Youth In Action

by Harry on March 8, 2018

I doubt I’m the only one here with a kid planning to join the school protests/walkout next week. As far as I am aware, locally it seems to have been put together largely by the schoolkids themselves, coordinating across the 4 comprehensive high schools in the district. Maybe its different in your city or town. Anyway, my friend Meira Levinson has helped put together a great resource for young people planning to take or considering taking their first political action (and there’ll be a lot of them in the next week or so). Here it is, please share it with your children or with your friends who have children. Meira’s description is below the fold:

YouthInFront is a community-created online learning resource. We started by interviewing and surveying youth about their questions, and then sourced questions from adult allies and educators as well. We believed the best people to answer those questions are experienced youth activists and allies. During an 18 day sprint from Feb 13 to March 7, we interviewed nearly 30 youth activists and educators, reviewed youth-produced and youth-focused resources from around the web, and benefitted from the generous contributions of media producers, civic educators, youth activists and organizers, software engineers, and many others.

The YouthInFront community is made up of individuals with diverse array of beliefs about public policy, the tactics and strategy of protest, and how adults can best and most appropriately support students. What we all agree on, though, is that youth-led civic activism can transform society for the better. Young people are powerful civic actors, and during their apprenticeship of citizenship, their voices deserve to be heard. The youth in our community are leaders; the adults in our community are supporting them as they march up front.

YouthInFront was kicked off by three longtime civic educators: Justin Reich from MIT, Doug Pietrzak from Fresh Cognate, and Meira Levinson from the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE). Yes, this means that YouthInFront site was planned and organized by adults – but we hope that we have used the wealth of resources at our disposal to provide a model of how adults can support youth who are leading the way. We quickly had nearly 100 volunteers from Cambridge, Boston, and across the country, and we gratefully acknowledge their many contributions.

YouthInFront is supported by a wide variety of organizations, led by the Harvard Graduate School of Education Usable Knowledge project, the MIT Teaching Systems Lab, Fresh Cognate, Justice in Schools, and the HGSE Teaching and Learning Lab. A wide variety of other organizations sent resources, offered suggestions, and shared our site within their networks. We gratefully acknowledge these informal partners below.

The majority of project resources were generously provided by volunteers; we also gratefully acknowledge financial support from the HGSE Dean’s Office and Dean James Ryan.



Scott Paterson 03.08.18 at 4:12 am

Thanks Harry,
What a cornucopia of useful information. And how fun to support the youth in front as they do what we did when we were young. The people I protested against the war in Vietnam with when I was sixteen are still my friends.


Phil 03.08.18 at 11:47 am

Maybe its different in your city or town.

…or continent…

<GrumpyOldMan OFF>


harry b 03.08.18 at 12:47 pm

To misquote the 9th doctor, ‘other continents have cities and towns’…..


Eric 03.08.18 at 5:36 pm

Thanks for this! I’m a high school teacher with many students planning or mulling walkouts, and they’ve been asking a bunch of those questions more or less verbatim.


ph 03.08.18 at 11:15 pm

I’m in favor of protests. However, if the students are behind the protest I’m not at all clear why the adults at America’s elite institutions are getting all the above the fold press. At the web site I see a clear line of progress that students ‘may choose to follow’ towards legislative change that looks exactly like a flow chart in any teacher-designed text book. As in “here’s how it’s supposed to work!”

I’m not at all in favor of adults exploiting impressionable young people to join in national events of any kind that are not purely charitable e.g. raising money for the homeless, or UNICEF.

Adults (family members) should provide case by case guidance for concerned young people. At best, teachers and principals should be talking among themselves about policy responses regarding absences. One university I teach has an activist department that takes an explicitly anti-democratic approach to student participation is ‘voluntary’ events. Teachers are ‘encouraged’ to discuss the issues with young people in order to ensure students ‘choose’ to attend.

I was one of several students expelled from my own high school for organizing non-compliance during the previous century. Real protest often comes at a price. Let the young people make up their own minds. The guide constructed by adults reads to me like: “Protest Mass Information Control – Joins us on Facebook for a Day of Change!”

