April 19, 2012

Mainstream

Filed under: Check It Out,Teh Interwebs,Youth Rights — Katrina @ 3:17 pm

I make a point occasionally to read back through not only my own writings on youth rights, but those of others, even ones that are years old now. The study and recollections are needed sometimes to feed the ever-present thoughts and considerations of the issue.

A little while ago, I reread Alex Koroknay-Palicz’s “The delay between the inarguable and the acted-upon”, about a professor who seemed to agree with all the reasoning behind lowering the voting age yet wouldn’t explicitly come out and say he believed the voting age should be lowered. Why? Because it felt like such a fringe view to take, and nobody wants to be the lone supporter of a fringe issue.

In other words, something we youth rights people hear all too often!

Alex goes on to suggest the solution is to have more high-profile people voicing support for our issues and organization, as well as making what positive changes for youth rights we can already. I agree with the second part wholeheartedly, since making real changes to ageist policies is a pretty clear “yes, we’re serious about this, and, yes, this is in fact realistic” sign.

But I wonder about that need of having more “important” people voicing support of our issues and making sure people know about this. I mean, it’s a good idea, sure. The trouble is that it implies that the support of someone who isn’t a journalist or professor or politician or whatever has little or no value. Also troubling considering you don’t generally find people who anyone would consider youth fitting into those categories. He says that average youth rights supporters are seen as “eccentric and Aspergerish”, obviously ableist language (originally said in the aforementioned professor’s piece), and trivializing to the support of those who don’t have some “important” career, or those who aren’t yet old enough to be allowed to.

I’m not saying this to pick on Alex, and he didn’t really do anything wrong here. And even so that piece is from three years ago! I’m saying that when we’re looking to make youth rights more mainstream, in whatever way, it can be so easy to sell ourselves short, to see ourselves as inadequate and in need of some more prestigious or more popular power to validate us. I’ve seen many examples of it. And it’s sad.

Most common (to step away from Alex’s piece for the moment) is the urge to water down what we’re about in order to seem more pleasing or less threatening to the general public. Gibson Katz has said a number of times he found some of the deeper or more controversial discussions on the forums troubling, that we need to be more mainstream while all that makes us seem out of touch. Now and then people find something troubling in our positions, official or implied, and advise us to drop it because it’s controversial. The idea is that if we take more “moderate” (I fucking hate that word in a youth rights context, but that’s a gripe for another time!) stances, we’ll become more mainstream. That we should keep quiet about the more “radical” (see previous parentheses) stuff.

Now that I think about it… that’s probably the absolute worst thing we could do! In general and for making our cause more mainstream.

Remember the famous Chris Rock bit about Robitussin? He claims that, as a child, Robitussin was the only medical care they could afford and they used it for everything. And that his dad would say that, when you’re out of Robitussin, put some water in the bottle, shake it up, more Robitussin!

Cute, but the reality is, you don’t actually have more Robitussin when you do that. You just have a medicine bottle full of water with maybe a few drops of Robitussin. Negligible drops. What little Robitussin may have remained is rendered useless because it’s so watered down. It’s really not Robitussin anymore. And it’s not something the makers of Robitussin would want to sell as medicine, since saying it’s just like water isn’t the best selling point! At that point, it’s not good as water or as cold medicine!

What does this have to do with youth rights? When we water down what we’re actually about, people can get mixed up as to, well, what it is we actually believe. Not to mention that everyone has different ideas as to what should or shouldn’t be “removed” for being “too controversial”. Because every bit of it is the important bit to someone, it all should stay.

