Religion.A Call For Reflexivity

As discussed in Roy Lewicki’s Making Sense of Intractable Environmental Conflicts, conflicts between two parties stem from differences in each party’s framework–how one views oneself, how one views another, how one feels conflict should be managed, etc.  Subsequent framework analysis can be undertaken to decipher the differences between the two parties, possibly leading to reframing on each side and perhaps solutions.  This idea of framework transcends the environmental conflicts Lewicki and his peers specifically discuss.  We can see framing of people, ourselves, and situations is daily living.  Framing theory influences our actions and opinions in most things, encompassing our identities and views of our world.

There are fundamental differences between groups of people in our society that are often considered taboo, yet fuel numerous conflicts between its members.  These categories are often fundamental in our identities and when contested, cause us to feel extremely threatened.  Among these is religious preference.  The framework surrounding religiosity or lack of religiosity has created a taboo topic not to be discussed at dinner parties for fear of offending any member present.  Why is this?  What aspect of religious belief or lack thereof has driven this topic to a framework so sensitive that the argument is abandoned oftentimes before reframing can be considered?  Religiosity has been perceived as instilling deep-seeded value systems within the members of American society.  The weight of these value systems, different for everyone, overtakes our frameworks, influencing, in theory, every decision we make ethically and morally.  As a result, these value systems leak into our daily living and are applied to everything we see, do, and learn.

It is a wonder that something so fundamental to our decision-making is rarely up for negotiation.  Religious or non-religious beliefs, being so deeply instilled within our value systems, provide the core of our identities.  We take pride in how we live our lives based upon our religiosity.  Christians attempt to selflessly, giving to others and loving.  Atheists derive their own interpretation of morality and ethics, learning from their own experiences and creating a moral code of their own accord.  Other religious live by their own set of determined values, attempting to live by a code set out for them that they have chosen to believe.  Each party embraces its title, holding it close to its identity.

Again, as discussed in Lewicki’s book, the conflicts arise from differing characterization frames of the other parties.  At times, religious believe atheists to be arrogant.  This may or may not stem from insecurities in one’s beliefs, or feeling threatened by someone outside of the socially typical “group”.  It may even be fear of someone without religious ethical motivations, someone with an unknown and potentially threatening agenda.  I spoke recently with a professor of mine about her journey to atheism.  After giving me a brief history, she expressed that telling those close to you is similar to “coming out.”  She was apprehensive about telling her friends and family because, she said, some would characterize her as “that typical radical”, others would be worried for her afterlife, and still others would doubt her ethical motivations.  Each of these characterizations is negative.  No one she knew, she said, was going to react positively to this development, as is typical when religious create a characterization frame of atheists.

On the other side, Atheists, seeing religious beliefs as false, frame religious as blind followers absent of logic.  Some may pity their ignorance, questioning the time spent on something so obviously false and therefore worthless.  This may stem from a self-righteous attitude and a feeling of superiority, or simply apathy for their beliefs.  Others, typically agnostics, are intrigued by religious belief and wish to learn more.  The underlying theme is that the different characterizations have separated the groups, and have left each threatened enough to typify any religious topic as controversial.

Now, these value frames, as I stated previously, are intertwined with our identity frames.  Many members of society hold these religious or non-religious definitions close when certain issues are discussed, creating controversy over some topics.  The question becomes, how do we resolve conflicts closely related to religious issues (abortion, capital punishment, same-sex marriage, etc.) let alone have a clean, understanding dinner table discussion about them?  The characterization frames and identity frames remain clear, but the essential conflict-management frames, used to have this clean dinner table discussion, are undoubtedly vague.  At the dinner table, passivity is utilized, made evident by the golden rule to “never discuss politics or religion” at a gathering.  At the political level, everything from fact-finding, to adjudication, to struggle, sabotage, and violence have been utilized with little success.

These conflicts have obviously proven to reach deeper than simply political ideology.  We can see that the fundamental conflict is the perception of either side, the misconstruing of a religious person by a non-religious person and a non-religious person by a religious person, along with our strict and unwavering identity frames.  This fundamental perception is what pervades our political issues and what leaks into our dinner table discussions.  If these characterization and identity frames are reframed, we may find our society more tolerant of all religions, life-styles, beliefs, and ideologies.

