I predict violence. More and more violence.
I watched with intrigue as #OccupyWallStreet mutated into #OccupyVancouver, #OccupySeattle, #OccupyAndTakeADumpInStPaulsCathedralLondon, #OccupyMcDonalds, #OccupyTheBathroom and even #OccupySesameStreet (OK, the last several were spoofs… but you get the idea).
With the current protests in Montreal showing no sign of any sort of quick resolution, and with the number of violent, youth-oriented protests that have been gracing my news feed in the months since #Occupy, I have come to a fairly simple conclusion:
There are a lot of VERY angry young people out there. (I may have some idea as to why…)
While the protests, riots and demonstrations certainly don’t represent 100% of the youth demographic (or “99%” as we may have been told…), I predict that more and more protests are in store in the near future, with a greater and greater number ending in violence.
Why? Two words: “Perceived powerlessness.”
… isolation is strongly associated with the willingness to use violence under two subjective conditions: (a) when isolated individuals feel a sense of powerlessness in the society and (b) when such isolated individuals are highly dissatisfied with their treatment…
- H.E. Ransford American Journal of Sociology
When Ransford wrote this hypothesis, he was studying the Watts Riot in Los Angeles almost 50 years ago. His hypothesis was written concerning oppressed blacks as a way of explaining how a demographic of otherwise good and law-abiding citizens had turned into an explosive and violent mob.
In the case of civil rights in the United States, a perfect storm of powerlessness and injustice created a hurricane of violence in many cities.
It’s not hard to see how Ransford’s hypothesis also fits the stories of youth-protest-violence that are becoming more and more commonplace.
To cite Dr. Robert Epstein’s landmark research in Teen 2.0 (Linden, 2010) and Dr. Chap Clark’s research in Hurt and Hurt 2.0 (Baker Academic, 2011), our society is building a new perfect storm around our children:
- “Adolescents” are increasingly isolated from adult society
- The “Age of Adulthood” is being pushed further and further back: 16, 18, 21 and now 25. This limits any meaningful participation in society (and with it, any opportunity for legitimate redress for concerns)
- Teenagers today have more legal restrictions on their behaviour than incarcerated criminals, creating a generation where even the most well behaved “feel like criminals”
I find it excruciating that as a society we haven’t learned from 50-year-old sociological research: the “solution” to end youth protest violence is not more restrictive laws, more intimidating and brutal police, or further medicating of the “offending group”.
If there’s anything the Civil Rights movement in the United States has taught us, it’s that the only way to de-escalate the current tension is to fight the sense of powerlessness that plagues the vulnerable minority group.
As counterintuitive as it may seem, unless we give young people more power, less restriction and more respect (actually welcoming them to the table for dialogue, not offering token gestures), this trend toward violence and protest will escalate until it boils over.
So word to our legislators and educators: you have the opportunity to make the greatest changes! It’s time to base policies on sound research, not public-opinion-polls and archaic assumptions.