Youth and Social Movements: Key Lessons for Allies

8 Pages Posted: 15 Jan 2013

See all articles by Sasha Costanza-Chock

Sasha Costanza-Chock

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society; Algorithmic Justice League

Date Written: December 17, 2012


As a part of its collaboration with the Born This Way Foundation, the Berkman Center is publishing on this website a series of papers that synthesize existing peer-reviewed research or equivalent scholarship and provide research-grounded insight to the variety of stakeholders working on issues related to youth empowerment and action towards creating a kinder, braver world. This series, called the The Kinder & Braver World Project: Research Series (danah boyd, John Palfrey, and Dena Sacco, editors), is presented by the Born This Way Foundation & the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, and supported by the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
 This set of papers involves topics related to the Role of Youth Organizations and Youth Movements for Social Change.

Young people are often key actors in powerful social movements that transform the course of human history. Indeed, youth have been deeply important to every progressive social movement, including the United States Civil Rights movement, the transnational LGBTQ movement, successive waves of feminism, environmentalism and environmental justice, the labor, antiwar, and immigrant rights movements, and more. In each of these cases, young people took part in many ways, including through the appropriation of the “new media” tools of their time, which they used to create, circulate, and amplify movement voices and stories. Yet today, youth are often framed in the mass media as, at best, apathetic, disengaged, and removed from civic action. At worst, youth (in the U.S., particularly youth of color) are subject to growing repression: increased surveillance, heightened policing, stop-and-frisk policies on the streets, overbroad gang injunctions, and spiraling rates of juvenile incarceration. In this short article, I argue that we have much to learn from young people who are already engaged in mobilizing their peers, families, and communities towards positive social transformation. I discuss key challenges, and provide recommendations for educators and adult allies of youth movements.

Suggested Citation

Costanza-Chock, Sasha, Youth and Social Movements: Key Lessons for Allies (December 17, 2012). Berkman Center Research Publication No. 2013-13, Available at SSRN: or

Sasha Costanza-Chock (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society ( email )

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Algorithmic Justice League ( email )


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