The crux of the strict value-based identity frames has resulted from years of societal pressure and expectations.  Each of us may or may not have been raised a certain religion, researched and discovered one that we have agreed with, or abandoned religion altogether.  Regardless, we have all chosen and have an answer when asked where our values systems lie.  Religious ideology, stemming back thousands of years, has been the foundation for societies and has dictated lifestyles.  Relatively recently has science contested what was once the explanation for phenomena and caused society to question religious beliefs.  No wonder religious characterize atheists as radicals, they have broken away from what was considered the norm since the beginning of recorded history.

The problem is managing a conflict between two directly opposing opinions that have no fact-base, political regulation, or economic regulation.  There is no judge of what is most beneficial to society, because to judge what is “good” is rooted in these beliefs, causing direct opposition from the beginning.  There are religious experts to turn to, but these are not necessarily respected by the atheist side.  Creating an atmosphere of tolerance and understanding in the context of religiosity goes deeper than these frameworks.

The truth is, very few members of society truly romanticize their own religious preferences and demonize the opposing ones. Yes, there are fundamental differences, otherwise there would be little conflict over religion; however, most are not religious radicals or condemning  atheists. Most people can walk away from a heated religion-based argument and collect themselves and move on, perhaps considering further some of the opposition’s viewpoints.  In progressive American society, many people engage purposefully in religion-based conversation for the sake of their own education and understanding, and often people are unhappy with their religious orientation and are looking for an alternative.

Yet, at the base of our identities still lies a value-system often rooted in our religious orientations, and this leads to intolerance and negative characterizations of others who do not share our values.  Regardless of our uncertainty about our own religious orientation or curiosity about others, we each feel the need to, somewhere in our identity framework, define where we lie on the religious spectrum, setting ourselves up for tension-filled discussions on the topic.  Why is this?  Are we simply following societal conditioning?  Tolerance and openness in regard to these topics requires a significant level of reflexivity that is currently absent from out religiosity.

As with anything, we must ask ourselves why we have “chosen” either orientation.  Religiosity is a very personal thing, and many people are hesitant to share these deep ponderings with others, yet self-analysis is still critical.  Discovering the true reason we attend or do not attend service every Sunday, or believe or not believe there is an afterlife will be the beginning of stimulating self analysis.

If reflected upon deeply, one will find that there is a large gray area between religious and non-religious.  One will find that he or she does not particularly agree with every teaching of his or her church or community.  One may find oneself even frightened at the conclusions and possible doubts as to his or her religious orientation.  But, one will find that a process of self-discovery can take place, and that asking these questions can be an opportunity.

The reflexive process involved with religion is a necessary one that not all people attempt.  Be it for fear of doubt or feeling limited in options, many either blindly follow the path set by those who raised them or are absent of religious inclination altogether.  Yet, if the goal is religious tolerance and acceptance, this reflexive process is necessary.  By undergoing such a self-analysis, one will learn to appreciate other who have done the same.  One will learn to appreciate other religiosities, and even appreciate those who have doubt.  One may even find that religious orientation is an unnecessary label for a person and come to appreciate all opinions.  By undergoing this reflexive challenge, one will reframe both oneself and others in regard to religiosity.

Often people are reflexive in this analysis and personal feeling, and most would be able to share with you a religious or non-religious journey.  The final challenge, which translates directly into the origin of the dinner table discussion conflict, is being reflexive in action:  taking the personal analysis and applying it to daily life.  For example, if as a Catholic you agree with your church’s appreciation for tolerance of all peoples, do you then discriminate against those who hold different value systems than you?  If as an atheist you appreciate a moral code, do act accordingly in daily life?  These questions and subsequent analyses allow one to reframe how he or she lives daily and appreciates others’ values.

