Review by Adam Fletcher
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
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 called Bringing 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
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
Authors: K. Zimmerman, M.
Chow and T. James
Movement Strategy Center
Download it free as a PDF from at