Visions of a youth-led future
We live in a world where parents often assume to know what's best for their children. We live in a society where education is structured and designed by adults for the youth. We live in a country where the ultimate power of decision (or, as the case may be, indecision) lies in the hands of senior citizens.
These are all examples of "adultism," a term coined by French psychologist Patterson Du Bois in the early 20th century. In the 1970s its definition was refined to mean a prejudice and accompanying systematic discrimination against young people. Adultism is the real-world embodiment of the belief that children are inferior, and though it is not often a conscious projection it can be very damaging. Indeed, these forces have led generations of youth to “question their own legitimacy, doubt their ability to make a difference” and to live in a “culture of silence”. In the Major Taylor Project, which introduces underserved youth to bicycles as a tool for empowerment, I am incredibly excited to work to change that.
I am fairly new to my role as Major Taylor project assistant, though I was previously involved as a volunteer for the better part of a year. In my limited time with the Project, which is guided by a praxis of “listening to the youth”, I have seen myriad examples of the power of a youth-led culture. I see it when experienced youth riders decide to skip a club ride to teach a peer how to ride a bike for the first time (additional note: they stepped up because we didn’t have enough adult volunteers!). I feel it when students lead the charge to have bike racks installed at their school. I know it when I pose a question and students unanimously respond "no, it makes more sense to do it this way." They are almost always right!
The Major Taylor Project has since its inception been focused on youth-empowerment. As such, it has always been an agent in the battle against adultism. With Cascade Bicycle Club’s improved focus on diversity and inclusion, we as an organization are poised to confront this and other forms of oppression such as racism and sexism that damage our society.
I have participated in a variety of anti-oppression work in my short life, but I feel most hopeful working with youth. They are a demographic which spans across all other subjective human categories: race, sexual orientation, ability, and so on. Along with their inherent diversity, I find that young people are on the forefront of ideological innovation because their formative years coincide with our most recent cultural developments. In other words, the youth of today possess the most contemporary world perspective, one which we cannot afford to ignore.
I believe in order to "listen to the youth," three conditions are necessary: we must believe that the youth have a valuable voice, we must encourage young people to believe the same, and we must be truly willing to hear that voice. I know that we are capable of collectively satisfying these conditions, through small steps, and creating a more just and equitable world for all.
These are my visions of a youth-led future.