Religious intolerance pervades our daily life.  We see it in tense conversations, in Rick Perry’s campaign videos, and in our personal opinions of others.  In our relatively progressive culture, religious radicals are rare, but present, driving conflict socially and politically everywhere.  The issue lies in the framing of either party, both strict identity frames and similarly unwavering characterization frames.  We reach a problem with reframing the resulting issues because the underlying source of dissent lies in these steadfast value-based frames.  As a result, conflict management is very tricky.  The solution to something so very personal requires personal analysis.  Once reflexive analysis is undergone, one can find oneself more appreciative of all side, defining a personal moral agenda and/or religious belief system.  Once undergone, the next challenge is to allow these newly acquired beliefs to pervade your daily life, constantly making oneself aware of how each personal identity frame and characterization of others has changed one’s actions.

This hackneyed topic is such because of its fundamental nature in society.  It is then all the more necessary to continually analyze and apply to daily life.  As a society, we are approaching a day with limited religious intolerance.  In order to expedite this process, self reflexivity is necessary to appreciate others’ stances as well as the large gray area of the religious spectrum.  As we abandon typical societal pressures, let’s reframe our views toward a more educated and tolerant perspective.





Ambiguity on Wall Street

The Occupy Wall Street movement has pervaded the country over the last two months, establishing locations in cities and universities with the support of hundreds of thousands of American citizens.  The movement claims to be “fighting back against the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process, and the role of Wall Street in creating an economic collapse that has caused the greatest recession in generations,” (Banks).  In the process the OWS movement has stimulated once arguably latent conflict to become significantly more overt (Banks).  In the past two weeks, mayors across the country have approved police raids on occupiers, attempting to end the non-violent protests.


These raids are proving to be both excessively violent, and questionably motivated.  With the technological age living up to expectations, police violence cannot escape photography and video.  Entire blogposts have evidence of unprovoked violence against protestors.  For example, Joshua Holland on AlterNet posted “Caught on Camera: 10 Shockingly Violent Police Assaults on Occupy Protestors” on November 18.  Among them: point-blank chemical spray on an unarmed woman, UC Davis protestors being sprayed with chemical agents, and veterans hit with tear gas.


As more information is discovered, it was suspected that The Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and other federal police agencies aided in organizing the police raids.  Encouraging the local law enforcement to seek legal reason to remove protestors, DHS and the FBI were thought to have had an excessively influential hand in ending the OWS streak (“Raids”).  The interesting piece of information that is coupled with this fact is that the DHS in unable to directly decide to take action against the protestors.  The decision to act thus is not within their authority.  The DHS is accountable to New York representative Peter Kind, head of the House homeland security subcommittee, and further to the president (Wolf).  From this fact, we see the influence to act against the OWS protestors was influenced by much higher authority in the legal hierarchy than local law enforcers.


The resulting conflict is not only a complicated one, but is still freshly developing.  Still this weekend, Occupy Philly is thought to be shut down by Philadelphia’s police force after Mayer Nutter asked OWS protestors to leave City Hall by five pm on Sunday, November 27 (Banks).  Yet, as news unfolds, we can see multiple sides to this issue.  There are OWS protestors involved with the movement, and, as made evident from the chain of command motivating action by the DHS, stakeholders on Wall Street.  Each of these groups is playing a strong role in this developing conflict made overt by recent police and protestor action.  The framework surrounding the conflict between these groups is still developing, as well as confounding the issue.


The identity frame of the Occupy Wall Street protestors is a broad one.  Beginning with their mantra of being the 99% (those who are not the richest 1% of Americans owning 40% of the nation’s wealth), this group finds commonality in having less monetary wealth than the richest percentage of the United States.  This group prides itself in its variety of members, embracing the differences they share, but as a whole finding common ground in their economic demographic.  In addition to this, OWS protestors are located in different regions across the country, defining themselves as “Occupy Penn State” or “Occupy Philly,” as a result incorporating specific location-based and institution-based identity frames.  Each location and institution comes with its own set of specific interest frames.  Enveloping the entire movement is a set of interest frames that include, from what information objective viewers can decipher, a plea for more transparent government processes as well as less corruption as it is defined by OWS protestors.  These pleas create the interest base for the movement in its entirety; however, at each location specific pleas apply.  At universities, for example, specific pleas may be made to administration by the students.  These requests would not apply specifically to Occupy Philly’s specific location-based framework.


