Social Justice Warriors

July 30, 2020

[Picture: Teen Vogue, August 13, 2019, "How to Take Direct Action on the Climate Crisis at Your School This Year."]

The two most recent articles, “The Shaping of a Child’s Worldview,” and “Why Can’t Children Just Be Children?” identified approximately 50 books for babies up to age nine. These are not stories about cute puppies or kittens, letters or numbers. The subjects interwoven into these books include climate change, sustainability, gender identity, two moms, two dads, transgenders, Drag Queen Story Hours, “corporate vultures,” environmental justice, racism, police brutality, and feminism.

Many of the books published for young children encourage activism. Consider the following questions:

  • What is the purpose of books about activism for children this young?
  • Are children the ones who should be addressing these concerns?
  • Are they qualified to take on these battles, or are they being exploited?
  • Are children learning the skills of activism on their own, or are they being trained by adults?
  • Could these books serve a dual purpose by also reaching the parents, grandparents, teachers, librarians, and other adults who are reading these to the children?

Woke Baby, by Mahogany L. Browne, was published in December of 2018 by Roaring Brook Press (Macmillan). Woke Baby is listed on Amazon for babies to age three. The cover illustration depicts a tiny “revolutionary” with arms extended upward with the symbolic clenched fists.

Like a good revolutionary, you never, ever sleep.
Only rest, only rest, until the next dawn.

PBS News Hour featured Woke Baby author, Mahogany L. Browne, on their “Brief and Spectacular” series. She performed her poem, "Black Girl Magic." Browne received an MFA in writing and activism from the Pratt Institute.

Curious about the “MFA in writing and activism,” I went to the Pratt Institute website. Under the heading, “MFA IN WRITING SPECIAL TOPICS ELECTIVES,” I read the following course description:

WR 500S ACTIVISM AND THE PRACTICE OF FREEDOM                              

Instructor: Amin Husain

This is an interdisciplinary class that will invite you to explore what “activism” and “decolonization” look like after Occupy Wall Street. Weaving in and out of Surrealism politics and poetics and Situationists cities, we collectively consider what time is it on the clock of the world, imagining what follows.  What if, when we speak of activism after Occupy, we put “activism” under erasure? What if, we strike activism to liberate it from itself? Not to end activism, but to unleash the powers of affirmation and radical imagination. We revitalize real life by making it surreal. This surreal spirit is less that of Breton's European vanguardism than Suzanne Cesaire's freedom dream, informed as it is by the ongoing histories of slavery, imperialism, and debt. Such activism can defamiliarize life, asking us: how do we live? and why do we live this way? It challenges us to respond with direct action as we simultaneously acknowledge that we, ourselves, are responsible for freedom and oppression, rather than any pre­existing institution or ideology. And, what if, as we act, we imagine a refugee camp collaged into the symbolic heart of finance capital. We imagine a self­organized commons installed at the ground zero of an empire, or an empty minimalist plaza flooded with bodies and voices and cameras, a de­occupation of New York City, and a never­ending process of experimentation, learning and undoing, resisting and building in the unexplored terrain of an historic rupture.

Note: I do not know whether Mahogany L. Browne took such a class or if she had Amin Husain as an instructor. Browne did host a Black Lives Matter Pratt event, February 2017, in which Husain was one of the presenters. The description of Husain’s workshop reads:

This workshop will explore the movement #DeColonizeThisPlace . . . a movement space that is action-oriented around indigenous struggle, black liberation, Free Palestine, global wage workers and de-gentrification.

Just who is Amin Husain, the instructor of this class? Wikipedia describes:

Amin Husain is a Palestinian-American activist and adjunct professor. He is the lead organizer of Decolonize This Place and the MTL+ co-founder whose organization is founded on five main issues: Free Palestine, Indigenous Struggle, Black Liberation, Global Wage Workers, and de-gentrification. He . . . focuses on resistance and liberation and postcolonial theory in his teaching. He is a founding member of Global Ultra Luxury Faction; founding member and managing editor of the magazine Tidal: Occupy Theory, Occupy Strategy; founding member of the collective MTL; and founding member of NYC Solidarity with Palestine. . . . He is a supporter of New York City Students for Justice in Palestine and is an active supporter of the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment (BDS) movement, emphasizing the cultural and academic boycott of Israel.

