Swingset Activism

The Promise of Social Justice Education Inspired by Childhood

“Swingset activism asks us to close our eyes and feel that exhilarating liberation you feel as a child on a swing soaring to new heights, perspective, and possibilities.”

Written By: David Charles Metler


Confucius once said that “we have two lives, and the second one begins when we realize we only have one.” I am convinced that social justice education has two awareness deepening lifecycle journeys. The first begins when you connect your personal experience to a systemic level and the second one begins when you realize social justice begins with childhood.


Integrating the Two Journeys

My first formal social justice education experience involved volunteering as a part of the Pangaea World Service Team in Nicaragua when I was a college student at the University of Michigan. It devastated me to learn about the leading role the US has played historically in keeping Nicaragua in poverty. I experienced what Bobbi Harro calls a “critical incident” which “creates enough cognitive dissonance that a change is initiated within the core of a person about what they believe about themselves”. Paulo Freire calls this “conscientizacao” – a transformative process from object to subject that lit my soul on fire for social justice.


Upon returning from this trip, I joined the social justice education University of Michigan’s Program on Intergroup Relations (IGR). Through social justice dialogues, I began to develop critical consciousness around identity, power, privilege, and oppression across personal, interpersonal, institutional, and systemic levels. An IGR mentor told me that there was a book, Parenting for Social Change by Teresa Graham Brett that would “blow my mind.” It completely did.


In bringing together parenting and social change, Teresa integrated her previous social justice education experience around identity and power (being a past co-director of IGR at UM) into her relationships with children. Teresa approached her relationships with children as a personal arena for practicing social justice which was integral to her pursuit of justice in the world. Her book helped me begin to see how a transformation of childhood could transform the world as I realized that there were profound lessons from the wisdom of children and childhood experiences that were invaluable for social justice education and activism.


For more than ten years I have worked with leading child and family activists from across the globe and since 2020, I have created the original concept of Swingset Activism which is currently being studied with a grounded theory approach through creative social justice education with the next generation of changemakers from across the globe. Swingset activism asks us to close our eyes and feel that exhilarating liberation you feel as a child on a swing soaring to new heights, perspective, and possibilities. Swingset Activism is a new type of activism inspired by childhood. There are many types of activism like environmental activism, relational activism, consumer activism, or design activism. Each offers a specific approach and focus lens to changemaking. Swingset Activism is activism generated by love that is integrative, relational, and imaginative. Swingset Activism brings together Ecological Systems Theory (Integrative), Relational Activism (Relational), and the Inner Child (Imaginative). It centers the significance of transforming childhood in activism as a strategy to maximize personal, social, and global transformation.


Swingset Activism brings forth a new level of awareness which catalyzed my search for my own authentic voice at the root of my passion for social justice. As I meditated on finding my inner child’s authentic voice for social justice, what came up for me is the earliest experience of being in the womb is lived experience of the profound interconnection and interdependence of human nature, and for the first few years of infancy there is no “other”. This is important to remember in pursuits of solidarity and partnership in social justice. It is our true nature. It is our original sense of inter-being that acknowledges that all of our liberation is bound together. Through the integration of these insights and practices the elasticity of my own mindset expanded of the whole world being one family and that children are, as Carol Stack would say, “all our kin”.

Understanding the wisdom of my inner child also brought back memories of having a clear, innate sense of right and wrong as a child. This recollection reminds me as an adult that the pursuit of social justice is not performative, but intuitive and relational.


Activism as Relationship

Swingset Activism offers the insight that not all activism is done by “activists.” In their seminal academic article, “Relational Activism: Reimagining Women’s Environmental Work as Cultural Change” Sarah O’Shaugnessy and Emily Kennedy introduce the term “relational activism” for how we approach our personal and private lives that directly affect social change. Relational activism captures the behind-the-scenes, private sphere, community-building work of activism and highlights the importance of community, networks, and communication in contributing to long-term social change. Relational activism values public and private sphere actions equally while honoring the moments of social justice that happen within daily routines and in daily relations with others. For activism to be innovative and to generate a sustainable lifestyle, it needs to live within everyday moments of relationship, especially in building equal power relationships across social identity differences.