Interestingly, the group the OWS protestors have been in direct conflict with these past two weeks has not been explicitly the 1% they have been protesting.  This group is an ambiguous one, made up of stakeholders on Wall Street and influential law enforcers as made evident by the authority of the DHS.  This group finds commonality in their risk aversion, identifying as those who will suffer in one way or another, be it economically or politically, with the furthering of the Occupy Wall Street movement.  This vague set of people may find themselves identifying by location or role–those who work together on Wall Street itself find commonality in being the target, whereas the administration at a university occupies a different location.  This group may also find commonality in interests and values, again with Wall Street business people valuing economic and business success, and congresspeople valuing political success.


Each of these groups condemns the other.  OWS characterizes the stakeholders as the 1% itself; however, because the protestors have had no direct interaction with a specific leader of the group they are opposing, and because said group has such an uncertain definition, they have continued to oppose a faceless enemy.  As a result while the raids continue across the country, these protestors see the law enforcers as the face of the economic disparity they have been peacefully protesting.  Local law enforcement has been the closest thing to formal, direct confrontation the group has come thus far.


In contrast, the ambiguous group of stakeholders views the protestors as ignorant, unorganized, and without focus as reflected by the mainstream media.  Because the occupy protestors have not formally created a list of specific grievances followed by a list of proposed solutions, peripheral viewers characterize their cause as nebulous and subsequently have not developed respect for it.


Relating to conflict management frames, each side continues to be in direct contrast.  Over the last two months, OWS has appealed to political action.  Investigative journalist Naomi Wolf, polled protestors online finding the most common agenda item was to create legislation to address their grievances (Wolf).  She cites specific examples such as legislation to limit the now unending amounts of money permitted to fund campaigns, to reform the banking system, and to eliminate the loophole allowing Congress to pass legislation affecting corporations they themselves are investors in (Wolf).  Other reporters contest Wolf’s claims, offering different examples of requests made by OWS.  These claims vary with location and interest across the country, but what each include is the appeal to political action–in order to address their pleas, the OWS sees legislation and political answers.


On the other side of the conflict, thus far the Wall Street stakeholders have allowed the protests to continue until only previously.  As time passed, media was fact-finding, hoping to discover what they perceived as direct claims made by OWS.  Upon finding none to their liking, this indefinite group proceeded with relative passivity.  This was no doubt influenced by what they interpreted as an argument with no substantial claims, made evident in their characterization frame of OWS.  Action was not taken to remove the protestors because no legal claim could be made to rationalize removal, yet no action could be taken to address their grievances because their grievances either did not exist explicitly or were too silly to address.  Within the last two weeks, Wall Street stakeholders have altered their conflict management frame to one of struggle and violence.  As discussed previously, an authority in the chain of command about the DHS requested the mayors across the country employ the force of local law enforcement to remove protestors.  Having found themselves in a frustrating position, unable to address vague claims or to find an authority with whom to mediate, stakeholders used hierarchical legal power to simply eliminate the manifestation of the conflict altogether.


More explicitly than OWS protestors, Wall Street stakeholders are influenced by risk and gain versus loss frames.  If the claims Naomi Wolf illuminated in her research were to be addressed, each stakeholder would stand to lose significant economic and political wealth and influence.  On the other side of the conflict, OWS feels that since these legislative issues have manifested themselves within politics, they have been losing significantly.  Their identity frames show that their interests lie economically and politically, contesting perceived corruption within these systems.  OWS feels that citizens of the country have a right to direct influence in legislative processes as well as a right to an honest government, both of which they feel have been lacking.  Because of this, OWS protestors feel the country has been proceeding in such a way that American citizens have been losing.


Ambiguity has been the main influence within this conflict between OWS and Wall Street stakeholders.  Neither group has a clear construct or agenda, eliminating all possibility of explicit conflict management.  This is made especially evident by the variety of identity and characterization frames within each group.  Because of this ambiguity, each side has a the freedom to choose which qualities about the other they wish to condemn so as to romanticize their own cause.  Each uses the flexibility of their characterization and identity frames to justify their own cause as well as to appeal to others that may fall into their same category.  Consequently, not only has each side been able to find justification for their own actions, no matter their extremity, they have also been able to justify condemnation of the other side and eluding mediation.


