Strategies for Social Change

Following are different strategies I have identified for social change led by and with young people. These strategies can be approached individually, but are often entwined as they show different aspects of social change. Note that these are broad strategic frameworks for understanding social change; they aren’t necessarily specific activities or methodologies. I might explore those in another post.Most of these strategies reply on youth acting on issues defined by and affecting young people and their communities by meaningfully involving them in the design, implementation, and evaluation of social change.

15 Strategies for Social Change Led By and With Young People 

  1. Youth Voice is any expression of any young person anywhere, at any time. This can include expressions that are verbal, written, visual, body language, or actions; expressions that are convenient and inconvenient for adults to listen to; and intentional as well as unintentional expressions. Youth Voice does not require adult approval or acceptance. [Learn more]
  2. Youth Participation is the active attendance of young people in any mode throughout their lives or communities. Youth participation can happen through active decision-making, sports, schools, or faith communities. It can also happen in homes and among friends. Youth participation can be formal or informal; when its formal, youth may not choose to attend something, but they choose whether to participate. When its informal, youth choose to join in on something.
  3. Youth Involvement is any deliberate effort that centers on young peoples’ ongoing attendance in personal, social, institutional, cultural, and other forms of structural action throughout society. Youth involvement is generally formal, often including specific roles, education, and outcomes. [Learn more]
  4. Youth Engagement is the sustained connection young people hold towards a particular thing, whether an idea, person, activity, place or outcome. That sustained connection can be social, emotional, educational, spiritual, sentimental, or otherwise as long as its sustained. [Learn more]
  5. Youth Empowerment is the attitudinal, structural, and cultural process whereby young people gain the ability, authority, and agency to make decisions and implement change in their own lives and the lives of other people, including youth and adults. [Learn more]
  6. Youth Leadership is the practice of young people exercising authority over themselves or others, both in informal and formal ways. There is youth leadership beyond the scope of what adults recognize, appreciate, or foster; there is also youth leadership which is guided by adults.
  7. Youth/Adult Partnerships happen when young people are fully equal with adults while they’re involved in a given activity. This is a 50/50 split of authority, obligation, and commitment. One of the realities of this is that there isn’t recognition for the specific developmental needs or representation opportunities for children and youth. [Learn more]
  8. Youth Equity is the pro-active rebalancing of relationships between youth and adults to allow for appropriately empowered roles between youth and adults. It allows for a 40/60 split of authority, while everyone involved- young people and adults- are recognized for their impact in the activity, and each has ownership of the outcomes. [Learn more]
  9. Youth Mainstreaming is a public policy strategy that acknowledges the roles youth can play and the issues affecting them across various sectors such as health, finance, economic development, housing, justice, foreign affairs, education, and agriculture. [Learn more]
  10. Youth Infusion is the active, deep, and sustained integration of youth throughout an organization or community’s structure and culture.
  11. Youth Organizing is an approach that trains young people in community organizing and advocacy, and assists them in employing these skills to alter power relations and create meaningful institutional change in their communities by employing activities such as political education and analysis, community research, campaign development, direct action and membership recruitment. [Learn more]
  12. Service Learning uses meaningful service throughout the community to help youth achieve clearly stated learning goals. [Learn more]
  13. Project-Based Learning infuses deliberately planned hands-on activities focused on teaching and learning to foster youth success. [Learn more]
  14. Experiential Learning is the process of making meaning from direct experience, which may or may not be planned and does or does not have specific learning goals. [Learn more]
  15. Community Youth Development combines the developmental instincts of young people as they naturally desire to create change in their surrounding environments by partnering youth and adults to create new opportunities for youth to serve their communities while developing their personal abilities.
Some of the specific methods for engaging young people in action include Participatory Action Research, Youth-Driven Programming, and Independent Living Skills. Here are some different roles young people can have through many of the strategies listed above.
In understanding social change, its important to recognize that none of these are competing approaches. I have also learned that they aren’t necessarily better or worse than each other. Instead, they’re appropriate terms that acknowledge different times and places where action can happen.
To learn more, check out The Freechild Project Guide to Social Change Led By and With Young People that I wrote with Joe Vavrus, and as always, visit The Freechild Project website.