I believe that for activism to be integrated into a lifestyle it needs to relational and embrace elements of playfulness, joyfulness, loving-kindness, presence, creativity, and our capacity to re-imagine what’s possible. The process can then match the goal of social justice from integration of these valuable ways of being that children embody most regularly into activism. Audre Lorde says, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” which calls upon our imagination and creativity in approaching social justice. I believe it acknowledges the wise contributions of children and childhood experiences in activism. It also serves as a reminder of the solidarity and sacrifice of children and youth literally being on the front lines of social justice movements throughout time, which is not credited since history is typically told by adults.


Intentionally approaching integrity in activism also requires looking critically at what I call the “activist paradox” exploring the ways in activists unconsciously recreate systems of oppression, linked to experiences of oppression in childhood within social justice efforts. Paying attention to these paradoxes will highlight the continual inner work adults need to do to heal their inner child. From reflecting on my childhood, I am able to begin a process of integration that allows me to link the change I wish to see in the world; in myself and my daily routine, ways of being, and relations with others. I have learned to view activism in a relational way that practices social justice in everyday moments, with change happening at the speed of trust, and inner and outer change being interdependent across levels.


Imagining a Transformed World

As an activist, there is a desire to see clearly the roots of injustice and oppression so that efforts to create change actually transform the systems of oppression and not just the symptoms of oppression. It is known that the nature of oppression is non-hierarchical and intersectional but less known is how oppression is foundational in childhood. The wisdom of the science of relationships has revealed how our earliest relationships set a blueprint for relationships over the lifespan.


Since the oppression of children is the earliest, most normalized, and rationalized form of oppression; it provides the foundation for other forms of oppression because the first relationships in childhood root initial experiences with the common elements of oppression. These common elements of oppression are core to adultism, (the supremacy of adults over children), and underlie oppression in any form:


(1) a false notion of superiority across an identity difference becoming seen as an inherent belief that one identity group is superior to another and

(2) this belief being enforced as justification for the superior group to normalize its power and control over the other to maintain its superiority.


Adultism sets an invisible infrastructure for other socially constructed power-over divides across social identity to find deep hold, especially because children face the oppression of adultism with the least control and capacity to resist or language to make sense of the experience. Oppression then becomes internalized and normalized and the oppressed then become the oppressors, but oppression can be uprooted with the unlearning of adultism and the empowering of children, which is called childism, similar to feminism but for children.


Potentially, the most promising aspect of Swingset Activism, which focuses on social justice beginning with childhood, is that oppression is not only foundational in childhood it is notably the one oppression that all adults have common experience with – although there is difference in how adverse childhood was, everyone experiences adultism in some form during childhood. For example, despite increasing awareness of the commonality of Adverse Childhood Experiences, ACES, the overall experience of childhood involves a lack of control and domination over children by parents, teachers, and a larger institutional and societal culture of adultism. Because all adults were once children and still carry their childhoods within them, the convergence of adulthood and childhood can be comprehended in the mind and the profound interconnection of adult and inner child felt in body.


This shared experience presents an opportunity like no other for interest convergence, a concept that posits that there will only be social justice progress when it is perceived to be in the mutual interests of both the privileged and the oppressed. Unlearning adultism may provide the simplest convergence of mutual interest across a social identity power divide because it so plainly illuminates how deeply our liberation is literally bound up with one another and how adults and children are equal partners in the pursuit of social justice. Adults cannot be truly free until children are free, and until adults heal their inner child from the internalized oppression of their own childhood.


