A Response on the Progressive Youth Movement

Angus Johnston of studentactivism.net has posted some questions in response to the first two articles in my Lessons Learned from Sociopolitical Movements series. These are some great questions, so I am going to take a crack at answering them here.

Why “Movement” rather than “Movements”?

It’s not obvious to me that all of the groups Bondelli is talking about fall under the same movement. I’d be interested in hearing why Bondelli conceptualizes them that way — where does this impulse come from? What kinds of analytical benefits does it offer? How, if at all, does he see that decision as risky or problematic?

A number of the organizations I mentioned fall under different movements. For example, the Energy Action Coalition is part of the environmental movement and Campus Pride is part of the GLBT movement. I have grouped these organizations together as part of a Progressive Youth Movement because they all seek to increase the civic role and electoral strength of youth in the United States with the goal of bringing progressive change. The one exception to the progressive change component are the pure non-partisan orgs, but I explain why I include them in a later answer.

Why the organizational focus?

In his second post, “Composition of the Youth Movement,” Bondelli describes the PYM as being made up of “different types of organizations.” Does he mean to exclude activists who aren’t part of organizations from his conception of the movement, or is he just using the organizations as examples of different movement tendencies? If PYM is a movement, in other words, what makes it a movement? How can you tell whether someone’s a part of that movement or not?

I tend to use organizations for a few reasons. First, they provide concrete examples and are easier to analyze. Second, my personal work has focused more on movement organizations and organizational theory than spontaneous organic movements, and many organic movements have evolved into organizations throughout history. Third, my goal of this series is to help youth organizations learn from history, hence many of the lessons learned will come from movement organizations in the past.

Under my definition any activist that works to engage youth in civic participation would fall under the movement. However, I tend to take an organizational approach and write for an audience that is mostly involved in organizations.

3. What are the ideological boundaries of the PYM?

Bondelli includes non-partisan organizations in his list, and I’m curious as to why. (I’m not saying he shouldn’t, just wondering why he does.) He states up front that he’s excluding right-wing groups, but he doesn’t say anything about where the leftward frontier of his movement lies, and I’d like to hear how he approaches that question.

This was the most difficult part of defining the movement. I included non-partisan organizations because of their overlap with the mission of the Progressive Youth Movement. While non-partisan registration/youth voting organizations register and promote turnout of conservative youth, they also register and turn out progressive youth. Since the ideological composition of the Millennial Generation is overwhelmingly progressive, I felt that it made sense to add them. They function more as complementary organizations to the movement.

4. Which big groups, if any, fall outside the PYM?

Bondelli states up front that his list of organizations shouldn’t be taken as comprehensive, but I was struck by the fact that three high-profile activist groups — United Students Against Sweatshops, the Campus Antiwar Network, and Students for a Democratic Society — are absent from it. Do each of these three groups fall under the PYM umbrella, in Bondelli’s conception of it?

This was the danger in listing groups in the post. I used the organizations as examples of the different types based on how familiar I am with the organizations as they operate today, not as a complete breakdown.

United Students Against Sweatshops would be a student-based, progressive, issue/cause organization. The Campus Antiwar Network would be a student-based, progressive, issue/cause umbrella organization. Students for a Democratic Society would be a student-based, progressive organization. SDS will definitely be seen in my posts since they were extremely important in both the history of the youth movement as well as in other movements.

5. What about youth vs. students?

Some of the organizations Bondelli cites are youth groups, and some are student groups, but he refers to the movement as a youth movement. The distinction between youth movements vs. student movements is a blurry one, but an important one, I think. I’d be interested in whether he agrees, and if so how he understands the difference.

This has been one of the big debates about youth movements. In my view, student movements are youth movements. While technically older people can be college students, the vast majority are youth, and those involved in student movements tend to be young with very few outliers. That being said, all students are youth, but not all youth are students.

I identified the organizations based on their focus. For example, College Democrats is only for college students. Young Democrats is for anyone under 35, including college students. I identify organizations like the League of Young Voters and the Hip Hop Caucus because they focus on engaging non-college youth, since the membership of general youth organizations tends to be students or college graduates.

I actually think the blurriest distinction that has been made in the history of youth issues is children vs. adult youth. I focus primarily on adult youth (16-35), though issues such as K-12 education are still relevant to young adults starting families ant that is the context in which I look at them.

I hope this mostly answers the questions. To give a bit of an idea as to where I will be going with these posts, here are a few themes.

  • Strategies and tactics used by organizations in the past – For example, the Congress of Racial Equality’s techniques for chapter building during the Civil Rights movement.
  • Challenges faced in the past – organizational struggles, disagreements, leadership problems, etc.
  • Organizational cooperation – how organizations have joined together for a specific initiative
  • Philosophies – the organizational philosophies of past movement orgs.
  • How to build a movement – the different successes and failures in movement building throughout history.

That is a sample of some of the topics that will be coming up. As you can see, there will be a lot of focus on organizations.