17 October 1998
Young and Independent -- Youth Living Conditions
Young people today live as a marginalised group, on the fringes of society. We are excluded from access to resources and power, denied a role in the decision making processes which effect our lives and prevented from living independently. In education, employment, housing, leisure and free time, sexuality, policing, justice, the media and of course political institutions, young people are denied our rights as independent human beings to participate and determine how our lives are government.
Young people have a right to independence. We have a right to quality education which empowers and enskills enabling young people to make informed decisions about our own lives. We have a right to stable and well paid employment to live independently and not be financially dependant on others. We have a right to our own accommodation, an independent living space. All of these things are essential if young people are to live full and independent lives.
Young people have a right to quality education. But equally important, young people have a right to determine what kind of education. Both what is learned and how its taught. Young people have a right to be taught their own history, in their own language. We have a right to learn not just academic or employment skills, but social and environmental skills. Education should be education for living. Not passing exams for their own sake but empowering young people to take our lives into our own hands and live.
Young people have a right to employment, to good working conditions, decent pay, trade union membership and participation in the management processes at work. Young people are not just a pool of cheap labour, but a resource whose energy and skill are essential to society. Equally importantly we have a right to employment which not only pay's a wage but improves the well being of our communities. We need stable, sustainable and environmentally economies which provide our neighbourhoods and regions with socially valuable services and which do not damage the quality or well being of our society. Economic independence is not just about a wage packet at the end of a week but creating and sustaining viable and self-sufficient local economies as real alternative to the nightmares of global capitalism.
Young people need space to live and develop as human beings. We have a right to housing. Homelessness, overcrowding, dependency on parents, discrimination in allocation, inequitious private sector practices and the running down of public sector housing all stand in the way of young people accessing their right to decent and affordable housing. Independent living demands a home to live in.
Leisure and Free Time
Free Time is a political issue. How we spend our free time, what resources are available to us, the way in which the state and media respond to our leisure pursuits, all of this is political. More and more, politicians and journalists criminalise and devalue popular youth culture. Young people have a right to express ourselves and our cultures as much as any other community. Our cultures not only require the space to develop and grow, but need assistance, resourcing and support. Free Time is not about wasting time, it is about education, expression, friendship and enjoyment. These things are not luxuries but social necessities.
Independent living does not just involve social and economic issues. Every person has the right to determine their own sexuality and no person, community or institution has the right to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation. Young people have the right to define themselves as straight, lesbian, gay or bisexual, and society must respect and support such choices. Equally importantly gender equality must become the norm in any democratic society. All barriers to equality between young people must be removed. Discrimination is contrary to the spirit of independence.
Young people in Ireland today live under the constant threat of state harassment and violence. Whether in the form of the RUC, RIR, British Army or Garda Siochana. In particular young republicans experience levels of political harassment unheard of in any democratic society. All young people have the right to live free from police harassment and violence. More importantly young people have a vital role to play in any democratic policing service. Young people have a right to be consulted as to how best tackle crime and anti-social behaviour, young people have the right to participate in any mechanisms which ensure transparency and accountability in policing structures. The RUC must be disbanded and replaced with a non-violent, accountable and acceptable form of policing. Punishment beatings and shootings must end. Community led restorative justice provides the best model for the radical reorganisation of policing across the whole of Ireland.
Young people have the right to full equality before the law. In legislation, in the courts, in the prison service. Young people must be treated with respect, dignity and human rights at all times. Prison overcrowding, degrading and inhuman treatment from prison staff, inadequate provision of legislation to protect young people all contribute to a situation where the still exists one law for adults and another for young people.
More and more in our societies the mass media informs and influences the opinions and attitudes of many people, politicians and the electorate alike. Young people are both marginalised and criminalised from mainstream media outlets. Our concerns and opinions are ignored, our lives and cultures attacked, our right to determine our own image denied. Young people have a positive contribution to play within all sections of the media. Our creativity and energy offer all sorts of potential. We constitute the largest single audience. We are producers of news and consumers of news day in day out. More importantly we are the future. The media cannot afford to ignore us.
At the core of all the issues dealt with above is the question of political institutions. Governments both federal, national and local control the resources and decision making powers which affect all our lives. They determine housing and employment policy, resource leisure and education provision. Legislate for equality in social and judicial policy. They control the police and army. They set constraints and initiate developments in the media. In short they are the channels of power in our society. Young people have a right to play a central and determining role in how these institutions work. In a country whose youth population amounts to 50% of the population, we demand our place. Participation requires empowerment, education, resourcing but most importantly political will. Politicians and civil servants must have the political will to change the way they run their institutions to ensure that they are everyones institutions. Because the simple reality is that if they do not respond to our demands then we will have to make them. We have been silenced for too long.
Young people have the right to live independently. We have a right to play a full and positive role in our society. We have a right to determine our own future and that of where we live. Our social, economic, cultural and political lives belong to us. But without national independence we cannot achieve personal independence. Without national democracy we cannot have local or personal democracy. The two are intricately connected. The fight for national independence is the fight for personal independence. The fight for national democracy is the fight for personal freedom. Not one before the other but two pillars of one struggle, without which neither project can be fulfilled. Young people have a right to independence, personal, local and national and international. We are not here to ask for it we are taking it .....