Swingset activism asks us to close our eyes and feel that exhilarating liberation you feel as a child on a swing soaring to new heights, perspective, and possibilities. As Teresa Graham Brett wisely reminded us, we can in full swing begin to “imagine a world where mistrust, power-over dynamics, domination, and oppression no longer exist because children have never experienced them.” We can begin to create a new story of childhood that creates lasting social justice and the transformation of what is possible.


If you would like to be a part of the founding of the Swingset Institute please contact David at davemetler@gmail.com

Sincerely,

David Charles Metler


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The Three Questions for a Swingset Activist in the Shadow of Uvalde

By: David Charles Metler


Swingset Activism asks us to close our eyes and feel that exhilarating freedom you feel as a child on a swing soaring to new heights, perspective, and possibilities.


Swingset Activism is activism generated by love that is integrative, relational, and imaginative.


Why is Silence Important?

A Pause to Connect to Integrity before Your Response


A moment of silence. A Pause. Breathing in. Breathing Out. For three years, I have been the Mindfulness Coordinator at Detroit Leadership Academy (DLA), a PK-8 inner city school on the west side of Detroit and today my Principal is leading a moment of silence over the morning announcements.. It was first thing in the morning of May 25th 2022, the day after 19 children and 2 teachers were massacred at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. The school shooting carnage took place primarily in two conjoined 4th grade classes. The first class I teach each day - 4th grade.


It was 8:44am and my 4th grade class was about to start in one minute. I stood there in front of the 4th grade class for a second, practicing a moment of full loving presence, to take in the beauty and sacredness of each and every one of my students. And to be grateful that they were still here; they showed up, and they were alive. I then asked the class the question “so, why did the Principal just lead a moment of silence.” The students had heard the news but they didn’t know why a moment of silence was significant. I paused and began to create and hold space for all the big feelings in the room. And I felt that we all needed to be together and to be there for each other. The students rose to the occasion and shared in ways that came from deep within their hearts and speaked into each other's listening. “We are in fourth grade, that could have been us,” said one of my students.”I don’t know if I feel safe being here at school”, another student shared. I affirmed their feelings and shared that our deepest sense of safety is relational, meaning that we all needed to take care of each other and look out for each other while also acknowledging that it was not 100% safe. It is brutal to face the truth - but that is what mindfulness is all about. As the poet Danna Faulds says “mindfulness practice becomes simply bearing the truth.” I was proud of them not just because they were demonstrating what I have taught them in mindfulness class at DLA ( hearing their own wise inner voice clearly, awareness and expression of their emotions, peace and calm amidst chaos, and deep relational empathy), but I was proud of them for showing up despite all their fears, especially fears for their own safety. I mean most kids don’t really have a choice to show up at their elementary school the day after a mass shooting at an elementary school but what I mean by showing up is mind, body, and soul - being fully present.


Most adults seemed to immediately get to making creative memes and into political debate right after the mass shooting in Texas without even a moment to pause. Maybe adults feel like they can’t pause. In a 24/7 news cycle world, a short pause by any company to release a statement about the shooting or posting a meme to their socials might mean they are perceived to be unaware or worse targeted as not loving children. And, even as MLK has said that “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”, a brief silence or a pause can be wise in the immediate space between an incident and the response. In fact, that may be the most humane and respectful thing we can do to honor our own emotions and practice self-love before we try to support others and solve the larger systemic problems of our day. As Viktor Frankl has said “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Right after the Texas incident happened I remember that my Principal shared to our staff group chat that she was at a loss for words. At first, I was upset by this because I looked to her to say something to reassure me. I then realized that it was an important message that it was not the time for words yet. The incident was so incendiary there were no words. It is actually quite a powerful thing to be literally speechless, to not know what to say, and to lean into the vulnerability of that space of pre-language. Most of the time when we are in this uncomfortable space it is because we have not yet truly felt what has happened. We have not comprehended or processed something to a point where we can organize it into a coherent statement or response. And that is okay. In that moment of being at a loss for words, we are truly vulnerable to the sensory and visceral bodily experience. For some this is overwhelming and to avoid discomfort or awkwardness many will choose to prematurely speak from what they know from before the current experience in a way to protect themselves from the pain of not knowing or the pain of silence and pause. It takes discernment to know that It was not okay for the Uvalde Police Department to pause for over 60 minutes before entering the school but it is okay to pause for a few minutes in the immediate aftermath of an overwhelming tragedy like what happened in Uvalde to allow yourself to bear the full truth of what happened before trying to respond. In fact, that pause may be the greatest way to honor yourself, your own community, and the victims and their families – a pause to connect back to your most whole integrated yourself before you respond.