Special thanks to Roslyn Kagy for a conversation that inspired this article! Woohoo!


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

Ways Young People Change The World

There are many roles in democracy-building by youth. Following are several different opportunities for young people to take action.

23 Ways Young People Can Change the World

  1. Children and Youth as Facilitators. Knowledge comes from study, experience, and reflection. Engaging young people as teachers helps reinforce their commitment to learning and the subject they are teaching; it also engages both young and older learners in exciting ways.
  2. Children and Youth as Researchers. Identifying issues, surveying interests, analyzing findings, and developing projects in response are all powerful avenues for Youth Voice. 
  3. Children and Youth as Planners. Planning includes program design, event planning, curriculum development, and hiring staff. Youth planning activities can lend validity, creativity, and applicability to abstract concepts and broad outcomes.
  4. Children and Youth as Organizers. Community organizing happens when leaders bring together everyone in a community in a role that fosters social change. Youth community organizers focus on issues that affect themselves and their communities; they rally their peers, families, and community members for action.
  5. Children and Youth as Decision-Makers. Making rules in classrooms is not the only way to engage young people in decision-making. Committees, board membership, and other forms of representation and leadership reinforce the significance of Youth Voice throughout communities.
  6. Children and Youth as Advocates. When young people stand for their beliefs and understand the impact of their voices, they can represent their families and communities with pride, courage, and ability.
  7. Children and Youth as Evaluators. Assessing and evaluating the effects of programs, classes, activities, and projects can promote Youth Voice in powerful ways. Young people can learn that their opinions are important, and their experiences are valid indicators of success.
  8. Children and Youth as Specialists. Envisioning roles for youth to teach youth is relatively easy; seeing new roles for youth to teach adults is more challenging. Youth specialists bring expert knowledge about particular subjects to programs and organizations, enriching everyone’s ability to be more effective.
  9. Children and Youth as Advisors. When youth advise adults they provide genuine knowledge, wisdom, and ideas to each other, adults, organizations, institutions, communities, and other locations and activities that affect them and their world at large.
  10. Children and Youth as Designers. Youth participate in creating intentional, strategic plans for an array of activities, including curriculum, building construction, youth and community programs, and more.
  11. Children and Youth as Teachers. Facilitating learning for themselves, other youth, adults, or children, youth can be teachers of small and large groups in all kinds of topics.
  12. Children and Youth as Grant-makers. Youth in philanthropy identify funding, distribute grants, evaluate effectiveness, and conduct other parts of the process involved in grant-making.
  13. Children and Youth as Planners. When planning programs, operations, activities, and other events and activities, youth can benefit nonprofits, schools, their homes, and any other institution throughout society.
  14. Children and Youth as Lobbyists. Influencing policy-makers, legislators, politicians, and the people who work for them are among the activities for youth as lobbyists.
  15. Children and Youth as Trainers. When they train adults, youth, children, and others, youth can share their wisdom, ideas, knowledge, attitudes, actions, and processes in order to guide programs, nurture organization and community cultures, and change the world.
  16. Children and Youth as Politicians. Running for political office at the community, city, county, or state levels, youth as politicians can run for a variety of positions.
  17. Children and Youth as Recruiters. Youth building excitement, sharing motivation, or otherwise helping their communities or people to get involved, create change, or make all sorts of things happen can happen through youth as recruiters.
  18. Children and Youth as Social entrepreneurs. When youth recognize a social problem, they can use entrepreneurial principles to organize, create, and manage a venture to make social change.
  19. Children and Youth as Paid staff. When organizations, businesses, agencies, and other groups hire youth, they can be staff members in programs for adults, other youth, children, or for the community at large. They can fulfill many roles on this list in paid positions.
  20. Children and Youth as Mentors. Mentoring is a non-hierarchical relationship between youth and adults, adults and youth, or among youth themselves, that helps facilitate learning and guidance for each participant. 
  21. Children and Youth as Decision makers. Participating in formal and informal decision-making, youth can be board members, committee members, and in many different roles.
  22. Children and Youth as Activity Leaders. As activity leaders in nonprofits, community organizations, and other areas, youth can facilitate, teach, guide, direct, and otherwise lead youth, adults, and children in a variety of ways.
  23. Children and Youth as Policy-makers. When they research, plan, write, and evaluate rules, regulations, laws, and other policies, youth as policy-makers can enrich, substantiate, enliven, and impact the outcomes of policies in many ways.

