Co/Motion: Fostering Youth Advocacy
By Keith Martin, Assistant Editor
youth are becoming more active in not only shaping their community, but the nation as well. With their involvement in movements ranging from environmental concerns to gun safety, they are making sure that their concerns and ideas are being both listened to and understood.
"Young people [18 years old or younger] make up 26 percent of the population in the United States, so it is important that they are involved in activism because their voices need to be heard about the issues they care about," says Kellye McIntosh, Youth Organizing Manager for Co/Motion. "When they get involved at a young age, they stay involved [in activism] into adulthood."
Co/Motion is a program of The Alliance for Justice, a national association of advocacy organizations. Established in 1995, Co/Motion works with organizations around the country to aid youth in designing, implementing and evaluating action strategies to address community problems through training and technical assistance.
McIntosh notes that while some youth are already motivated to change their surroundings, others can benefit from a little training.
"Some young people are pretty opinionated and step up first as to what they see and think," she says. "Others, if educated on the issues and provided with skills to channel their concerns and ideas become more active."
Co/Motion's training sessions typically involve two days of workshops where youth learn more about advocacy and organizing techniques and how to put a campaign into action in their community. They have also published a 250-page training manual, the Co/Motion Guide to Youth-Led Social Change, which includes tips and stories from young people who have made positive changes in their community.
"I think there are certain skills, in any endeavor, that you learn to hone and build upon," says McIntosh. "[Through Co/Motion training] young people learn to implement campaigns, build a coalition, build an organization, budget and evaluate the work they do to involve others. All of this helps not only today, but in the future."
After training, Co/Motion provides continuing support and technical assistance in the form of specialized training sessions and connecting young people with experts in their community. McIntosh notes that one of the most popular training sessions is one that teaches youth to put together a media event. Here, they learn how to write a press release and media advisory, create a press list, get their message across and face questioning from members of the media.
Working to Curb Gun Violence
One of the organization's main endeavors, the Youth Gun Violence Prevention Initiative helps young people organize around the gun control debate. The goal, according to McIntosh, is to give young people a voice in the debate, as it is this demographic which is largely affected by gun violence.
"Ten young people under the age of 19 die every day from guns," she says. "[Further statistics show] that there are three times as many gun dealers than there are McDonalds franchises."
In addition to training and technical assistance, Co/Motion offers matching challenge grants to support youth-designed and youth led campaigns dedicated to ending gun violence. The Alliance for Justice awards grants of up to $10,000 to applicants that work with Co/Motion to design and implement a one-year campaign as well as being affiliated with a non-profit organization or government agency.
"Often, lack of resources prevent young people from involving themselves in organizing efforts," says McIntosh. "Fundraising is an important part of any campaign, as is budgeting and program evaluation."
McIntosh refers to a number of projects nationwide where young people have expressed their feelings on gun control as proof that youth have an opinion and do care about the issues in their community. In Oakland, California, a group of 35 students known as Teens on Target educated their peers and convinced the Oakland Tribune to stop running ads for guns in their classified section. Another group of students, Young Texans Against Guns, has educated over 1,000 young people about the myth of guns as a way to protect themselves as well as traveling to Washington D.C. to rally for gun safety.
Next month, the Alliance for Justice will release a video with more inspiring acts from youth entitled "Young People Making a Co/Motion to Stop Gun Violence." The 13-minute film details projects and organizations nationwide that have worked with Co/Motion to both educate and empower other young people.
Organizing Youth In New Jersey
One organization that has benefited from Co/Motion's partnership is the Violence Institute of New Jersey. With the help of the Guide to Youth-Led Social Change, the Institute developed Youth Summit 2000, a statewide conference on violence that brought together hundreds of high school students. A workshop on gun violence by a representative of Co/Motion was just one of many session topics that also included lobbying legislators and working with the juvenile justice system.
The Violence Institute was also instrumental in fostering a partnership between Ceasefire New Jersey and Co/Motion to work with a youth organization called Students For A Safer Tomorrow (SFAST). After attending two days of training by Co/Motion, the group worked with Ceasefire New Jersey on a statewide campaign to pass the Childproof Handguns Bill. Prior to a Valentine's Day press conference demanding the bill be passed, SFAST members got students from their school to sign two five-foot valentines that read "We Are Your Children! Pass the Childproof Handguns Bill!" One member eloquently expressed his feelings about the bill at the press conference, the only speaker under the age of 35 to do so.
"[Organizing youth] is tremendously important," says Dr. Michael B. Greene, Executive Director of the Institute. "The public in general and adolescents in specific are so supportive of efforts to pass common sense gun legislation and support 'smart guns.' I think that because of their strong beliefs, it is important to train youth to give them the tools to advocate those beliefs they hold. This isn't changing their opinion, but [allowing them to] pursue what they believe in."
To encourage more activism in the state, the Institute has designed "peace and social justice" grants in the same manner as Co/Motion's challenge grants. Applicants from a school district can submit a proposal written and inspired by a high school student expressing a need or interest in the community. Getting youth involved, says Greene, can be a very powerful tool.
"When youth are marginalized and put aside, they conform to the image people have of them, which is that they are unruly and [unorganized]," he says. "In my view, by promoting the skills of community organizing, this becomes a violence prevention modality. We need to turn on its side the idea of violence prevention as one of addressing the deficits of youth. Violence prevention is best pursued by supporting young people in what they believe in."
For more information on Co/Motion, go to www.comotionmakers.org.
Dr. Michael B. Greene, Executive Director, Violence Institute of New Jersey at The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, (973) 972-1700, www.umdnj.edu/vinjweb.
Kellye McIntosh, Co/Motion Youth Organizing Manager, (202) 822-6070
159 Burgin Parkway | Quincy, MA 02169
617-471-4445 | Fax 617-770-3339