Youth Rights on the March

Its difficult to build a movement, and even harder when you are young. Last month after 7 years of aspiring to build a nonprofit and struggling once my board of directors received 501c3 status from the IRS, I folded CommonAction. I earned a few grants, got a few contracts, but there simply was not enough support to warrant the full-time operation of The Freechild Project and SoundOut.

So its with a great sense of awe and pride that I share the story of my friend and hero, Alex Koroknay-Palicz. Yesterday the Washington Post featured Alex in a spread called “Age Is Just a Number: Youth Rights Advocate Tries to Break Down Barriers to Adulthood”. Its a nice piece that centers on Alex’s activism, and should help bring awareness to the National Youth Rights Association, and the youth rights movement as a whole. Congrats Alex!

Here’s where you can read the article. You can also talk about it on NYRA’s forum, read the history of NYRA on Freechild, and learn about the youth rights movement in the U.S. from an article I wrote on Wikipedia. Oh, and for the fun of it, here’s Alex’s blog – he’s all over the place in a great way – and an interview my SoundOut advisor Adam King did with Alex in 2005.

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

"New Entrants" in New Zealand

Thanks to Tony Ward for putting me onto this story:

Today Te Ururoa Flavell, a Maori Party Treaty spokesman in New Zealand, released a powerful analysis of a bill there. The Minimum Wage (Abolition of Age Discrimination) Amendment Bill took many deliberate measures designed to eliminate the legal standards in effect in N.Z. that allow for youth – 16 & 17-year-olds – to be legally discriminated against in employment practices. No one in the Western world has to imagine that kind of discrimination – we all either live or have lived through that. What I want to imagine is a national government law specifically designed to combat youth discrimination! I am astonished.

The law specifically addressed rangatahi, or young people ages 15 to 24. In his analysis Mr. Flavell called for the active acknowledgment of the basic human rights of youth as laid out in the country’s Human Rights Act of 1993.

  • The right to freedom from discrimination.
  • The right to benefit from the anti-age discrimination provisions set out in the New Zealand Bill of Rights.
  • The right to enjoy freedom of discrimination as the most fundamental freedom.
  • Freedom from elitism, sexism, religious intolerance, racism, ageism.
  • Freedom from discrimination against beliefs, against cultural values.
  • Freedom from discrimination as manifest in slavery, in racial profiling, in hate crimes, in ethnic cleansing.

Wow! If it isn’t enough to have a major political party spokesperson standing up on behalf of basic human rights for young people, Flavell goes further and says,

The original Bill convinced us that the discrimination that was being liberally experienced by young New Zealanders would stop… And so we voted to end age discrimination; to end ‘adultism’ – the predisposition towards adults which is seen in the ugly combination of prejudice married with power.

Wait, let me read that again! A major national party spokesman in an influential first world country just used the word ADULTISM. OMG!!! So not to get stupid, but I’m excited and bummed. Excited that this movement is truly global – which I knew in some respects and doubted in others – and bummed that this law seems destined for the gutters. An opposition party reworded the entire thing and changed the name. Flavell explains,

…[S]uddenly the… Bill became renamed. Discrimination was deleted. Abolition was abolished. A new vocabulary was created, introducing the new entrant to the workforce. Or as my colleague Hone Harawira called – it’s just another name for the Young Slave Bill. The select committee recommended that… young worker[s] after he or she turns 16 they will be paid at a “new entrant” rate.

This is a new term, as Darian Fenton explained during the committee stage, and I quote: “It is quite a strange term, particularly as it is used to describe school-children who are entering school for the first time.” A strange term – and a misleading term to make discrimination acceptable, the ongoing discrimination that these new entrants will be paid a lesser rate than even the minimum wage of adults.

It is a term of pretence – because it is not actually to describe NEW entrants to the workforce. Not a 50 year old new entrant; not a 30 year old new entrant; just 16 and 17 years old will be entitled to this measure of divide and rule.

During a testimony on behalf of the original bill, the New Zealand Human Rights Commission bill’s committee that:

  • The youth minimum wage has a significant impact on the earnings of young workers;
  • It perpetuates stereotypes about their capabilities and that they are worth less because they are young;
  • Paying 16 and 17-year-olds less than other workers breaches fundamental principles of fairness and equity.

