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Rebel Girls

Rebel Girls: Youth Activism and Social Change Across the Americas

Jessica K. Taft
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Rebel Girls
    Book Description:

    From anti-war walkouts to anarchist youth newspapers, rallies against educational privatization, and workshops on fair trade, teenage girls are active participants and leaders in a variety of social movements. Rebel Girls: Youth Activism and Social Change Across the Americas illuminates the experiences and perspectives of these uniquely positioned agents of social change. Jessica K. Taft introduces readers to a diverse and vibrant transnational community of teenage girl activists in the San Francisco Bay Area, Mexico City, Caracas, Buenos Aires, and Vancouver. Expansive in scope and full of rich details, Taft brings to life the voices of these inspiring activists who are engaged in innovative and effective organizing for global and local social justice, highlighting their important contributions to contemporary social movements and social theory.Rebel Girls explores how teenage girls construct activist identities, rejecting and redefining girlhood and claiming political authority for youth in the process. Taft examines the girl activists' social movement strategies and collective political practices, detailing their shared commitments to process-based political education, participatory democracy, and hopeful enthusiasm. Ultimately, Rebel Girls has substantial implications for social movements and youth organizations, arguing that adult social movements could learn a great deal from girl activists and making clear the importance of increased collaboration between young people and adults.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8420-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. 1 Introduction: Growing Up and Rising Up
    (pp. 1-20)

    Nenetzin stands in the center of the plaza, her arms painted white, wearing a skeleton mask and a bridal veil. Along with a dozen other young activists all dressed as skeletons, she sings a song about remembering those who have died due to poverty, domestic violence, state repression, and other social and political injustices. It is “El Dia de los Muertos,” the Day of the Dead, and Nenetzin’s Mexican youth activist collective is interweaving tradition with political theater to educate others and build oppositional consciousness. At the end of the singing and dancing, another young skeleton steps forward to inform...


    • 2 We Are Not Ophelia: Empowerment and Activist Identities
      (pp. 23-46)

      In January 2004, in a speech to the International Women’s Health Coalition, the then secretary-general of the United Nations Kofi Annan told the assembled group “when it comes to solving many of the problems of this world, I believe in girl power.”¹ Girls, according to Annan, need to be educated to take up the mantle of civic responsibility and humanitarian leadership. Meanwhile, the Nike Foundation, a charity wing of the giant athletic gear corporation, focuses all of its funding on adolescent girls in the “developing world” in order to “empower impoverished girls by expanding their opportunities, capabilities, and choices.”² Countless...

    • 3 We Are Not the Future: Claiming Youth Authority
      (pp. 47-70)

      The outside walls of the school were covered in hastily lettered posters and photocopied lists of demands, and a red and black flag hung from the bright yellow fencing. Liliana, a graceful young woman with big dark eyes stood at the gate. Dressed all in black, her hood pulled close over her head, a black bandana tied around the lower half of her face, she was carefully watching who was entering and leaving school grounds. Walking up to the entrance, it was obvious to me that something was happening here: Liliana and her friends, students at a public high school...

    • 4 We Are Not Girls: Escaping and Defining Girlhood
      (pp. 71-96)

      I first met Manuela at the mall. She and several other members of the local chapter of the Juventud Comunista de Venezuela had selected this location, and we were to meet for dinner and socializing with the youth delegation I was traveling with after the World Social Forum. A few weeks later, when I went back to their town to spend more time with Manuela and interview a few of the young women involved in the JCV, I was taken to the mall again. At one point partway through an evening of eating hot dogs and salsa dancing (badly, in...


    • 5 The Street Is Our Classroom: A Politics of Learning
      (pp. 99-122)

      The courtyard in front of the Oakland City Hall was full of teenagers, all chanting for their rights to quality education. It was Take Back Our Schools Day, a San Francisco Bay Area activist event organized by a coalition of youth organizations fighting for educational justice. Approximately four hundred teenagers were gathered, holding signs and banners with messages like: Education Is a Human Right, Not a Privilege; Student Power; Unity and Justice; Hella [Bay Area slang for “lots” or “really,” depending on the context] Children Left Behind; and Education Is a Civil Right. The group had four key demands: noncompliance...

    • 6 Join the Party: A Politics of Participation
      (pp. 123-150)

      Having a democratic and participatory student center is slower, Marina tells me over a cup of coffee andmedialunas. But, she adds, she is glad that her school has transitioned away from the vertical, top-down structure that many student centers still use and put in place a new, “horizontal” model. It increases student participation, and that is a very good thing in Marina’s eyes. A seventeen-year-old delegate in one of Buenos Aires’ most active and most innovative student centers, Marina is a vocal supporter of horizontalism, a continually developing mode of political practice that emphasizes the ongoing processes of building...

    • 7 We’ve Got Spirit: A Politics of Hope
      (pp. 151-176)

      Rae, an eighteen-year-old Wsanec woman in what is now called British Columbia, is both troubled and hopeful. As a leader in one of many indigenous struggles to stop the encroachment of development and to reclaim some of the sacred spaces that have been lost, Rae’s politics of hope is mixed with deep sadness and pain. Her own political education, she acknowledges, came from growing up, “sitting and listening to my uncles and my aunts and my grandparents talk about the indigenous people’s struggles here, our land, and around, you know, there was always talk of what had been taken away...

  7. 8 Conclusion: Still Rising
    (pp. 177-192)

    Today, a few years after my first interviews, many of the girls in this study are still doing activism. Valentina was one of several girls who recently wrote me in response to a request for updates on their political lives.¹ Shortly after our initial interview, Valentina’s student center organized a major student occupation and six-day shut-down of their school. During this time, the students were living in the school, maintaining it, and, in her words, “showing that even though we are young, we are not less responsible than adults.” The group’s specific demands were met, but the occupation also led...

  8. Methodological Appendix
    (pp. 193-200)
  9. Demographic Tables
    (pp. 201-204)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 205-228)
  11. Index
    (pp. 229-240)
  12. About the Author
    (pp. 241-241)