Youth and Social Movements: Key Lessons for Allies

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Young people are often key actors in powerful social movements that transform the course of human history. Indeed, youth have been deeply important to every progressive social movement, including the United States Civil Rights movement, the transnational LGBTQ movement, successive waves of feminism, environmentalism and environmental justice, the labor, antiwar, and immigrant rights movements, and more. In each of these cases, young people took part in many ways, including through the appropriation of the “new media” tools of their time, which they used to create, circulate, and amplify movement voices and stories. Yet today, youth are often framed in the mass media as, at best, apathetic, disengaged, and removed from civic action. At worst, youth (in the U.S., particularly youth of color) are subject to growing repression: increased surveillance, heightened policing, stop-and-frisk policies on the streets, overbroad gang injunctions, and spiraling rates of juvenile incarceration. In this short article, I argue that we have much to learn from young people who are already engaged in mobilizing their peers, families, and communities towards positive social transformation. I discuss key challenges, and provide recommendations for educators and adult allies of youth movements.


Sasha Costanza-Chock

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