To imagine these are just some of the ways youth are changing the world right now! There are so many other ways that aren’t accounted for here. If you’re interested, learn more from my publication called The Freechild Project Guide to Social Change Led By and With Young People.

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The Youth Action Spiral

Youth workers and educators sometimes gather in meeting rooms to talk about what the work they do with young people. Discussing education, recreation, social activities, psychological counseling, and many other approaches to youth work, they sometimes discover that there are patterns that emerge within their work that affect all of the young people they work with, no matter what their ages, socio-economic backgrounds, cultures, educational levels, or otherwise.

One of the patterns these youth workers sometimes discuss is how young people take action in their own lives and in the lives of their communities. They refer to this action in many ways and with many terms.

In my research and practice focused on social change led by and with young people for The Freechild Project, I have discovered many of these terms. I have found they’re often used synonymously without distinguishing their meanings or purposes.

Following is my new Youth Action Spiral. In this graphic and the description below, I intend to show how each of these words fits within a concise picture of action that all young people benefit from. It also shows what youth workers, educators, and others are doing to engage young people, and what they could be doing.

 

The Youth Action Spiral

The Youth Action Spiral is designed to hold many different activities that young people take action in throughout our communities. Its a spiral because these activities are not linear and do not begin and end in a sequence. Instead, they can all happen at the same time throughout communities, within organizations, among a specific group of young people, and even in the lives of individual youth. There is a particular deepening that happens as the Spiral turns; however, this isn’t a tool for determining the value of a particular approach. Instead, its met to highlight that each has value in alternating turns.

  • Youth Voice is any expression of any young person anywhere, at any time. This can include expressions that are verbal, written, visual, body language, or actions; expressions that are convenient and inconvenient for adults to listen to; and intentional as well as unintentional expressions. They do not require adult approval or acceptance.
  • Youth Participation is the active attendance of young people in any mode throughout their lives or communities. Youth participation can happen through active decision-making, sports, schools, or faith communities. It can also happen in homes and among friends. Youth participation can be formal or informal; when its formal, youth may not choose to attend something, but they choose whether to participate. When its informal, youth choose to join in on something.
  • Youth Involvement is any deliberate effort that centers on young peoples’ ongoing attendance in personal, social, institutional, cultural, and other forms of structural action throughout society. Youth involvement is generally formal, often including specific roles, education, and outcomes.
  • Youth Engagement is the sustained connection young people hold towards a particular thing, whether an idea, person, activity, place or outcome. That sustained connection can be social, emotional, educational, spiritual, sentimental, or otherwise as long as its sustained.
  • Youth Empowerment is the attitudinal, structural, and cultural process whereby young people gain the ability, authority, and agency to make decisions and implement change in their own lives and the lives of other people, including youth and adults.
  • Youth Leadership is the practice of young people exercising authority over themselves or others, both in informal and formal ways. There is youth leadership beyond the scope of what adults recognize, appreciate, or foster; there is also youth leadership which is guided by adults.
  • Youth Equality happens when young people are fully equal with adults while they’re involved in a given activity. This is a 50/50 split of authority, obligation, and commitment. One of the realities of this is that there isn’t recognition for the specific developmental needs or representation opportunities for children and youth.
  • Youth Equity is the pro-active rebalancing of relationships between youth and adults to allow for appropriately empowered roles between youth and adults. It allows for a 40/60 split of authority, while everyone involved- young people and adults- are recognized for their impact in the activity, and each has ownership of the outcomes.

