Supporting the Next Generation of Activists

Most people engaged in progressive politics despair at the difficulty of convincing Joe Average to get involved, to take action against oppression. We all seem to want the same things...income and wealth equality, racial equality, women’s rights, fair and decent pay, safe cities and communities, a healthy planet...the list goes on and on. Getting people on board with the message should be easy because, even if our lists are in different orders of importance, we know that the bottom line is human rights, peace, and respect.

We are hampered in our fight because so many have become so desperate and enraged. The channels of disinformation are so overpowering that they honestly don’t know whom to believe. So, these people—our friends, neighbors, community members, colleagues—choose to vote for politicians who are enacting legislation that will have negative impacts on their lives. Or they’re not voting, claiming that all politicians are the same.

We see this happen, and as activists, we are frustrated. We keep having to fight for the same issues. We gain ground on one hand and lose it on the other. We despair because we are unable to get people to fight for their own rights. Their sense of powerlessness holds us all back and is dooming us to more of the same.

To help build the next generation of activists, we are going to need to empower our young people to believe in the importance of change, and to make it happen. Empowering young people to reach for that change has to start early, and starts with education.  For example, there is "growing evidence that character traits such as resilience, persistence, optimism and courage actively contribute to improved academic grades." Those very same attributes are also the ones we need to develop in our country’s children. We cannot let the next generation feel powerless under the weight of the inequality inherent in a system where the rich use their wealth and power to undermine the rights of those less privileged, as this generation does.

The research in education suggests that we might need to make some important changes in how we raise our children in order to have young people develop into strong, resilient and creative thinkers and doers. 

For example, more than a third of US households use some form of corporal punishment in raising their children. After a megastudy of the effects of spanking, researcher Elizabeth Gershoff has concluded that studies about parental violence against children—spanking or hitting for punishment purposes—continue to find that overall "spanking predicts negative behavior changes—there are no studies showing that kids improve” the behaviors that the punishment is attempting to improve or resolve.

So, although it may feel counterintuitive, raising a country of empowered children may mean that we must be encouraging parents to relinquish older ideas about childrearing for newer ones. To develop a joyful, safe environment, parents and children must be respectful of each other, and listen. While it is true that our penchant for "doing as we were done to" has gotten us this far in our struggle to survive as a species, it may have damaged our ability to think creatively and constructively, as we need the next generation to be able to do.

These flaws in our ability to think well have led us to costly wars in which millions have died; squandering of needed resources; and possibly terminal damage to the planet which is, and will be for the foreseeable future, our only home, schemes for the colonization of Mars to the contrary. This next generation has to be the one to see us through. They will need every bit of creativity, strength, and perseverance to undo these frustrating and crippling wrongs.

How can we stop corporal punishment in the home? It’s going to be an uphill battle, but it is a battle that has been won in a growing number of nations. In 43 countries, there are bans against spanking children.

Many of us were raised by people who loved us, but whose thinking had been damaged by their own childhood experiences. We were hit when we made what our parents thought were mistakes, when we did in exploration, things they thought were dangerous to ourselves or their property. But we can recognize from a different perspective how this treatment of children denigrates their childish thinking and humiliates them for their mistakes. In a society that is going to need our children to be creative, self-confident and resilient, we need to raise them to recognize that mistakes are part of learning, and that innovation comes from doing and redoing, working and reworking, and a lot of perseverance.

In our work to bring community members on board, and to join together to fight the obvious injustice laws and bills being pursued by our government, the time has come to fight disrespect with respect. We need to treat each child with the respect we would expect from other adults and stop the cycle of systematic mistreatment, including corporal punishment and verbal humiliation, that has rendered many of us unable to act rationally in all situations.

Imagine, for a moment, how you would respond to a boss who didn’t explain what he wanted, but hit you until you provided the results he wanted. It is a strong possibility that this hitting and humiliation that has almost universally been visited upon our young Americans disempowers them, just as it has robbed so many of our community members in our generation of the sense that we are entitled to have our basic needs met.

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  • David Collins
    published this page in Issues 2017-08-05 15:27:00 -0500