Frankly, I felt ill immediately upon reading that Harvard and Princeton would by ‘leading’ anything to do with any ‘protest.’

Because ‘when it comes to protests an Ivy league pedigree matters!’


John Quiggin 03.08.18 at 11:29 pm

@3 FTW!


Harry 03.09.18 at 1:02 am


I was involved organizing protests and demonstrations from the age of 16 — I’ve not done much of it since my 30s, but I have, since, regularly, talk with young people who are organizing, giving advice and support as requested. When I was a teenager I worked with adults, in an almost-entirely-adult environment, in which I was never patronized, but nevertheless was taught a great deal. The thing about being young is that you don’t have a lot of experience, or know a lot. Having resources available, in the form of something like what that team have put together, is invaluable, wherever they come from. I don’t know about you, but as a 16 year old it would never have occurred to me that such a resource was anything other than a resource. I would not have thought for a minute that was “the way it was supposed to work”. I organized protests which exposed people to danger, and was not very clued-up about how to handle that, and would have been hopeless had I not had adults to advise me.

Of course, I think kids should suffer consequences, and I would be (and have been) pissed off with a teacher trying to guide my kid to join a protest. And I would never do that myself; and the advice and support I have given students has not depended on me agreeing with their cause, and I don’t think it should.

That said, the way I got into political activism was via the deputy head of my secondary school, an elderly Welshman from the valleys, passing my phone number to the leader of a local activist leader (at her request), and I still remember and value the kindness and quiet support he gave to me at that age, and try to emulate him. [I recently told my dad, who was, at the time, superintendent of the school district, about this, and he was shocked because he always had him down as Tory).

As for pedigree — well, if anyone else had sent me a similar resource I’d have passed it on. I, aged 16, wasn’t and the young activists I know or have known aren’t, impressed with pedigree. At least, not this kind (some of my fellow activists had been involved in anti-fascist battles in the 30’s, the peace movement in the late 50’s, the anti-war movement in the 60’s, the union movement throughout — all that impressed me).


nastywoman 03.09.18 at 1:17 am

”I’m not at all in favor of adults exploiting impressionable young people to join in national events of any kind that are not purely charitable…”

Well – Well – I’m totally in favor of even the youngest of our adults -(especially if their even younger sisters and brother have been shot) to put an end to the … shall we call it ”US killings – tolerated by some… let’s call them NOT ”adults” as it looks like that even if they pretend to be ‘adults’ -(like the ”infantile current US President”)
WE -(the ‘real adults’ even being just 14) HAVE TO TAKE OVER!

Right – Old Dudes??!!


Chet Murthy 03.09.18 at 5:28 am

I’ll echo Harry, but in a different way.

In 1995 I worked on a project at my employer that was ostensibly quite radical. In the process of working on it, we realized that in fact, there ought to be people at my employer, who knew critically important stuff that could be really valuable to us … *cold*. I mean, like they’d be reciting from a textbook. We used to ask “Where’s the A team, b/c we sure ain’t that”. And my friend Sean would say “there is no A team, we’re all there is”. He was right and wrong. There were lots of folks who knew stuff, who could have advised us. They either didn’t give a damn, were too lazy to get off their asses, or had political axes to grind. So we were on our own. And it cost all of us, b/c we had to learn lots of things the hard way. I try to not let that happen in the next generation, by offering mentoring where I can. B/c shit, it *sucked* having to figure it all out from scratch. I *hated* that.

It is *admirable* when people who’ve been around the block, step up to give advice, while not taking control. Yeah, the kids will still make mistakes. But they’ll a damn sight fewer, and they’ll understand the implications a lot better. It’s *admirable*. Whether in social activism, or high-tech engineering. Or anything else. Any field where experience counts.


ph 03.09.18 at 9:21 am

I suppose the argument can be made that had the Democrats had the guts, or not been too lazy to get off their asses, or….we wouldn’t be expecting children to do the jobs adults avoid.

Students should be engaged, but the responsibility for, you know – voting and advancing political agendas SHOULD NOT be dumped on youth because adults find calling people names and raving about SPACE ALIENS HACKED MY ELECTION more gratifying than pushing for tariffs.

