An “Ism” for All Activists to Examine


Destiny Arts Youth perform at the Oakland General Strike

“Don’t be so naïve.” “Don’t be so childish.” “Isn’t that a little….idealistic?”

Sound familiar?

I have been politically engaged since high school when I joined Jewish Youth for Community Action (JYCA), the organization for which I now have the privilege of serving as the director. JYCA is a youth empowerment organization that inspires young folks to rise up and act for change. When I was in JYCA I got to be a part of the Youth Force Coalition that joined together to defeat anti-youth Proposition 21 (which increased penalties for youth crimes). The campaign itself did not succeed, but I’ll always remember that feeling of taking to the streets with not only my JYCA peers, but also a coalition of young folks from throughout the Bay Area. Being in JYCA made me feel like change was possible.

But those condescending phrases continued to crop up. “Doesn’t that seem a little unrealistic?” “That’s nice and all, but isn’t it a bit naïve?” And it seemed that the older I became, the less my visionary ideas were seen as acceptable by activist communities.

I wish I could say that hearing these phrases over and over did not alter my outlook and enthusiasm, but.., it seeped into my head. My dreams became smaller, more “realistic.” It became harder to see outside of the systems of oppression.

This is how “adultism” (the oppression of young folks) works. Adultism sets things up to systematically treat young people like they are somehow less human than adults, thus devaluing their thoughts, beliefs, and visions. And like all oppressions, people start to internalize it and believe the false messages. People start to think it really is childish to have big dreams.

As a JYCA staff member for the past 5 years I have supported many youth in leading workshops on adultism, and each time I feel newly inspired to act for change. If there was ever a time to examine adultism, it is now; in a historical period when youth all over the world are rising up for justice from Egypt to Libya and the US, it is important that we take time to think about youth empowerment. I have seen the ways in which younger people don’t get listened to in the same way as adults, but simultaneously I have seen more adults follow youth activist leadership than ever before. Because many young folks are so in touch with that inherent desire to fight for justice, it is necessary that we follow their lead. Examining adultism will not only make youth central to our movements, but will also help each of us get in touch with our true activist selves.

I hope you will join JYCA at Occupy Oakland this Sunday November 13th from 11am-1:30pm for our Youth Empowerment & Adultism Workshop (for people of all ages). We will be at the Interfaith tent.

RSVP to the Adultism Workshop.   More information on JYCA. If you are a youth activist or work with youth activists and are interested in working together or in thinking about youth empowerment in the occupy movement, please contact Talia at

Talia Cooper is the director of Jewish Youth for Community Action (JYCA), a youth empowerment organization for high school aged teens. Talia has been on staff at JYCA for five years and is also an alumna of their program. She can be found singing about the Occupy movement at