Beyond Resistance! Youth Activism and Community Change: New Democratic Possibilities for Practice and Policy
Ginwright, Shawn and Noguera, Pedro and Cammarota, Julio (2006).
New York: Routledge Press; 336 pages. $34.95. ISBN 0415952514.
Beyond Resistance! Youth Activism and Community Change: New Democratic Possibilities for Practice and Policy for America’s Youth offers an inspiring account of the ways young people are “agents of social change,” as well as a sobering evaluation of what stands in the way of young people achieving full citizenship in the United States.
Youth activism has exploded over the last decade in cities across the United States as young people have struggled against neo-liberal policies that have eviscerated youth rights, expanded the penal state, and exacerbated racial and class inequalities. This book provides a timely exploration of civic engagement among youth of color, how youth participation can improve public policies, and how youth activism affects the youth development process. At its broadest, the editors look to youth activism for a model of how to reinvigorate a truly inclusive American democracy.
Beyond Resistance is an important resource for policy-makers, youth advocates and inter-disciplinary scholars interested in youth activism and civic engagement. This collection is unique in the way it combines theoretical and practical concerns, and in the way it grounds an understanding of civic engagement in fundamentally political questions of race, inequality and power (c.f. Flanagan and Sherrod 1998; Sherrod 2006). This collection builds on earlier efforts to document, advocate for, and network among youth activist groups in the U.S. (Cervone 2002; Young Wisdom Project 2004; the Freechild Project; and the Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing). But this collection has more theoretical ambitions. It combines a critique and revision of youth development models with a theoretically rich – if unevenly developed – account of youth agency and political identity.
The editors (and many authors) demonstrate the virtues of walking across the lines between research and practice. Shawn Ginwright is a professor of education at San Francisco State and co-founder of Leadership Excellence, a model African-American social justice youth development agency in Oakland, California. Julio Cammarota is an anthropology professor who directs an action-research project at the University of Arizona. Pedro Noguera is an education professor at NYU who has served as an advisor to urban school districts.
Ginwright and Cammarota’s brief introduction develops a conceptual frame for understanding youth agency and democratic participation. They lay out four guiding principles: 1) young people should be conceptualized in relationship to specific economic, political and social conditions; 2) youth development should be understood as a collective response to social marginalization; 3) young people are agents of change, not simple subjects of change; 4) young people have basic civic and human rights, including the right to real political power. These principles sketch out a compelling revision of youth development models and a new approach to the study of civic engagement (contra Putnam 2000). But the collection would benefit from a longer introduction that more fully elaborated these theoretical contributions.
The first section of the book builds on these principles to develop a compelling, if fragmented, theoretical foundation for the study of youth activism. Hosang’s analysis of youth activism in New York and Los Angeles offers a powerful argument for the importance of combining short-term policy reform with broader ideological challenges to dominant images that frame youth of color as problems. Watts and Guessous document the importance of socio-political development, arguing that youth development for marginalized youth must include developing a critical consciousness of the social forces that affect their lives and communities. Akom offers a significant critique of theories of social capital that ignore the significance of racial identity in shaping political networks, civic engagement and activism. And Lewis-Charp and colleagues’ national study of youth activist organizations documents the importance of identity in facilitating collective action among marginalized youth. This focus on race and political identity serves as a vital correction to literature on youth development and civic engagement, which has generally failed to adequately attend to race, power and the radically unequal social and political contexts of development in the United States (Ginwright and James 2002; Ginwright and Cammarota 2002).
There are many inspiring stories in this book of how young people are engaged in social change. Section II focuses on innovative pedagogies within schools, and offers examples of how poetry (Jocson), media-literacy education (Duncan-Andrade), and youth-led research (Morrell and Strobel et al.) can develop critical consciousness and civic engagement among youth. Section III, aptly titled Street Corner Democracy, focuses on how grassroots community-based organizations serve as vital sites for social justice youth organizing. Section IV is a hodgepodge of interesting articles that loosely coheres around the broad question of what role youth can and should play in sustaining a healthy democracy.