That’s not to say there aren’t times when a “less-threatening” approach needs to be taken, but pretty much the only such time is when working on specific legislation. For example, with curfews, of course, we believe everyone should be free to move around at any time of day, that it’s not up to government or parents to restrict this, but if there’s a curfew proposal, that’s when you tell the lawmakers just about anything they want to hear if it means knocking that thing down, even if having to use the wretch-inducing “it’s a parent’s decision if the child is out, not the government’s”. Again, only then is that line appropriate, as it’s for purposes of real policy change, and there’s supposed to be an understanding among youth rights activists that we don’t actually mean that when we say it. Any other times, such as writing essays or making videos or debating or anything else that serves more as promoting the youth rights viewpoint, it’s of course not acceptable, and to include it is to water down our issue in a context whose whole point is educating about it, so it’s counterproductive!

And I’ve explained why I say a specific number for #16tovote on the 16th here. It’s more a tricky strategy. 😉

When there’s a desire to hide “controversial” aspects of our philosophy, often there’s necessarily also a certain amount of uncertainty in being a proponent of that philosophy. It’s not to be unexpected, since being a youth rights supporter can be a lonely thing when you are the only one you know. But the solution to that is to spread the philosophy, fundamentals and all. You can’t very well spread a philosophy you are unsure or ashamed of, because it’ll show, and it’ll really show when you water it down. Why take you seriously?

There is something to be said for playing to your audience, but that’s not the same thing. That’s not diluting your message to be more pleasing, but simply focusing on the parts that are more likely to resonate with a given audience.

The right way to go is be comfortable enough with it that you can easily explain why this viewpoint is right, how you came to this conclusion, and any other information to back it up. The right explanations can make the seemingly craziest ideas reasonable and easier to swallow.

What does this have to do with what I started with, with Alex and his piece on the not-quite-a-youth-suffrage-supporter professor? Well, the professor doesn’t want to out and admit he supports lowering the voting age because he feels (felt? again, that piece is three years old, no idea what that guy is thinking now) he’s alone. And there are many more like that we have yet to bring into our midst. But if those of us who are supporters keep watering down or hiding what we believe, hoping this will bring more people into the philosophy (something that, in the eight years I’ve been with NYRA, I have yet to see any strong proof of its effectiveness), we’ll never find other supporters because we won’t recognize each other!

If we want to be more mainstream, and keeping our message as intact as possible in the process, we need to simply BE youth rights supporters, in whatever way we truly are (which is different from person to person, so that takes care of any concerns of ideological purity). It doesn’t matter what our professions are. While it’s always nice to have college professors or pediatricians or whoever as supporters, your support is valuable and extremely important no matter who you are or what you do. Because, after all, people with “important” occupations or positions are still people, and people don’t want to express views that it seems nobody supports. If it’s more clear that there are a lot more supporters to this viewpoint than one thinks, that they are not alone, then who cares how eccentric you may seem? And that delay between inarguable and acted-upon will be a whole hell of a lot shorter.

2 Comments

  1. I wholeheartedly disagree. The purpose of NYRA is to accomplish change. If we stay at the supposed “fringe” then we will have less of an ability to accomplish such a goal then if we were to enter the mainstream. The question is–would you rather hold on to your stance so strongly that you are willing to sacrifice change? Lets say we stay at the fringe and accomplish only a few minor changes. But if we enter the mainstream, we will be able to accomplish more. I think that we draw a fine line between ideology and actual results. If you want NYRA to be a place where you can voice your fringe beliefs rather than accomplish meaningful change while limiting some of your opinions, then NYRA should not be your vehicle.

    Comment by anonymous — June 24, 2012 @ 8:35 am

  2. I wasn’t talking about NYRA. I was talking about the movement as a whole.

    And your comment there is claiming I said things that I didn’t, so I’m not sure what you disagree with. Particularly since I mentioned a couple of times that when making actual change, sticking to the issue is justified. I don’t think you read the post. I think you might have skimmed it, assumed I’m one of them “evil radicals” trying to destroy the org, and felt you had to “correct” me. I appreciate your desire to protect NYRA but I assure you, I want to protect it too and I fully understand what the org is and isn’t for.

    Comment by Katrina — June 25, 2012 @ 8:43 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed. Go away.

Powered by WordPress