Points of Alignment

Youth Power Lab Points of Alignment

The following points of alignment were developed by the Leadership Team of the Youth Power Lab. The Leadership Team consists of the Alliance for Educational Justice, Power U Center for Social Change, Dream Defenders, Youth United for Change, Poder in Action, and the Funders Collaborative on Youth Organizing. The goal of the Youth Power Lab is to have a cohort of leading youth organizing strategists collectively assess the U.S. Youth Organizing Field and identify key interventions that will help youth organizers build more meaningful power. These points of alignment serve to establish a baseline level of unity for Lab participants as we work toward that goal.

1. The Power to Win

To win liberation we must achieve the power to transform economic and social conditions for our communities and society as a whole. This means gaining positions within key decision-making bodies while also applying pressure from the outside to hold them accountable. To do this our organizing needs to build bases at significant scale, develop broad strategic alliances, and elevate public narratives that promote our vision of social justice and true democracy.

2. The Critical Role of Young People

We are living through a pivotal historical moment and young people from oppressed communities have a decisive role to play in our struggle for liberation.

The Great Recession of 2008 marked the beginning of a unique period in U.S. history. The hegemony of neoliberalism, which has dominated since the end of the 1970’s, is in existential crisis and next dominant social order has yet to be defined. This is a time characterized by exciting political openings (Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, the youth-led movement against gun violence, the popular reemergence of socialism, and bold new ideas coming from young people like the Green New Deal,) and grave threats (The Tea Party, Trumpism, Climate Change). The successes or failures of our movements in this period will likely reverberate for many decades to come. The stakes are higher now than at any point in most of our lifetimes.

Young people have critical roles to play in building social movements that can achieve the power to win liberation. The moral authority of young people can be a powerful tool to activate the broader community, win the support of other constituencies, and shift debate on critical social issues (exp. voter organizing, SNCC sit ins, Soweto Uprising, Ferguson Uprising, the Dreamers, March for Our Lives). Furthermore, young people typically have fewer life obligations than older adults. This makes it easier for them to take risks and engage in the types of militant action that are often necessary to polarize issues and win the hearts and minds of the broader public. Working class young people of color, particularly those that are gender oppressed, have the greatest material interest in the transformation of society and, based on their direct experiences, are often the best equipped to reimagine a new world. They are thus a vital source of political leadership.

3. Key Growth Edges for Youth Organizing

The U.S. field of youth organizing has to level up in the areas of strategy and movement infrastructure in order to contest for the power to win.

The past few decades have been a remarkable period of growth and development for the youth organizing field in the U.S. In this time organizers committed to the development and leadership of young people have passionately built an infrastructure that spans across the entire country. In doing so they’ve achieved critical victories in educational justice, the fight against mass incarceration, immigration justice, health justice, environmental justice and more. Youth organizing will have to build on these successes and address some key growth edges if we are to seize the opportunities and defeat the threats of this exciting historical moment.

We need power not just empowerment.

While youth organizing is often on the front lines of social justice fights, some groups struggle to ground their work in a coherent long term strategy for building power. Youth organizing can have a tendency to emphasize youth empowerment over actual power. And groups commonly employ strategies that mobilize small numbers of leaders in an attempt to persuade decision makers. While it is possible to win some things this way, it’s nearly impossible to win transformative changes or ensure that victories are implemented in meaningful ways. In order to win the change we need, youth organizing must tap the social leverage of young people to build bases at scale, develop strategic alliances, and shift public narratives.

We need campaigns that are fights for today and training ground for tomorrow.

Campaigns are not just about winning policy change, they are also vehicles for political and human development. Our work must engage young people in issues directly impacting them while also developing their consciousness and skills to be lifelong organizers and activists. We need young leaders who can ground their struggles within a broader ideology and vision of social transformation. They should also have core organizing competencies including how to build a base, build organization, build alliances, and develop a strategy based on a concrete power analysis.

We need intergenerational infrastructure that leads to political life beyond youth organizing.

Youth organizing should be an onramp to a life of movement work. When young people age out of youth organizing groups, there should be clear pathways for them to continue engaging in political struggle - whether as a professional organizer, rank and file worker, or grassroots community leader. This requires developing concrete programmatic relationships between organizations working with people across different ages - including youth, young adults, and beyond.

4. Commitment Moving Forward

We will try bold shared experiments across the field of youth organizing to test out new methods for building the power to win.

In order for the field of youth organizing to facilitate the transformative power of young people groups are going to have to be willing to try some new things. And it’s not enough for individual groups to engage in their own isolated experiments. Groups are going to have to invest in shared programming in which collective success is prioritized as much as, if not more than, the outcomes of a single organization. This means engaging in honest ongoing organizational and movement assessments, coordinated strategies, shared practice, and shared learning in order to find out what methods and infrastructure work best for building power with young people.

This is not to suggest that there is some one-size fits all approach out there to be discovered. But we should be able to develop common frameworks and methodologies that can be tailored to fit the specific conditions of a given locality or region. We believe that by engaging in this type of coordinated experimentation and collaboration we can make much needed interventions in the field of youth organizing and greatly increase our collective impact in this country.