This past Sunday, youth rights activists from around the country, from as far as Washington, D.C., came to the National Youth Rights Association’s (NYRA) annual meeting (www.youthrights.org) in San Francisco to discuss ageism in the community and what progress the individual regional chapters have made to combat it. Five people from NYRA’s Berkeley chapter, including myself, attended the meeting.
The mission of NYRA is simple: to empower youth and to defend the rights of young people in the United States. One of the main goals of NYRA is to lower the voting age, which in our opinion, would empower young people.
The meeting started with a brilliant talk by Jordan Riak of NoSpank.Net. He prints books that talk about the dangers of using corporal punishment on kids.
Riak told us about an Asian boy from San Francisco by the name of Paul Choy. Choy was in trouble with the law and was sent to boot camp. After Choy was there for a little while, his drill sergeant announced that Choy “failed to complete the five-mile run.” His punishment was to sit on a cold platform for five hours, without food, water, or a bathroom break. Choy started crying and crying. Instead of being comforted, several big men jumped on him and suffocated him to death.
I can’t believe this. It’s hard for me to imagine how there are such violent, heartless people in the world. I can’t believe that boot camps are so unregulated, not to mention prisons or military camps. There is talk about drafting resolutions to be introduced into local communities, recommending that no parent inflict corporal punishment on their children.
Riak additionally went on to speak about how in many states it is legal to “paddle” kids at school.
“It’s a double standard,” says Riak. “People would scream if women were being spanked, or if minorities were subject to spanking. However, the Constitution doesn’t protect youth. It’s embarrassing.”
Our next speaker was UC Santa Cruz professor Dr. Mike Males, author of two books: Scapegoat Generation and Framing Youth. He talked about ageism in society and likened it to racism. In many ways, I agree. While racism is widely politically incorrect, ageism is very politically correct, even in “liberal” Berkeley.
Our group tried to get the City Council to support a modest proposal to support introducing state legislation that would allow local municipalities to lower their voting age to 16 for their local elections. We could only muster four votes for the resolution—one short of passing. Additionally, the council didn’t even allow the Youth Commission to present an item recommending that the city put on the ballot a question of whether residents would support lowering the voting age to 17 for School Board elections. Councilmember Wozniak tabled the item before any other member could even speak on the matter.
It’s not just this issue. There are many. When Berkeley High students are buying lunch on Shattuck, they are treated like criminals. In Walgreen’s, for example, there is a policy that only a certain number of high school students can be in the store at one time. The notion that teens are more likely to steal is contrary to fact. There are several studies that show that 40-year-olds are much more likely to steal than teens. However, many people don’t know that or refuse to accept it.
We need to start to educate people on ageism. It is ever too prevalent. Unlike 50 years ago, when our ancestors used to shape our culture, it is now today’s youth who shape tomorrow’s future. If there are always being discriminated against, there is no inspiration for them to try to better society.