 

The Youth Action Spiral can help young people and adult youth workers understand exactly what’s happening in youth programs and schools.

From 2012-2015, I worked with more than 75 youth workers in the Seattle Youth Engagement Practitioners Cadre. Facilitating large group activities focused on professional reflection, we used the Youth Action Spiral to position their daily activities in relationship to the varying outcomes of the 50+ organizations represented. What we quickly discover was that despite the apparent differences and ambiguities in practice throughout these organizations, there were a lot of similarities. Recognizing this created the potential of working together to solve common challenges, ultimately strengthening the capacities of each individual in the Cadre as well as the organizations and communities where they worked.

Using frameworks like this is essential for understanding not only where we’re at, but also where we’re going. Where are YOU going? Use the comment form below to answer that question, or contact me directly to find out how I can help you answer that question!

 

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Introduction to Youth Councils

Researching for a presentation in 2013, I identified fewer than 40 youth councils connected with city governments across Washington State. This state has over 280 municipal governments. There were also fewer than 10 counties that had youth councils, and only one state agency reported a youth council, in addition to the Washington Legislative Youth Advisory Council.

Here is the presentation I made:

Youth are everywhere! According to the United Nations, young people between the ages of 12 and 21 account for more than 25% of the world’s population today.

In the United States, the Census reported in 2011 there are over 73 million people under 18 in the United States. 10 to 19 year olds make up more than 14% of the US population.

At that same point, the Census reported that young people ages 10 to 19 make up 13% of Washington’s population.

There are more than 281 municipalities in Washington State, including incorporated towns and cities. Research conducted by the Washington State Legislative Youth Advisory Council has found that only 35 of those municipalities have Youth Councils.

Youth Councils have vast differences, and many different possibilities. Some of the differences depend on where they are located, who is on the Councils, and what the local municipality needs from them.

However, the missions of many Youth Councils aren’t generally informed by research-driven best practices, national trends or patterns, or other factually-based decisions. Instead, they are determined by well-intentioned adults who want to do the right thing, but are limited by their own imaginations, by their city or town leadership’s vision, or the way that everyday people see young people.

However, and luckily, we’re not limited to negative or challenging perceptions of youth. As one community organizer said, “Our youth are not failing the system; the system is failing our youth. Ironically, the very youth who are being treated the worst are the young people who are going to lead us out of this nightmare.” The way they’re going to do this? Youth Councils.

A youth council is a formal or informal body of young people that is driven by advocacy and decision-making. They address the absence of youth involvement in decision-making for any age of young people, with kids as young as 7 and young adults as old as 24 being involved in Youth Councils across Washington State.

There many different kinds of youth councils, including those sponsored by local governments, including towns, cities, and counties; state government agencies and legislatures; local nonprofit and community organizations; and national organizations.

Communities with Youth Councils in Washington

  • Auburn
  • Bellevue
  • Camas
  • Cheney
  • Colville
  • Des Moines
  • Everett
  • Federal Way
  • Grandview
  • Issaquah
  • Kirkland
  • Lacey
  • Lakewood
  • Liberty Lake
  • Marysville
  • Mercer Island
  • Mill Creek
  • Millwood
  • Mukilteo
  • Oak Harbor
  • Puyallup
  • Redmond
  • Renton
  • Sammamish
  • Seattle
  • Shoreline
  • University Place

The Washington State Legislative Youth Advisory Council had:

  • 22 students
  • Ages 14-18
  • All corners of Washington
  • All walks of life.
  • Two-year term.
  • Meet up to four times per year in Olympia.
  • Hold monthly conference calls to discuss projects and goals.
  • Hold an annual Action Day to meet with legislators and testify on important youth-related bills.
  • Advocate for youth-related bills. In 2013, lobbying efforts helped move three bills to be passed into law.
  • Partner with youth groups and organizations.

