not niave: this same problem affects every movement to promote inclusive democracy. That problem, you ask? The System.
The System was created a long, long time ago by a group of well-to-do white men, aka “The Man”. The Man was determined to promote efficiency by streamlining procedures and standardizing outcomes. The Man created The System in his own image, and in doing that he effectively cut-out anyone who is not “The Man” from successfully changing “The System.” Consequently, children, women, brown and black people, youth, poor and middle class people, homosexual people, under-educated people, and generally anyone else who does not resemble “The Man” is routinely and systematically excluded from leading The System.
Which does not mean that The System does not have a role for anyone other than The Man. The System actually relies on everyone, including The Man. Equality has an important role in The System as it relies on everyone equally fulfilling their role; however, I think its important to acknowledge that The Man occupies the position of prescribing what everyone else’s roles are.
The System is comprised of every structure throughout our collective society – Yep, its that huge. Government, business, media, education, the military… these are all part of The System. The simple fact-of-the-matter is that in order to promote social justice and to balance the inequities of our world we must either gain access to The Man, or create an alternative System.
That work is underway, although it generally excludes children and youth. The World Social Forum provides an unfortunate example – read about how its leaders denied the necessity of hosting a simaltaneous youth event.
However… I have no illusion about the depth or breadth of the youth voice movement within the scope of issues, activities, and locations we have identified on The Freechild Project website. The new Washington Youth Voice Handbook is only my second attempt at “pulling back the curtain” of how society works, so that young people and their adult allies can be more effective and powerful in our work to integrate children and youth as partners throughout our communities.