In the February 2020 “In the Zeitgeist” article (The Politics Society at NYU), author Bobby Miller writes:

NYU Professor Amin Husain, who recently was discovered to have been the brainchild of an anarchist rampage through the NYC subway system . . . turnstiles were destroyed, thousands of commuters were stranded, and “F–k Cops” was spray-painted on station walls.

Husain is indeed a radical with a long history of violence. He regularly engages in anti-Semitic speech when talking about the Jewish State. Husain has spoken publicly about attacking Israeli soldiers as a teenager during the first Palestinian Intifada during the 1980s, in a July 2016 video captured at a rally in Times Square. Husain founded Decolonize This Place, which describes itself as a grass-roots social justice organization that seeks to raise awareness of the struggles of marginalized groups peacefully. However, the web site also features an “Operations Manual,” which includes a diagram entitled “How to Shut Down the City” with a step-by-step guide on how to violently overpower an opponent, including kicking in the face and groin. Thought bubbles feature words such as “nails,” “glass bottles,” and “masks.” The rampage through the subways last month is just the latest in a long line of delinquent acts committed by Decolonize This Place.

Husain also supports the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, or BDS, which aims to weaken Israel through political, economic, and social isolation, defaming the county’s reputation through libelous comparisons to apartheid South Africa.

What about teen activism? A Teen Vogue article, “How to Take Direct Action on the Climate Crisis at Your School This Year," was published August 13, 2019:      

. . . there are many ways to take direct action to make schools greener and stand up to defend the rapidly warming planet, and those threatened by the changes.

We reached out to three different climate justice organizations — Sunrise Movement, Zero Hour, and the U.S. Youth Climate Strike — and surveyed five different climate activists under 20 to hear what they had to say about advocating for climate justice in their schools. Zero Hour’s deputy communications director Natalie Sweet, 16, and Georgia coexecutive director Zeena Gasim Abdulkarim, 18, told us how they launched initiatives in their schools. The U.S. Youth Climate Strike’s cofounder Isra Hirsi, 16, and activist Sabirah Mahmud, 16, explained what it’s like organizing with classmates. And Sunrise Movement’s pre-college organizing lead Rose Strauss, 19, shared why putting pressure on institutions like schools is so important.

I am including the descriptions of these movements from their respective websites:

The Sunrise Movement:

We're building an army of young people to create millions of good jobs and stop climate change in the process.

The Sunrise Movement puts a great deal of effort into promoting The Green New Deal. The “Millennial Millie” website has informative articles and videos about the Sunrise Movement.

Zero Hour:

The mission of Zero Hour is to center the voices of diverse youth in the conversation around climate and environmental justice. Zero Hour is a youth-led movement creating entry points, training, and resources for new young activists and organizers (and adults who support our vision) wanting to take concrete action around climate change. Together, we are a movement of unstoppable youth organizing to protect our rights and access to the natural resources and a clean, safe, and healthy environment that will ensure a livable future where we not just survive, but flourish.

The US Youth Climate Strike:

We’re an anti-capitalist, working class, multi-racial coalition of young people who are organizing for radical climate action. We understand that the climate crisis was caused by big oil, giant corporations, and incrementalism. We need you.

Unfamiliar with the U.S. Youth Climate Strike’s cofounder Isra Hirsi? She is the daughter of the US Representative from Minnesota, Ilhan Omar.

Advocates for Youth is another organization using youth to push their agenda:

Young people understand that reproductive and sexual health and rights are inextricably tied to social justice and the fight for liberation. Join thousands of youth activists and adult allies as we build a better and more equitable world.