Other types of organizations have youth advisory councils. They include:

  • Community Development
  • Labor
  • Workforce Development
  • School Districts
  • Neighborhood Associations
  • Faith Communities
  • Ethnic and Cultural Groups
  • Performing Arts Orgs
  • And many others

Alfie Kohn once said, “Youth should not only be trained to live in a democracy when they grow up; they should have the chance to live in one today.” Youth Councils allow young people to experience democracy in realtime.

The context for youth councils comes from many places. I find poetry inspiring, and in particular, Langston Hughes’ poem Freedom’s Plow:

Thus the dream becomes not one man’s dream alone,
But a community dream.
Not my dream alone, but our dream.
Not my world alone,
But your world and my world,
Belonging to all the hands who build.

Would you build with young people? Youth councils provide one way to get that done.

My Review of “Bringing It Together”

Bringing It Together: Uniting Youth Organizing, Development and Services for Long-Term Sustainability was written by K. Zimmerman, M. Chow and T. James for the Movement Strategy Center. This is my review for The Freechild Project.

 

The late 1960s and early 1970s saw the a rush of youth-led activism in America, focusing a variety of issues including social justice, school improvement, and so-called “youth liberation”. The issues were highlighted through a variety of actions, including protest marches, rallies, and teach-ins, with riots, arrests, and curfews as regular results. Analyses within various efforts identified corporatization, militarism, and elitism as the forces to fight against.

Unfortunately, many people today- including youth and adults- bemoan the lack of those specific actions in these dangerous times. Many well-meaning liberal activists collectively yearn for the action embodied “back in the day.” However, after leading The Freechild Project for five years, I have consistently found that while youth activists share analyses with the past, the actions of youth organizations are more sophisticated than ever before – and that’s a good thing. A new report from the Movement Strategy Center calledBringing It Together: Uniting Youth Organizing, Development and Services for Long-Term Sustainability gives ample evidence that youth activism has “grown up” – and beyond a hunch, they show exactly why that is right and good for young people and communities today.

Similar to their popular youth co-created report Making Spaces-Making Change, [read a review here] in Bringing It Together the Movement Strategy Center spotlights six organizational case studies from youth-led and youth-driven organizations on the West Coast. As the subtitle of the report states, there are many correlations between youth organizing, youth development, and youth services. Throughout this piece the authors show how a growing number of organizations are intentionally uniting those approaches to provide a more holistic, supportive, and sustainable model of social change “as part of a very long-term vision for social justice movement building and healthy living.” If only more youth-serving organizations were so intentional.

The organizations featured here work in diverse communities, including Latino/a migrants, African American teens, an American Indian reservation, inner city communities, and LBGTQ youth. The issues are just as disparate: cultural awareness, women’s empowerment, education reform, voter registration, immigrant rights, and a bevy of other topics. That is what makes the authors’ findings about the common approaches to innovation between these groups that much more startling: the threads weave together to create a strong, empowering, and sustainable course of action. More importantly, they form a brilliantly effective strategy for social change on multiple fronts, including community organizing and cultural awareness, youth development and community services.

Throughout the report, the depth of analysis and possibility for field movement becomes startlingly clear. By clearly delineating each program’s history, goals, approaches, structure, partnerships, and progress, the authors continually move beyond the current rhetoric and postulating popular among numerous youth organizing intermediaries. Their observations and recommendations succeed in creating a vibrantly accessible and teachable framework for an integrated approach to youth action.

Through very approachable writing and research methods, the authors call the failure of many youth-serving organizations to put their work into a larger context to task in a very subtle way. As Paulo Freire often wrote, there is nothing neutral about our presence in the world, and before we can begin to change the world, we have to name it and critically understand it. Youth workers reading this report may find the authors’ explanation of the “Resource Power Triangle” particularly effective way of transforming their regular approaches into non-traditional action.