The most compelling articles – and for practitioners the most useful – carefully document the process and the struggles of youth civic engagement. Torre and Fine document their struggles to create a truly democratic participatory action research project. Kirshner warns against reifying the concept of “youth leadership” and examines the youth-centered apprenticeship practices through which adults share the skills young people need to be effective leaders. O’Donaghue’s study of two “youth-led” organizations highlights the organizational structures and values that empower youth leaders. Kwon highlights some of the difficulties Asian and Pacific Islander youth organizers face as they forge a pan-ethnic political identity as “youth of color” in the context of post-civil rights era racial formations. Flores-Gonzales et al. show how organizers use Latino hip-hop to develop critical consciousness among youth and how a distinct physical and social space controlled by young people is important for nurturing collective action.
The title, “Beyond Resistance,” gestures at the final theoretical contribution of this collection – a less romantic but still hopeful account of youth resistance. In their concluding essay, Noguera and Cannella argue that by treating all youth cultural practices as evidence of “resistance,” youth scholars risk obfuscating exactly how young people become conscious political actors. They draw an important (if perhaps too clear cut) distinction between disruptive oppositional acts and more conscious forms of strategic resistance. The case studies in this collection show how youth organizers often use oppositional acts (skipping school, confronting authority, hip-hop music) as vital tools to develop critical consciousness and to engage youth in collective action.
Youth advocates and policy-makers would do well to listen carefully to the voices in this collection. We can document “best practices” and produce cost-benefit analyses that prove that the state should spend more money on youth development and prevention programs instead of incarceration. But we will continue to loose ground if we don’t challenge images of youth as civic problems and instead engage youth of color as civic actors and agents of community transformation. Youth must be a vital part of a larger fight for a new social contract.
Cervone, Barbara (2002). “Taking Democracy in Hand: Youth Action for Educational Change in the San Francisco Bay Area.” What Kids Can Do and The Forum for Youth Investment. Retrieved Aug 3, 2006 from http://whatkidscando.org/takingdemocracy.pdf
Flanagan, Constance and Lonnie Sherrod (1998). “Youth Political Development: an Introduction.” Journal of Social Issues 54(3): 447-456.
Funder’s Collaborative on Youth Organizing. Occasional Paper Series. http://www.fcyo.org/sitebody/resources/index.resources.htm
Ginwright, Shawn and Julio Cammarota (2002). “New Terrain in Youth Development: the Promise of a Social Justice Approach.” Social Justice 29(4): 82-96.
Ginwright, Shawn and Taj James (2002). “From Assets to Agents of Change: Social Justice, Organizing and Youth Development.” New Directions for Youth Development: Theory, Practice and Research 96: 27-46.
Ginwright, Shawn (2006). “Toward a Politics of Relevance: Race, Resistance and African American Youth Activism.” Social Science Research Council Youth Activism Web Forum. Retrieved August 3, 2006 from http://ya.ssrc.org/african/Ginwright/
Putnam, Robert (2000). Bowling Alone: the Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Sherrod, Lonnie (2006). Youth Activism: an International Encyclopedia. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
Young Wisdom Project (2004). Making Space Making Change: Profiles of Youth-led and Youth-driven Organizations. Oakland, CA: The Movement Strategy Center.
Jennifer Tilton received her Ph.D. in anthropology and American culture at the University of Michigan in 2004, and has been a Visiting Assistant Professor at Wesleyan University for two years. She is now a Lecturer at Yale College. She has conducted ethnographic research on local politics in Oakland, California, and is currently working on a book entitled, Dangerous and Endangered Youth: Race, Space and the Politics of Childhood. She has also been a youth worker in Chicago and California and an activist in campaigns to reform the juvenile justice systems in Connecticut and California.