The Advocates for Youth "Youth Activists Toolkit" is available online. Instructions for the youth include:

Organizing depends on your commitment to stick with the cause longer than the target will continue to resist your efforts. (page 51)  

Several tactics are explained in depth. One is that of a Sit-in:

Sit-In: To hold a sit-in, people occupy a space by seating themselves in a strategic location … where they can disrupt the daily routine and force their target to deal with them. Participants will usually remain seated until their demands are met or they are forcibly removed and arrested.

. . . It is also important that you win the media battle by making sure your messaging, not the school’s, dominates the press coverage of the action.

Another way to disrupt daily operations through non-violent action is to flood email, phone or fax systems of your target. The goal … is to make it impossible for your target to ignore your demands by literally disrupting their means of communication and work flow. This can be done by getting high volumes of people over a scheduled period of time to call the office of your target and flood the phone lines. You can also shut down email systems if you get the correct email address of your target. You must make sure people are sending them from different domains and use a variety of subject lines, to ensure they are not easily blocked by your target. The challenge with this action is that it is harder to fully shut down systems for an extended period of time. The upside is you often have a lower risk of arrest. (page 48)

A list of 19 youth activism groups are listed in this "Advocates for Youth Toolkit." Both the Sunrise Movement and Zero Hour are included on this list. Each listing includes a description and website address.

Future 500: Youth Organizing and Activism in the United States is a 2002 publication that profiles “500 of the most important youth-led organizations across the country.” The back of the book includes endorsements from Julia Butterfly Hill, Circle of Life Foundation, and Van Jones, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

Now, let’s return to the conditioning process:

No! My First Book of Protest board book, by Julie Merberg, is for babies to age 3:

When women weren’t treated with the same respect as men, Gloria Steinem harnessed the power of the pen. She said NO. NO! We want equality now.

. . . Great people made big changes when they said NO. No! Someday you can protest too (when you’ve had time to grow.)

My First Book of Feminism (for Boys), by Julie Merberg, is a board book for babies to age three.

Antiracist Baby Board Book, by Ibram X. Kendi, is written for children two to three.  

Antiracist Baby is bred, not born.
Antiracist Baby is raised to make society transform.

Feminist Baby Finds Her Voice, by Loryn Brantz, is another board book for babies to age 2.

The Little Book of Little Activists is written for children from 5-9. The Introduction was written by Bob Bland (Mari Lynn Foulger), who co-chaired the 2017 Women's March. 

   

 

Many children are …not able to exercise the right to protest, to sit high on parents’ shoulders and carry signs of resistance in the streets. This book is a celebration of that right.

A is for Activist, by Innosanto Nagara, is for children from 3-7.

The new status symbol appears to be getting arrested at a protest. These trained protesters are often told that there are funds to bail them out of jail when this happens. Do a search for “donated bail money for protesters.” You will probably be surprised at the number of entries. Here is an example:

Donate to Bail Funds for Protestors:

George Floyd was murdered in cold blood by a Minneapolis police officer this week. There's no other word for it. And as protestors across the country stand up to this injustice, police departments are reacting with violence and displaying the brutality of the American carceral system.

This one is from West Virginia:

Black Lives Matter West Virginia
is organizing rapid response &
mutual aid for our communities

This is a list and the links for available bail funds in other states.

Being an activist for a politically correct cause is now a status symbol.

Someone first convinced these young children about some perceived injustice, and then, that it was their responsibility to fix the problem. Consider the children saddled with the climate change topic. They believe they have less than 12 years to save the world!

Our House is on Fire, by Jeanette Winter, is for children from 3-8.

If grownups won’t act to save the planet, children will.

There might not be a world to live in when she grows up.
What use is school without a future? What can I do, she wondered.

I have a suggestion. Why doesn’t Greta—and all the other young activists—concentrate on reading, writing, grammar, spelling, math, science, history, geography, and economics in their formative years? In their spare hours, they can explore other interests such as sports, music lessons, or hobbies. Apart from all those things, they may just want to be children.

 

 

Deborah DeGroff
For more information about youth activism, read Chapter Fourteen of
Between the Covers: What’s Inside a Children’s Book?

 

 

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