Getting back to the history: within 20 years, by the late 1970s, many observers and former participants from said that the American “youth movement” was dead. The American Indian Movement and the Black Panthers had been brutally suppressed; Students for a Democratic Society and Weather Underground imploded; Youth Liberation morphed, hippies became yuppies, and the rest is history.

Or is it? Since the late 1980s and early 90s the new movement has been growing. Today’s activists are standing on the shoulders of giants, yet creating space for themselves as well. The authors of this report note that “we are living at the end of the era of the New Deal.” George Bush’s so-called “ownership society,” paralleled by the increasing promotion of the importance of “social entrepreneurship,” is tearing apart the historical fabric of public responsibility in the US. This study shares scholar Henry Giroux’s analysis of the effects of neoliberalism on low-income youth and young people of color, as schools close, prisons swell, health programs end, and public programs become privatized.

The Movement Strategy Center’s new report illustrates- without a doubt- that youth-led community organizing is responsive, effective, wide-ranging, sophisticated, and powerful. This document is a vital contribution to further understanding, growth and hope for the future of our communities.

 

Title: Bringing It Together: Uniting Youth Organizing, Development and Services for Long-Term Sustainability

Authors: K. Zimmerman, M. Chow and T. James

Publisher: Movement Strategy Center

My Review of “Making Space – Making Change”

Making Space – Making Change: Profiles of Youth-Led and Youth-Driven Organizations was written by the Young Wisdom Project of the Movement Strategy Center. This is my review for The Freechild Project.

 

Responding to a crisis is not easy work. People who spend day in and out working for the good of other people are often taxed to the extremes: selflessness and empathy override their commitment to themselves. That is why it is so rare to capture a succinct yet powerful overview of youth activism today: democracy is in crisis mode, and those who are struggling for its life are being pushed to the extremes. That is why this is the most important document focusing on young people and social change to come out in recent times.

This new publication from the Movement Strategy Center in Oakland profiles five youth-led and youth-driven organizations from across the U.S. It provides insightful details on how these organizations started, how they build youth leadership and power, deal with challenges, and how they make real change in their communities. For readers of Paulo Freire, bell hooks, Peter McLaren, and other critical educators, there are many familiar points- but with an important focus on social change led by young people. Early in the introduction to youth-led action, the authors state,

 “Instead of approaching the question of youth-led organizations as an either/or situation, it’s helpful to think about youth leadership and governance as a continuum with a spectrum of possibilities – something that can develop and change over time.” (p 15)

This echoes bell hooks recent book, Teaching for Community: A Pedagogy of Hope, where hooks extols readers to look beyond either/or and towards with/and. The authors of this report provide an important bridge to many critical thinkers, applying much-needed theory to the powerful, practical work of youth activists.

Rather than simply providing another toolkit, this report allows the details to tell the stories. The feature on the Lummi CEDAR Project, as all of the stories, paints a vivid portrait of a community responding to the dilemma of keeping cultural pride and community alive by engaging youth. This project highlights the power of belonging and identity, a trait that consumerist culture increasingly denies to many young people. As in other stories, the report is frank about the challenges facing the CEDAR Project: Creating a youth-led structure for an indigenous context; adapting organizational development models; and creating a culturally relevant youth organizing model in a rural Native community.

However, the summaries are always hopeful – realistic, for sure – but hopeful. As one of the youth directors said,

“It’s really awesome to me because our community is a small tribal community, and we have eighty young people trained now. So we have a broad network living a healthy lifestyle, caring about their community, inspired, motivated, and have this drive to make a positive change in their community. And that impacts their family… We’re just building a collective movement…” (p 41)

Making Space – Making Change is an important tool for young people and adults allies who are ready to put their principles into practice. It is a more important tool in the growing library of publications that support young people leading social change. Important analysis, detailed findings, and powerful personal connections can only promote a stronger, more effective future for social change led by and with young people. Thank you to the Young Wisdom Project – we’re all moving forward because of your work.

 

 

Title: Making Space – Making Change: Profiles of Youth-Led and Youth-Driven Organizations

Author: Young Wisdom Project of the Movement Strategy Center