While MSNBC et al were losing their minds over Trump tweets and the NRA as ‘the real culprits’ – Trump carved out a nice chunk of the Democratic base, at least for now.

When the head of the Steel Workers union is praising Wilbur Ross and Donal Trump for doing what Democrats failed to do, that’s more indicative of the real state of affairs.

The fact that Harvard and Princeton are playing any kind of role AT ALL in high school protests speaks to the abject state of the American left – Harry and I both grew up at a time when community wasn’t something one looked up in the yellow pages, or online. His points are very well made.

Canadian socialism was built in large part by coalitions that could not survive the identity-politics purity tests that have destroyed the ability of workers to organize effectively. No doubt, elites understand very well how to divide the left, but that doesn’t mean the ‘left’ needs to allow a rodeo-clown to lead them around by the nose – simply by tweeting at 3:00 am. Cause that’s what’s still happening.

Remember all that talk about impeachment in 2018? The big blue wave? Piss dossier and porn stars doing the work that the left has been too divided and too self-absorbed to do for the last few decades? Get off the piss-dossier, Russian collusion crack-pipe and understand that Trump is entirely willing to piss of NRO Republican purists and is DEAD serious about expanding the GOP to include Hispanics, African-Americans and the working class.

Think back to Aug 2015 – Mexican ‘rapists’ blow-ups with the Mexican president ‘Fuck you and fuck you, too!’ Trump’s victory was inconceivable, literally, to many – and the idea that Trump would end up winning Florida on the back of Hispanic support? Not going to happen. Until it did.

The reality-tv star beats the shit out of both parties, and all the elites, and the media.
The judgement? Trump must be the moron.

It’s like that. Don’t make children carry the water adults are too feckless and self-absorbed to carry themselves. She could have gone to Wisconsin. She didn’t ‘need’ to fix the primary. The Dems did have control of the government in 2009. But…but…but.

Access Hollywood!!!!! Gold-star moms!!!! Played, plain and simple.
The election was winnable.


bad Jim 03.09.18 at 9:53 am

In high school, I was as political as I could be, which wasn’t much; I could wear a button expressing my support for the civil rights movement, and that was about it. Then I went to Berkeley, where the issues in question (mostly, but not entirely the war) and the consequences of protest were just a little bit different. You don’t get used to the sight of cops using their sticks on a gangly young scholar with a stack of books under his arm for his failure to give them proper obeisance, but when a helicopter appears over the center of campus spewing teargas, to which by now you’re used to, your reaction is, really? Who thought this was a good idea? Actually, my sister and I were helping people towards shelter where they could rinse out their eyes, even though the nearest building was Dwinnelle Hall which dooms its visitors to eternal wandering.

In the culmination of that first year, when our march was surrounded by the National Guard, my sister and I escaped thanks to the city police (and perhaps our respectable appearance; though I was sprouting the beginning of a beard, I was lugging an impressive briefcase). In subsequent years things mostly stayed under control because they were left to the well-trained local police. Windows still got broken, but an understanding evolved between the folks and the cops: there were rules, which were pretty flexible, but no one was going to die.

When a roommate and I went to San Francisco to protest the visit of a Vietnamese warlord, it wasn’t because we thought the SFPD was as benign as the BPD. We knew they weren’t; they’d been part of the occupying force before. We just weren’t afraid. There was a playground: look, swings! She found it as irresistable as I did. Afterwards, we were charged by police on horseback, and on the way back to my car, a passing cop shoved his baton into my chest, just to say hello.

Which is just to say that being individually passionate provides minimal rewards, concerted action is immensely gratifying, and really crazy stuff can be peak experiences in retrospect.


nastywoman 03.09.18 at 11:56 am

”I suppose the argument can be made that had the Democrats had the guts, or not been too lazy to get off their asses,”

No that argument can’t be made as the argument of the Youth in Action actually has very little to do with some ”Democrats”.
It has to do with the fact that WE the US has a very, very ”sick gun culture” which get’s mainly propagated by our so called ‘conservative’ American brothers and sisters.

So please try to focus like an adult!


SC 03.09.18 at 8:49 pm

The Youth in Front website is new to me.

