Young People’s Oppression and Goal Two

Two years ago, in the summer of 2000, I was appointed International Liberation Reference Person (ILRP) for Young People. Since then, Ellie Brown (the former ILRP for Young People) has been supporting me in this role. I have been discharging and thinking about young people, our oppression, and my role as Reference Person.

I think the next several years will be a crucial time for young people and Co-Counseling. Young people have the opportunity to play a bigger role in the RC Communities than ever before, especially in light of World Conference Goal Number Two: making RC more accessible to young people.

Ever since I can remember, young people and their oppression have been so important to me. This oppression affects every one of us every day. RC is the only organized effort I know of in which people are aware that something is wrong in the way young people are treated. More than that, in RC there’s a systematic effort to create situations that are actually good for young people.

I started college this year and can see even more clearly how hurt we all are. I can see that people are dying for1 an opportunity to fight against and heal from young people’s oppression. I’ve been trying to figure out how to explain this oppression in a way that makes sense to people who are not in RC. It would be good for me to share with you my picture of young people’s oppression.

Adults have been conditioned to think that young people are not smart. This is an important part of our oppression, but our oppression is much more damaging and pervasive than that. It is an all-encompassing dehumanizing process. Our power over ourselves and our lives is taken away. We’re given the message that because of our age we aren’t fully intelligent and capable. We are in the hands of adults who’ve been very hurt by society and who, in turn, hurt their children, however unintentionally. Interactions—first with adults and soon after with young people—are usually dehumanizing and don’t fully acknowledge our intelligence.

Before long we begin to doubt that we are good and intelligent. We think that because we’re not being treated well and with complete respect, there must be a reason, and that reason must be that we are fundamentally bad. We begin to believe this about ourselves. Then we act it out at other young people. Because we can’t remember our own goodness and intelligence, we can’t remember that other young people are fully good and intelligent, even though we may care deeply about them. This internalized oppression plays out2 in harshness, teasing, making fun of each other, competition, and striving to be “popular” and “cool.”3 It serves to isolate us from one another. Every young person deserves to be loved, respected, and accepted by other young people, but we lose sight of that. We become hard on each other4 and can’t remember that everyone is good and acceptable. We lose contact with each other.

Not only are we isolated from other young people and caught in negative feelings about ourselves, we also become separated from adults. Adults have been set up5 to play the oppressor role, and we understandably view them as untrustworthy. As a result, we’re deprived of the resource they might offer.

With this oppression in our faces every minute of every day, with little resource and no way to get our feelings out, we become confused. Many of us get lost in drugs, alcohol, and sex, which can seem like ways out of feeling bad, although all they do is numb us out so we don’t feel things. Adults, because of the way they were treated when they were teenagers, tend to act in rigid ways around drugs, alcohol, and sex and don’t offer much support or rational thinking in these areas. So we get left alone and become unable to think well about these things.

As we get older, the effects of the oppression build up on us. We get tighter and tighter. Without discharge and good support, it gets harder to not give in6 to the oppression. We begin to forget how amazing it is to be alive and how exciting and interesting the world and people are. We give up on having the big lives we want. Desperately looking for a way out of being targets of this oppression, we take on7 the adult oppressor role.

As we get older, we also stop being targets of young people’s oppression. I have noticed this in college—there are times when I don’t feel totally crushed and bad about myself. Once we start getting little breaks from the oppression, it becomes harder to look at how we’ve been damaged by it—much less, work consistently on it. We start becoming “adults.”

RC gives me a big picture of what is possible for my life, and my world. In RC, people make systematic efforts to interrupt young people’s oppression and give young people a safe place to show our struggles and what our lives are like. We young people are smart about our lives and can figure out so much with the resource RC has to offer us.

The RC Communities have done a decent job of making RC accessible to some young people and keeping them involved. However, we need to figure out how to do this with large numbers of young people. The purpose of World Conference Goal Number Two, making the Communities accessible to young people, is to get people thinking and discharging about this, and taking action. I think we’ve come far enough with young people’s work that we can succeed with this goal.


We need young people to be in the center of both the young people’s movement and the RC Communities as a whole. We are the experts on our own oppression and have smart ideas about how to move things forward. However, our internalized oppression operates to keep us from thinking and taking charge, especially around adults. It’s a huge contradiction to our internalized oppression when decisions and policies about young people are thought about and made by young people. Goal Two gives us a special opportunity to lead the Communities and put our thinking forward.

For RC to become truly accessible to young people, young people need to be right in the center of things, thinking about and acting on this goal and playing other important roles in our local Communities. This goal challenges us to look at where our internalized young people’s oppression keeps us stuck and acting small. It challenges us to take ourselves seriously.

RC is a tool to change our lives and our world. It shows the way to end our oppression. We matter. Our oppression and struggles matter. And it matters to everyone that we end our oppression.


The first step in making RC accessible to young people is for both young people and adults to discharge a lot about young people’s oppression. We were all targets of young people’s oppression early in our lives. Adults carry large amounts of undischarged distress from being young people and need to look at that in sessions. Young people need to discharge on whatever gets in our way of being completely powerful. We have gotten the message that we are powerless to do anything. The oppression is huge and pervasive, but that doesn’t mean we are powerless. We can fight and change things. In fact, the only way we are beaten by this oppression is if we give up and don’t fight. It would be good for us to consistently discharge about feeling hopeless and bad about ourselves, how hard our lives are, and what this oppression does to us and our friends.

Beyond discharging, it would be good for us to look at becoming central in the RC Communities. This includes figuring out how to have regular sessions, working toward becoming solid members of local Communities, and stretching ourselves to think as big as possible, including thinking about Community-building. We also need to look at whatever gets in our way of becoming really close to other young people, both inside and outside of RC. In fighting for each other, we are taking on8 the internalized oppression that tries to keep us apart.

I am so happy that we have the opportunity to make RC work for us in a bigger way than ever before. In taking on Goal Number Two, we young people are going to get closer and have even more of each other than ever before.

Jessica Whitehead
Wilmington, Delaware, USA

1 Dying for means desperately eager for.
2 Plays out means is acted out.
3 “Cool” means fashionable.
4 Become hard on each other means begin to mistreat each other.
5 Set up means conditioned.
6 Give in means succumb.
7 In this context, take on means assume.
8 In this context, taking on means confronting and doing something about.

Last modified: 2015-06-19 21:46:35+00