The result has been violent raids on protestors, no doubt furthering dissension.  As the issues persist, each side will need to attempt at reframing their characterization and identities.  OWS, the party with the initial grievance, will need to explicitly outline their demands and positions in addition to organizing themselves in such a way as to allow for mediation with the party they are speaking against.  This may consist of breaking into specific groups within the entire OWS organization because the claims and interests vary so significantly.  One the other side of things, Wall Street stakeholders and congresspersons will need to characterize these grievances as legitimate and recognize the value of the issues presented to them.


Once these preliminary steps are taken, however challenging, conflict management can ensue in such a way as to avoid violence and force.  As more information unfolds, and groups within this conflict become more defined, successful conflict mediation may be able to take place; however, as of now, ambiguity acts as the fuel for dissension on Wall Street.




Works Cited

Banks, Criminal. Occupy Wall Street | NYC Protest for World Revolution. Web. 27 Nov. 2011. <>.

Holland, Joshua. “Caught on Camera: 10 Shockingly Violent Police Assaults on Occupy Protesters | | AlterNet.” Home | AlterNet. 18 Nov. 2011. Web. 29 Nov. 2011.

< caught_on_camera:_10_shockingly_violent_police_assaults_on_occupy_protesters/>.

Holland, Joshua. “Naomi Wolf’s ‘Shocking Truth’ About the ‘Occupy Crackdowns’ Offers Anything but the Truth | | AlterNet.” Home | AlterNet. 26 Nov. 2011. Web. 29 Nov. 2011. <>.

“Raids on OWS Coordinated with Obama’s FBI, Homeland Security & Others :: News From Underground.” US Citizens Arrested by the Army, on the “battlefield” That’s Right outside Our Windows? Help the ACLU Say NO! :: News From Underground. Minneapolis Top News Examiner, 16 Nov. 2011. Web. 27 Nov. 2011. <http://


Wolf, Naomi. “The Shocking Truth about the Crackdown on Occupy | Naomi Wolf | Comment Is Free |” Latest News, Sport and Comment from the Guardian | The Guardian., 25 Nov. 2011. Web. 27 Nov. 2011. <http://


The Coffee Party: Modern Everyday Politics at Work


The Coffee Party began in the United States through the social media of Facebook.  This accessibility foreshadowed the development of this movement, setting the stage for a trans-partisan, citizen-based, and participatory-focused mission.  Attempting to attack the complexities of the country’s current political challenges, this movement embraces citizen participation at the local level, utilizing local knowledge and experience in addressing issues (Coffee).  The focus is to ignite the citizenry to re-embrace politics, to take up their own agency with the knowledge, skill sets, and resources they have and apply them to issues within their communities.


The Coffee Party represents a perfect example of what Harry Boyte, in Everyday Politics, refers to as a mediating institution.  This network of individuals with different knowledge sets is organized in such a way as to allow the sharing of experience and skills in order to create a more well-informed citizenry (Boyte).  The Coffee Party celebrates differences, encouraging them in order to foster enriching interaction.  In doing so, it acts as a connector of individuals, a unifier of different backgrounds that sustains fruitful learning.  The resulting interactions between participants is the fuel that sustains the Coffee Party movement.


By focusing on the local knowledge of a community, the movement attempts to foster citizen-expert alliances.  It encourages co-reliance on both citizens and politicians in problem solving and decision-making.  As stated in the mission: “…we understand that the federal government is not our enemy, but the expression of our collective will” (Coffee).  Holding true to the ideal that the government is for the people, the Coffee Party calls each citizen of the United States to alter his perspective.  It challenges him to see the opportunities within the current government structure, including those regarding cooperation, not just solely locally-driven movements.


