A Brief History of Youth Voice

This is the second of twelve posts today in honor of the election of Barack Obama as the next President of the United States of America.

One of the privileges of my work is that over the last 10 years I have been in this movement I have identified, studied, witnessed and promoted a transformation in the international movement promoting Youth Voice. As a distinct phenomenon, I have identified Youth Voice first emerging as a distinct movement in the 1890s when newsboys across the Eastern U.S. went on strike against William Randolph Hearst, effectively defeating one of the largest economic titans of their day.

After receding throughout the next 30 years, in the mid-1930s Youth Voice resurfaced in the form of the Declaration of the Rights of American Youth, which was delivered directly on the floor of the U.S. Congress by the American Youth Congress. There was a 20 year lull after the AYC was suppressed in the 1940s, with Youth Voice not coming up for a good breath until the 1961 Port Huron Statement of the Students for a Democratic Society. This stepping out effectively led to the youth revolution of the 1960s and early 70s, birthing many, many radical attempts to thrust young people into the mainstream political of American society. A lot of that energy came to fruition with the passage of the 26th Amendment to the US Constitution in 1971. And then the 1980s happened.

In the late 1970s Youth Voice moved began to go viral, seeping into the mainstream culture and “poisoning the Kool Aid” with its idealism, passion and enthusiasm. This became apparent in two once-dicotomous cultural backgrounds: Hip hop, embracing rap, DJing, graffiti writing, and breakdancing and infusing them with vigor and fervor; and so-called “Yuppies“, defined as “young upwardly-mobile professionals” whose self-reliance and determination to be financially secure individualists secured their upper-middle class status to this day. I believe those two cultural backgrounds are still determining American social values today, as I have lived through their maturation into mainstream memes that defy the boundaries of race or class.

The determination of 1970s radical youth and 1980s self-serving youth was not lost into the air. In the 1990s their leadership led to the development of a variety of Youth Voice programs and initiatives across the U.S. and around the world. National nonprofits, foundations, and other organizations began beating the drums for youth involvement, and community-based organizations rose to the task and led the way, illustrating diverse, new ways to engage young people throughout society.

With the emergence of new technologies that are quickly adopted by young people the new millineum has brought a celebration of Youth Voice that has never been seen. Organizations such as Freechild, YouthNoise and TakingITGlobal came out quickly as national and international networking hubs focused on connecting divergent young people and moving forward. This has led me to call for youth integration and intergenerational equity at every corner, as we must continue to live up to the challenge of Youth Voice.

In that way we can live up to the hope, the expectation and the courage young people embody. Let’s build society we want our young people to grow up in.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

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