Flavell goes on to say, “[Y]ou see, it is about fairness, justice, decent wages for decent work.” In breaking down the argument to that simple point, Flavell gets past the red herring of youth rights: This is not about youth advocating for the sake of youth. Instead, it is about citizens advocating for a healthy society.

Flavell’s Maori Party has vowed to fight against this “New Entrant” bill, and for the rights of youth. I stand with you Mr. Flavell, along with thousands of people worldwide who are working for “fairness, justice, decent wages for decent work” for all people – including children and youth. Thanks for taking my energy to a new level.

You can read Mr. Flavell’s speech here. Thanks again to Tony Ward for sending that over.

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

Two Magazine, Two Perspectives

I can be a junk reader at times. Oh sure, I toss around novels by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jose Saramago like they’re constantly in my hands (because they usually are), and I subscribe to more than one research database for a reason. But sometimes when I’m sitting around the house I crack open my latest edition of Fast Company or Wired magazines. This month the two magazines present two perspectives of young people today.

The first features “Teen Pleads Guilty in Rare Theater Filming Case” as the blaring title of an article posted August 21st to Wired magazine’s website. The story tells how a teen was arrested last month for filming 20 seconds of Transformers in a Virginia theater, and how he has pleaded guilty to one count of unlawfully recording a motion picture in violation of state law. This 19-year-old is a college sophomore, and was arrested in Annandale, Virginia, a well-off suburb of Washington, D.C.

As the Motion Picture Academy of America continues its assault on new media and tries to avoid its death vis-a-vis the Recording Industry Association of America, it shows just how theaters target young people. Recent studies have shown the profile of the average movie pirate to be a 21-24 year-old male; yet the target of this bust was a 17-year-old female. While it appears to show an anomaly, this actually reiterates the assertions of many young people who regularly report that they are targeted by movie theaters, stores, and other businesses for their age. It also supports research that shows how laws are disproportionately enforced against youth.

The second article is simply titled “Girl Power“. Its the story of Ashley Qualls, a 17-year-old in Detroit whose young woman-focused website is making millions of dollars from advertising. It talks about the stupification of a marketer named Ian Moray, and his complete dumbfoundedness after discovering one of his leading sales websites was run by a youth. “I assumed she was a seasoned Internet professional. She knows so much about what her site does, more than people three times her age.” Its a redeeming story for these Internet-based times, and shows the particular power of programs like Generation YES, where students learn the ins-and-outs of technology by teaching it to other people. The article relates this story to the New Yorker cartoon on the below; its sad, but the only analogy that came to a seasoned jounalist was to relate Ashley to a dog.

Other interesting age-focused notes for the day:

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

Dr. King & the Struggle

About once a year I stumble across a reason to go to Washington, D.C. A few years ago I spoke at the national Children’s Defense Fund conference; last year I was “on assignment” profiling a youth program ran by a friend in town. This year I’m attending an national “invitation-only” summit called “Blazing the Trail: A New Direction for Youth Development & Leadership“. I am most looking forward to hearing Karen Pittman talk about the state of youth leadership and youth development today, primarily because she wrote about this work ten years ago – I want to hear her still sound fresh about it.

Every time I visit this city, I like to sit on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and ponder, imagine and daydream about what has happened there, and what could yet come forward. I think about Marian Anderson and Abe and the Million Man March and Forrest Gump (yes, Forrest Gump). But mostly I wonder about Dr. King. Here’s a quote of his that stays in my head:

“Now, I say to you today my friends, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: – ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all mean are created equal.'”

That is it – the stuff of greatness right there. It was not enough to call the individual out, like Bull Conor, and simply say, “You can change!” It wasn’t enough to challenge a congregation and say, “You can transform!” Not a city or a state, either – but the nation – Dr. King took on the nation. Whenever I dwell on King, I am immediately taken to a stronger thought and a deeper place within myself, and I feel like I understand a little more than I did before. I guess I should dwell on King a little more for that reason.

One of the stated outcomes of the “Blazing the Trail” summit is “Increased youth-guided policy making at the Federal, state and local levels”. That reminds me of another King-ism:

“A right delayed is a right denied.”

That’s it – that is it. That is why I dwell on Dr. King. His words offer guidance and direction in today’s troubled times and for today’s modern youth movement. Thanks, Dr. King – I only hope we can possibly live up to the dream.

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