The previously mentioned challenges presented by the Coffee Party movement require citizens to assess their personal assets as well as their obligation to their surrounding community.  As opposed to the ethical obligations of experts when interacting with citizens who may have less technical knowledge, this movement focuses on the ethical obligations of truly knowledgable citizens when living their daily lives.  Citizens living in a civil society recognized as a democracy who are unhappy with their government, an “expression of [its] collective will,” have an obligation to themselves and their community to act.  A theme expressed throughout Boyte’s book, the obligation of public politics applies to all citizens.  Here, it applies within the constructs of the Coffee Party.


Upon inquiry into participation, the inquirer is asked to identify his areas of interest within today’s society.  After this, he is asked to share his skill set, offering his knowledge to the public.  This act is fundamental to citizen participation in politics.  The recognition of the assets within a community’s citizenry is the catalyst to solution-planning.  Once resources are outlined, everyday politics can commence, with each citizen utilizing their own skills in the problem-solving process.


As discussed within the Coffee Party’s mission, this previously discussed asset-based development on the part of the citizenry is under-utilized now within the United States political system.  The result has been the disengaging of experts and citizens within politics, decreasing citizen participation and increasing the abdication of agency to arguably more knowledgable experts.  Everyday politics, as reference in Boyte, and self-governance as discussed within the Coffee Party, is perceived to be the solution.  Cooperation and co-creation of solutions within the political system engages both experts and citizens.  The Coffee Party as a mediating institution offers opportunities for co-creation of knowledge and solutions not only between individual citizens as discussed previously, but also between experts and locals within a community.


To build on the obligation of citizens to engage in their community’s using their resources, is the obligation to embrace their freedom.  Boyte discusses this theme in chapter ten of Everyday Politics (Everyday).  Citizens, when displeased with the politics of their communities, have an obligation to utilize their resources to act, and as a result to expand their freedom.  As Boyte discusses, freedom extends further than simply democracy.  Freedom requires participation within the political system; it requires effort in today’s society to get one’s voice heard within the complexities of the democratic system.


Boyte traces the embracing of responsibility within a democracy back to the beginnings of our country and farther, emphasizing the effectiveness of agency within one’s community.  This translates perfectly to today’s Coffee Party.  The basis of the movement is organization.  Each participant is required, if he wishes to become effective, to embrace responsibility and take action.  This includes research, writing position papers, meeting with local experts and political leaders.  He is then asked to share his findings with the general public.  This is not simply the consumption of freedom within a democracy, but the engagement of it-the constant participation within the complex system to fully ensure one’s free status.


This is an interesting notion within today’s society.  Boyte enlightens his reader, urging them to consider a different perspective than the norm: true freedom is no longer handed out upon citizenship, but is a benefit of democracy that must be worked for within today’s society.  True freedom to express oneself, to learn, to voice an opinion is a right that requires constant participation.  Today’s Coffee Party utilizes that notion.  In ways discussed previously, it calls citizens to engage and to actively gain agency for their freedom.


The Coffee Party encompasses numerous aspects of everyday politics, civic engagement, and local, expert knowledge co-creation.  Here, we see how each of these challenges the citizen to interact within the system, resisting the ease of apathy and engaging.  This ensures a true sense of freedom, if not to simply get one’s voice heard, but to further engage others and embrace the locality of politics.  This creates a decentralized, citizen-based system that requires effective participation to ensure freedom.



Works Cited

Boyte, Harry Chatten. Everyday Politics: Reconnecting Citizens and Public Life. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2004. Print.

Coffee Party | Wake Up and Stand Up. Web. 01 Nov. 2011. <>.


My hands are too cold and intoxicated to write.

We had to smoke. We had to get away. But we could not go outside fully and we couldn’t go too far. But we lit up and we drove away. I opened the window and we got in the car.

The cigs were lit and we laughed our asses off. Blowing the smoke out the window.

We’re idiots! Lauren said.

The smoke kept coming back into the house. I was fed up and finally went outside. The screen fell out the window. Fuck,

I said. I’m so sorry. Kate just giggled. Whole-souly giggled. Her heart was too full with love to use.

I walked outdoors. Looking in at Kate’s smiling face. Blowing smoke out the window. Finally the cigs went out and I returned the screen.

Reluctantly returning in the door I came from.
Fighting the urge to fully escape.
Oh the things I will never fully feel.