Why are Thoughts and Prayers Important?

Relating the Intrapersonal, Interpersonal, Institutional and Societal


I once heard someone say that as humans we have two superpowers - the power of our example and the power of prayer. As Parker Palmer has said “We teach who we are.”

We each have our lives to create as a piece of art as examples for what we stand for and what we value. What I found myself telling my 4th grade students is to be an example of what they want the world to be like. If they want the world to be kind, then be kind. If they want the world to be more loving, then be more loving. This is one way in which we can see how the personal is connected to the planetary and how the intrapersonal work of eliminating oppression and human caused suffering is connected to the interpersonal, the institutional, and the societal. This is “the Ecology of the Child” to create change across all levels from the personal to the planetary. This encourages agency at a time in which some can start to feel nihilistic and hopeless especially as the adults of this country pick up the stagnant old debates over gun legislation.


As the memes began to circulate, the one that frustrated me the most was the ones which called out “thoughts and prayers.” I do believe that this phrase has become commonplace in the US after national tragedies but only because they happen so frequently and that it could easily be seen in the visible world as meaningless if they are not also supported by direct actions that are within the power of the people. I get that. However, I became frustrated to see the power of thoughts and prayers be minimized. We know the loads of research out there these days about the power of the mind, especially the power of the mind in healing. As Angela Davis said “We have to talk about liberating minds as well as liberating society.” We know that oppression is both internalized and external and our work to dismantle oppression must involve the mind, body, and the larger ecology we are all an interdependent part of together. Also, mindfulness teaches us to become more curious, kind, and non-judgmental towards our own thoughts. Every action begins as a thought, and every thought begins as a feeling. We can explore where our thoughts come from, to not believe every thought we have, we can befriend our negative thoughts and seek to understand what they are trying to tell us and discern if it is our voice that is truly behind them, and we can inspire new thoughts in our minds that give us hope, a more genuine feeling of connection, and a deeper sense of perspective. We can see the world with new eyes beginning with a new way of thinking about our thinking. So, when we say that we are holding the victims of this tragedy in our thoughts, we can truly mean it and feel the power of that. My class did this by practicing a loving-kindness practice by JustMe found here https://vimeo.com/227542613 . Students reported feeling their true feelings and extending their love across borders to their fellow students and families in Texas. They shared that it felt good to hold the memories of those lost in their thoughts with kindness and love.


And the power of prayer cannot be understated. Even for those who are not spiritual, we all have hopes and dreams and empathy for others hopes and dreams. Prayer means to me that we have hopes and intentions and a desire to connect to something beyond ourselves. Before I became the Mindfulness Coordinator at Detroit Leadership Academy, I was the Spiritual Advisor for Pediatric Oncology at the University of Michigan Children’s Hospital. I saw every day the power of prayer to focus the mind and the heart on the miracles in the present moment and I felt awe of the deep searching for meaning and purpose of the events of our lives in a bigger context and perspective. I saw that prayer is sometimes all we have to connect beyond the human experience on this planet and to touch into the divine and to what love really is from a spiritual perspective. Regardless of your spiritual background, we can see there is power to staying focused on what we can do instead of getting distracted by what we can’t do. We can’t bring the lives back that were lost that day. We can hold them in our hearts so that their memories can be a blessing and as Rabbi Heschel said “we pray with our feet.” That means we do everything that is humanly possible to change the systemic conditions that caused this tragedy and the numerous ones before it.