I was pleased when I got an email from my 16 year old’s school principal (the head of an unusual tiny public school in NYC) about the protests. Her email included this:

” . . . please know that we intend to support our students should they choose to participate in the walkout on March 14th at 10:00 am. The walkout will last 17 minutes. Students will not be penalized if they participate. Two staff members will be outside to provide assistance as needed. Elementary parents can pick up their child if they want them to participate as well. We will also support those in our community who choose not to participate. Classes will continue during this time. . . ”

As far as I can tell, the protest is student run at this school. (It’s an unusual configuration for a NYC public school, a tiny HS attached to a slightly larger preK-8 program, so the principal is juggling preKs at the same time as 12 graders.) However, clearly the school administration is acknowledging and supporting the protest so, in some fashion, adults are involved. I’m okay with this, especially in this case, given the age ranges. In fact, I’d be even happier if the entire school shut down cold for 17 minutes but since it is a public school (with a wide range of languages and political beliefs), keeping classes running (even in a bare bones fashion, no doubt they will group the few kids who stay in one classroom) makes sense.


Alan White 03.09.18 at 11:22 pm

Seems clear to me that the loud and persistent voices of the students in Florida were one chief reason there is a bill on the governor’s desk that, while modest in terms of gun control, is at least one thumb in the eye of the NRA. More power to them.


Mario 03.10.18 at 12:09 am

What I find is missing from the linked guide is a warning about potential leeches, parasites, and general risk for abuse of a youths willingness to put him/herself into harms way for a cause.

Any newbie protestor should be aware, I think, of the fact that plenty of people are quite ready and happy to reinterprete your grievances and braveness to fit their agenda. Not too few of these people have ample experience, and even well oiled infrastructure in place, to do so. They are used to take people gathering behind any cause, and make them into their cannon fodder.

To fix ideas – you don’t want to be asked, at the end: you are for better firearm control, right? So why is it that you were marching under a transparent clamoring for the end of capitalism? Are you a commie? Because if that’s what comes out at the end, you have more than wasted your time.

Also, beware of the nice stranger espousing skills and experience writing speeches and statements. You may soon find out you lent your name to things you don’t agree with – if you even understand them.

And finally, there’s the black bloc. If you are at a march and they suddenly are part of it – fall into the next Starbucks or whatever (real) safe place you see, and stay there, because mindless violence is about to happen.

That all sounds so negative. But apart from these omissions, I actually think that it’s a great guide.


Harry 03.10.18 at 3:04 pm

Mario — thanks for that. Its helpful, and I’ll pass it on to Meira in case she’s not reading this.


SC 03.11.18 at 8:46 pm

Sadly, Mario’s comments, at least to this NYC parent, ring true. Taking a kid to a protest (that they want to attend) is one thing but kids on their own in NYC protests need a certain level of awareness of their surroundings/fellow protesters/etc. In short, during Occupy, my older son was mislead twice by people who did not have the best interests of the protest/protesters in mind and, yes, he had to flee a black bloc action that started before he recognized what was going on. He was lucky that things didn’t go horribly wrong and, in the end, his Occupy protesting was a generally positive experience but I felt bad at the time for not going over Mario’s points above with the young man before he left to protest.


Chris (merian) W. 03.13.18 at 2:40 am

Thanks, Harry – I’ve sent it to some local people with kids in this age group.

Re: Mario above, luckily most kids won’t be protesting in such a high-visibility place such as NYC so the risk of being subsumed as the means to someone else’s goal should be less. Teen Vogue also did a piece, with a graphic novel style illustration. I think it errs on the side of respect for authority, but the upside is that it should be less controversial for nervous parents: .

Where I live, the day of action falls into spring break, so mobilization is a bit halting, possibly also because the school district is being a bit assy about it all and also I’m sure that the fact that a large percentage of kids here live in households with firearms is having an impact on the debate. This said, one of the middle schools walked out for 17 min last week, with good press coverage, and more than 25% of the student body participated. One of the instigators is the daughter of an activist for indigenous rights and conservation, so the 8th grader is no stranger to how to go about things like this.

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