But we laughed. Fully. Drunkenly. Freely.

Feeling free and alive. Cold and crisp, craving a drive.

•   •   •   •   •   •

Photographs! Please more photographs!

Get the camera! she said. I want to remember this in the morning.

Because this is ephemeral, and we will never have this again. Please let us remember.
Because I only meet you for the first time once.
And I want to remember the moments.

•   •   •   •   •   •

I screamed I’M HAPPY! twice before I slept.

Because for the first time in a long time I felt the freedom take over from the lack of longing.

Do you want us all in one bed

or do you want two and two,

She said.

But it doesn’t matter.

Because love brought us together

and I’m almost asleep anyway.

•   •   •   •   •   •

And in the morning, it’s over. In the dim light of the pre-sun.

In the full awareness of my existence.
In the clarity of peace,
I bask.

And I feel the leftovers of those ephemeral memories.
What I thought was dirt-henna.
What I left in the cup-poison.
What I wrote on this paper-gone.
And the resonating laughter still audible in the silence of the morning.

•   •   •   •   •   •

“But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”

Participatory Youth: Juvenile Courts

Juvenile delinquency can be a large contributing factor toward community dissent. Youth offenders of the law, committing relatively mild crimes, are often sentenced to punishments extreme for their age group. This has led in the past to further delinquency-an increase in severity of offenses resulting from the increase in exposure to criminal life while experiencing the labyrinth of the judicial system. Youth witness what they are expected to become, and our judicial system creates a self-fulfilling prophecy by exposing them to this life. Consequentially, the community is forced to pick of the slack. Court cost are unnecessarily high, paying for re-offenders who would have otherwise stayed out of the system, and potential contributing members of society are lost to criminal life.
The relative failure of the youth court system poses an ethical question: are current experts in the judicial system willing to continue exposing criminal youth to worse outcomes than they would otherwise have encountered? Also, in a democracy, what responsibility do they have to these young people to incorporate them into deciding their own fate? Because these teenagers are criminals, in a democracy a significant number of their rights are usually stripped of them; however, when the system in place is causing more harm than good, a new solution must be instated. Ethically, experts in the judicial system have a responsibility to those they affect to subject them to the best outcome for society. Not only must they be sure their decisions are resulting in bettering society, but when an injustice is brought to light, and they have the power to act, they must. As proven in many studies, and as previously state, youth criminals at times are subject to more criminal activity when they enter the current court system.
Leaders and experts in the judicial system have caught onto these trends and have taken action to limit juvenile delinquents’ exposure to more intense criminal activity. Youth courts have been created across the country, composed of peers creating sentences for their peers’ minor infractions and volunteering to assume different roles within the judicial process. These courts have proven to be effective, with six-month recidivism rates ranging from six to nine percent (Youth). The system has sustained itself since 1994, effectively incorporating youth into their own judicial affairs.
Tina Rosenberg, in her article in the New York Times, states the underlying motivation for the courts: “Teen courts are an expression of the idea that people do better when they contribute to the solution of their own problems,” (Rosenberg). This process of peer review has been an effective solution to minor infractions of the law and preventing further criminal activity directly because youth have agency in deciding their fate within the judicial system. This agency translates into the enfranchisement of our otherwise disenfranchised criminal youth; they now have the opportunity to participate in the affairs of their society. Moreover, they have the opportunity to participate in the affairs that directly affect them. Their explicit participation in the judicial process requires them to be invested in the outcomes of their peers. They have a stake in what happens to not only themselves, but to other youth criminals. Juvenile delinquents undergoing this process find themselves a respected resource, are forced to embrace responsibility, and as a result become agents of their own fate.
Frank Fischer discusses a similar process in chapters eight and nine of Citizens, Experts, and the Environment. He uses the example of epidemiology and participatory research to illustrate the empowerment of citizens when they are engaged in the research process (Fischer). Similarly in youth courts, teenage offenders are incorporated into the judicial process. The result is the same as in Fischer’s example: the use of youth, or more broadly citizen, knowledge engages the youth and makes him an expert. Once fully engaged, youth find their opinion respected and, as stated earlier, a resource to the process, an expert citizen.
Contrast this agency with the original juvenile court system. Originally judicial courts were comprised of experienced judges, bailiffs, jurors, all experts in their respective fields determining the outcome of citizens entering their courtrooms. These citizens, having committed criminal acts, were at the hands of “higher ranking” citizens who determined their fate. After the crime was committed, the citizen’s agency was stripped, and all opportunity to contribute to society removed. This system may be deemed appropriate for some criminal activity; however, when dealing with minor judicial wrongs, this extremity is ineffective.
In this new youth court system, criminal minors are used as a resource. Their contributions to the courtroom provide a different, more direct perspective of possibly effective solutions to the issues. The result is a more intimate judicial environment, very much in contrast to the previous solution of lumping every judicial infraction into the same category. The criminal youth are seen as tools in a process of asset-based community development. Their direct linkage to the crimes along with their experience of knowing “what works” as a sentence contributes to the success of the juvenile court.
Youth delinquents only are permitted this opportunity for participation in the judicial system because the previous experts have abdicated their agency to them. Still witnesses and supervisors, experts in the judicial system have taken a back seat in the process. Combining this abdication of agency with the assets provided by the delinquent youth results in a new dynamic within the juvenile court system. Youth are respected experts, working with judicial workers who assist their enfranchisement within the system. This new dynamic, incorporating more equality and respect for each contributor’s assets, has created a more successful youth court.
Ethically, allowing youth offenders to become subject to more criminal activity is unacceptable. Judicial experts have recognized this fact and taken action to enfranchise teen criminals through a new judicial process. This process give teens a stake in their own outcomes, incorporating them into the system, and giving them a voice and responsibility. The incorporation of youth knowledge with judicial knowledge has resulted in a new process proven to fulfill its original intent: to keep criminals off the streets. The dynamic incorporation of expert and local knowledge has succeeded in youth courts, culminating in a beautiful example of democracy and enfranchisement of citizens.

