“What about the children!” This has been the shrill clarion call of hysterical Karens on both sides of the aisle for generations. “What about the children!” A sure fire response to any politically incorrect question that would otherwise require a level of critical thinking that fails to translate into a conveniently empty-handed partisan soundbite. “But hasn’t prohibition already been a spectacular failure?” “What about the children!” “But isn’t putting the federal government in charge of regulating social media already a form of fascism?” “What about the children!” It never fails to torpedo any inconvenient conversation in a colossal shit-fit of bombastic virtue signaling and the worst part about this bit is that it might actually be a pretty good goddamn question if anyone actually bothered to use it for anything but political sabotage. So, what about those children?
The sick thing is that the same people who use children as a rhetorical broadsword against their political opponents could care less about the rights of young people and you can put today’s Republican Party at the top of that sad list with bullet. “What about the children!” has been adopted as the official war cry for the GOP’s latest jihad to retake the House, only this time they barely even pretend to acknowledge the existence of their conveniently voiceless scapegoats, skipping right over their children’s heads and screeching “What about the parents!” instead.
After a couple of years of high-powered right-wing think tanks and super-pacs fomenting irate suburban soccer moms over looming paper tigers like Critical Race Theory and Transgenderism, House Minority Leader and would-be Speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy has rolled out a Republican manifesto called the Commitment to America, the cornerstone of which is a so-called Parent’s Bill of Rights, seeking to empower hopped up guardians against the inevitable scourge of their offspring developing minds of their own.
The document boldly states, “Parents, not the state, have primary authority for raising their children and the organs of the state, including public schools, serve rather than rule the parent.” But what about those children that you speak of with all the tender love and care of a lease for a pre-owned Hyundai? Why don’t children have the right to not be ruled by the organs of the state or the grandstanding parents that they already jealously serve? How did the Civil Rights Movement skip over an entire class of Americans that we were all once a part of? Forgive me for being frank but fuck the parents, what about a children’s bill of rights?
What about a child’s right to roam the streets of their own neighborhoods freely, untethered by what essentially amounts to parental leash laws. Kids can’t even ride their bikes to the nearest vacant lot without being hassled by strangers with candy in blue and white vans for going dangerously unsupervised for five goddamn minutes. Childhood has become a soul crushingly captive experience that affords young people with zero time unaccosted by meddling adults.
Zero time to climb trees, skin their knees, break bottles or experiment with the girl across the street. The wonder years have been affectively colonized by a level of round the clock surveillance that makes any right to privacy young people once had a pipe dream at best. This infringes on a supposedly Constitutional right to peacefully assemble, most egregiously with totally arbitrary curfews that have been statistically proven to be totally ineffective at preventing any crime but the freedom of movement.
What about a child’s right to be seen and heard. Anyone who has spent more than five minutes in a public school as anything queerer than a teacher’s pet can tell you that these places are federally funded black holes for free speech. Why the hell should a teacher be granted rights that even a bootlicking GOP pigfucker wouldn’t afford to your average cop? Children should have every right to tell any adult who disrespects their dignity to fuck off and get a life, and perhaps no right to free speech is more existential than the right for a child to tell an adult “No!” It is the total non-existence of this right and the autonomy it contains that make children the easiest targets for abuse in this country, both by the state and other predators empowered by their class status as undebatable adults.
What about a child’s right to choose what form of education suits their needs best? Not only is America’s compulsory school system a spiritually draining industry of steel reinforced conformity but it affectively amounts to involuntary servitude. Child labor laws in this country achieved nothing more profound than ensuring that children would go from underpaid servants in corporate sweatshops to totally unpaid indentured servants in government sponsored ones devoted to making them more compliant employees once some role-crazy bully with tenure has affectively stripped them of their dignity and individuality for twelve years straight.
The labor rights of young people would have been much better served by helping them to organize their own damn unions that could empower them in either school or the work force and afford them the agency that only coexisting with their elders as equals can build. If schools really want greater student attendance then the responsibility should be on them to provide an experience that young people find beneficial enough to take part in voluntarily and this is going to mean treating them more like people and less like agriculture. Respect is earned, so fucking earn it or fuck off.
And this bleeds right into an equally neglected right, the right for children to be properly informed. This means giving kids access to any information they seek regardless of how the adults who occupy their lives may feel about it. Public libraries are by far the greatest schools that children could ever hope to access because they provide raw and unedited knowledge untethered to the educational bondage of some other asshole’s curriculum.
These spaces should be governed communally by all those who use them in the form of educational mutual aid societies and they should be ungoverned by the conditional aid of the state or the perilous whims of censorious parents who only seek to blindfold children from subjects that they deem inappropriate. This kind of paternalistic censorship only ends up pawning naturally curious kids off on the corporate wolves of the internet who are more than happy to objectify them in ways William Burroughs and Toni Morrison never would even if they could.
And what about a child’s right to bodily autonomy, the right to their own bodies without exception, the right to seek or refuse medical treatment of any kind including access to hormone therapy or reproductive healthcare provided that they are properly informed of all the risks involved, the right to be educated by their physicians rather than infantilized like some ward’s show poodle at the local vet, the right to explore their own sexuality and gender identity freely, to figure out exactly who they are and what they want as individuals while they’re still in the process of biologically developing.
What gives any adult the right to fuck with that process? What makes telling children who or how they can fuck any less dehumanizing than any other form of sexual violence? And I’m the fucking groomer here? Adults need to stay the fuck out of kid’s bedrooms and that only becomes enforceable when we afford children the right to make their own mistakes and the access to the means to make them.
This includes self-defense and yes, that includes the right to bear arms. No segment of the population faces a greater risk of physical abuse and no segment of the population is afforded with less means to defend themselves from this abuse. This is not a coincidence. A wide variety of adult authority figures in this country are granted every right to physically assault a child and call it corporal punishment but if any child makes any attempt to defend themselves from this state sanctioned abuse, they become subject to a one way trip down the school-to-prison pipeline where they can only expect more abuse.
No one, let me repeat, no one should be given blanket immunity to commit aggravated assault and when that right becomes conditional to include the abuse of only one segment of a population then this double-standard officially becomes a caste system. Children deserve the right to fight back against their abusers by any means necessary, whether that means having access to a pistol or the ability to emancipate themselves from their guardians so that they can seek seek the shelter and guidance of someone who makes them feel safe.
It shouldn’t have to come to this but as the Republicans love to harp, freedom isn’t free. Right’s don’t exist in a vacuum unless that vacuum is filled by an individual who can defend them themselves. America, like most countries, is affectively an ageist apartheid state. This matters to me because I barely survived my own childhood as a mentally disabled Queer person at the mercy of adult power structures reinforced by a government that I was afforded zero right to participate in.
But youth rights should matter to everyone because the whole purpose of America’s institutional child abuse industrial complex isn’t simply to manufacture compliant children susceptible to adult subjugation. It’s designed to create a compliant nation of domesticated adults susceptible to government subjugation. So, I’ll say it one more goddamn time, and I’m not telling you, I’m asking you, what about the fucking children?