Oh, the radical places we will go!
“We take young girls to a place more radical than their home,” said Ruchira Gupta, founder and director of Apne Aap, speaking to our cohort with Move to End Violence in Kolkata, a whole new way of seeing the world through truth telling with young people on structural oppressions, power, and privilege.
In my work to end gender-based violence, young people who have suffered violence and various forms of oppression have deeply informed my work. They are often the least-heard-from population in our society, and yet their stories tell of a powerful kind of social change.
Young people have a knowledge and perspective about their experience of gender-based violence that adults do not. From the development of comprehensive approaches to prevent abuse or rape in schools to the drafting of school policies to prevent gender-based violence – decisions are often made by adults, while those impacted and arguably the most capable of providing the leadership in movement building are often ignored.
For that reason, the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence engages youth in the movement to end violence. We have evolved, and continue to evolve, along the youth engagement continuum, beginning eight years ago with what we now recognize as tokenism (I still cringe at the visual of one of our most activist youth cleaning out the supply cabinet) to arrive at a more authentic engagement of youth.
In recent years, we have promoted positive youth development and healthy relationships in middle schools and high schools. Conversations with Ruchira have shifted my understanding. I now believe that our role as activists is not to promote healthy relationship skills in school and youth group settings, but instead to advocate for system change to encourage parents, schools and communities to do that vital work.
Our collective activism and commitment to end violence is for a purpose beyond educating youth and communities on the importance of relationships rooted in respect and equity. Our purpose as a movement builder is to work in partnership with youth and adults from an intergenerational framework – to go together to a place more radical than our homes. Radical in believing we can create compassionate, peaceful communities with respect, equity and justice for all human beings, where violence against women and girls is no longer a common occurrence and violence and oppressions against any human being is no longer accepted.
While we have been effective in promoting positive youth development, Ruchira’s forward stance of taking young people to a place more radical than their home illuminated the path where we need to go – youth civic engagement and organizing to cultivate the next generation of leaders and, most importantly, to deeply engage youth most affected by gender-based violence.
Upon returning from India, we engaged in intergenerational conversations about social justice movement building with our full-time staff and high school and college teen activists – Fatima, Khadija, Michelle, Clea, Colby, Paige, Daniel, Zach, Hunter, and Abbey. In a matter of weeks, we created the Our Revolution campaign for February’s National Teen Dating Violence Awareness & Prevention Month, changing focus from creating healthy relationships to movement building for compassionate, peaceful communities. It was an intergenerational collaboration with youth voices from marginalized communities at the center of our work.
The Our Revolution campaign encourages middle school and high school students to do a single revolutionary act toward ending violence against women and girls – to speak out against sexist remarks, to challenge advertising that objectifies or dehumanizes girls and women or supports rigid gender binaries, to support interconnected social justice causes, and more.
A centerpiece of the campaign is the Our Revolution Movement Building Conversation guide, inspired and adapted from Move cohort one’s Building Movement Conversations Guide, which encourages advocates, activists and allies to engage in vital conversations with young people about violence against women and girls.
Since launching the campaign, the Idaho Coalition has had over 700 requests for materials from around the country and over 200 organizations participate in webinars on the conversation guide. It is our hope that hundreds of conversations with young people will take place over the next several months and years.
Our Revolution has ignited an excitement across the country about the potential of young people to be agents of change in the movement to end violence. We are living in a time of rising consciousness and increasing connectedness, where young people are embracing a counter-narrative to one of domination and control. This alone should make us believe and give us hope that compassionate, peaceful communities are possible. Download 2014_Teen_Conversation_Guide, and begin with a conversation with youth in your community. Oh, the radical places we will go!
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