Not All Youth Are Inactive

I just finished reading an AlterNet article by Bruce E. Levine entitled “8 Reasons Young Americans Don’t Fight Back: How the US Crushed Youth Resistance.” The 8 reasons are:

“1. Student-Loan Debt … a pacifying force
2. Psychopathologizing and Medicating Noncompliance
3. Schools that Educate for Compliance and Not for Democracy
4. ‘No Child Left Behind’ & ‘Race to the Top’… standardized-testing tyranny that creates fear
5. Shaming Young People Who Take Education – But Not Their Schooling – Seriously
6. The Normalization of Surveillance
7. Television
8. Fundamentalist Religion and Fundamentalist Consumerism.”

I don’t have the space to summarize Levine’s reasoning, but I suspect almost all of my readers can glean what he’s talking about from the titles. And I suspect that like me they will find his points well taken. However, I see an important ninth reason the author did not list. I also think Bruce Levine should have qualified his claim, and, finally, that this passivity should be placed within a larger social context.

I’ll address the last point, first: One might think that the article claims that youth in our country are less active than older adults. I know from reading other things Bruce Levine has written that the author does not believe this, but he doesn’t make this clear. Levine points out that while young people are generally the most active segment in many societies that is not the case in the United States today, but he doesn’t acknowledge that American youth are simply falling in step with social compliance in general.

Second: I think the author should have inserted the word “many” or “most” as the third word in his title. Perhaps my unique position at the Rosenberg Fund for Children gives me a skewed picture because I hear stories of courageous youth action constantly. I am not in position, and neither is anyone else I know, to measure the percentage of young people who seek to engage and change the world, but there are plenty of them out there. From Tim DeChristopher, whose heroic act of civil disobedience when he was 27-years-old saved 130,000 acres of public land from being despoiled by fossil fuel companies, to other young environmental and animal rights activists. From the thousands of students at the University of Puerto Rico who took over their campus for two months at the turn of the year to resist a massive fee increase, to the growing number of young undocumented activists who have spoken up for their human rights. Just read any of our newsletters describing grants to targeted young activists and you’ll learn about many more.

But tremendous forces are arrayed against this growing resistance. Reports in the The Nuclear Resister show that arrests at protests are increasing each year. Over 2600 people have been arrested in the United States at demonstrations since Obama took office: 665 in 2009, 1290 in 2010, and a total that likely will top 1600 this year. These statistics illuminate the missing ninth reason - a repressive counter-attack that seeks to pacify both young and old.

The prosecution in Tim DeChristopher's case, (which ended with the young activist being sent to prison for two years), recommended a harsh sentence that would act as a deterrent to others. The escalating jail terms handed out to young and old for symbolic civil disobedience at the annual School of the America’s demonstration also attests to this trend. The young environmentalist defendants in the “Green Scare” cases, and animal rights activists, have been given multi-year and even multi-decade “terror-enhanced” sentences for the “crime” of organizing, and for engaging in property damage offenses. The University of Puerto Rico students were gassed, beaten, placed in choke holds and sexually assaulted for their peaceful protests. And undocumented youth who speak up are experiencing an avalanche of physical intimidation and hate mail, plus the threat of deportation to lands they left as infants.

My point is not to criticize Bruce Levine’s article. It is a good piece that provides a service by helping us all to understand the reasons behind many young people’s acquiescence, and I believe his goal in disseminating this information is to overcome that inaction. My objective is to supplement what he wrote, as well as to reiterate what I’ve written elsewhere. Rather than bemoan the inactivity of the current generation lets get behind ALL who are active, both young and old.

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Great post, Robby. I thought the same thing when I read Levine's article.
Dan C.

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