Fischer, Frank. Citizens, Experts, and the Environment: the Politics of Local Knowledge. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2000. Print.
Rosenberg, Tina. “For Teen Offenders, a Jury of Their Peers –” Opinion – Opinionator – NYTimes, 13 Oct. 2011. Web. 16 Oct. 2011. .
Youth Court. Web. 16 Oct. 2011. .


oh, my liquid love.
take me.

no man does to me what you do.
your heat touches my soul
and I can feel your love within my chest.

oh, my liquid love.
save me.

you enter and I feel no pain.
without you intensity would prevail
and the desires of the day would over take me.

oh, my liquid love.
never leave me.

without you
or with you
my life will
would end.


You ask me why. Why I am smiling through my tears.
As you tell me you were raped.
you were molested.
you tried to die.
you killed your son
and your father strangled you.
As you tell me you hate your body.
your mother loves a rock.
you buried your brother
and your boyfriend’s fists hurt.
You ask me why I am smiling while your darkness oozes from your mouth,
While the ugliness of despair
drips from your eyes,
While you expose the emptiness
left behind by the earthquake that shook your soul.

I say,
Because you have nothing left.

I laugh because
the tremors have shaken away the dust of previousness.

And you are clean.

You are pure and will proceed

Oh, my love,

I smile from excitement.
I smile for your future days
When your spine will be made of
your own words
your own thoughts
your own self
your own matter
your ownness.

I smile for your life, my darling,
which I will carry with you
until you become.

Until you become love.

•   •   •   •   •   •

I lie alone with your self
within me.
Holding tightly with my synapses
to your despair.
My God, where are you today?

I see a battle
bloody and raw
oozing and tearing the flesh
off my bones.

Where are you today?

Must it catalyze the future lives
of those torn to shreds?

I lie alone
and see flames
and ash.
the smoke irritates my eyes.

More smoke
until the surface of my lenses melts to my lids
and I am blinded.

At first I distantly hear smiles
as the flames die down.

then flame melts my ears shut.

I saw a phoenix once.

But I watched her burn again
and again.
in a different body each time.

So I shook hands with the tongue of fire
who promised to char my senses
until I felt her flames no more.