Why is it Always a Male Shooter?

Imagining a World Beyond Patriarchy


The last question I asked my 4th grade class was “Why is it always a male shooter.?” Their answers were very wise and touched on everything from suppressed emotions, to toxic masculinity, to how we can support true women’s empowerment. Now, I know you may be thinking that I am going to turn this article into a piece all about how mindfulness is going to fix everything. It is not. But I do believe we need to embrace the imagination to go beyond the usual rhetoric and partisan grid-lock that arises after each tragedy in the US. As Audre Lorde has said, “The Master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” We need to stretch the elasticity of our collective imaginations of what is possible. As James Baldwin said “But in our time, as in every time, the impossible is the least that one can demand-and one is, after all, emboldened by the spectacle of human history in general, and the American Negro history in particular, for it testifies to nothing less than the perpetual achievement of the impossible.”


My favorite meme was this one below that makes the case that even though a lot of people are talking about gun control or mental health, or the connection between the two - that it is problematic because it simplifies the truth. The truth is as it says that “this is a white male patriarchy problem. This is more about racism, sexism, privilege, and entitlement than it is anything else. All the mental health treatment in the world is not going to stop a group of men who society teaches that they have a historical, spiritual, and even moral right to exalt themselves above everyone else and that it is heroic to exalt themselves by force.” Mindfulness will not solve this. Even 4th grade students in Detroit practicing loving-kindness practice will not solve this although that is an important and beautiful thing.


We need to begin to imagine a world beyond patriarchy. We need to begin to imagine a world in which we truly empower our babies and our families from the start. We need to begin to imagine a world in which boys learn how to be human, how to be kind to themselves, how to be allies, and to unlearn toxic masculinity. As Teresa Graham Brett has said ““Imagine a world where mistrust, power-over dynamics, domination, and oppression no longer exist because children have never experienced them.” We need to realize that centering childhood illuminates the foundation of all oppression in childhood because “social justice begins with childhood.” The promise of Swingset Activism - activism generated by love that is integrative, relational, and imaginative is this: When we are integrative, we reconnect to our own authentic voice and our wholeness. When we are relational, we see opportunities to create social justice in our everyday moments and relationships in solidarity with our communities and connect that women’s empowerment empowers the whole world. When we truly imagine, especially imagining a world beyond patriarchy, we can see that if we transform childhood, we transform everything.


My Video - Mindful DLA

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3xZfKR3LMg






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Updated: Aug 29

Swingset Activism

Original Concept Paper Written by David Charles Metler

(C) Copyright Registration TXu 2-327-664


Swingset Activism is Activism Generated by Love that is Integrated, Relational, and Imaginative

A New Type of Activism Inspired by Childhood Integrating Personal, Social, and Global Transformation

Written By: David Charles Metler

July 12th 2022


Swingset Activism by David Charles Metler
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Swingset Activism



Swingset Activism is Activism Generated by Love that is Integrative, Relational, and Imaginative

A New Type of Activism Inspired by Childhood Integrating Personal, Social, and Global Transformation

Written By: David Charles Metler

(C) Copyright Registration TXu 2-327-664

July 12th 2022


Executive Summary

This concept paper establishes the theory and evidence for a new type of activism called Swingset Activism. Swingset Activism is activism generated by love that is integrative, relational, and imaginative. The paper first, distinguishing the need for a new “type” of activism. Then, the theory behind Swingset Activism is thoroughly explained which integrates established research from Ecological Systems Theory (Integrative), Relational Activism (Relational), and Inner Child (Imaginative). The concept of Swingset Activism is defined by its three components and by the integration of these components with love into a model of how Swingset Activism is a lifestyle of integrity where activism is found within our everyday moments and within our familial relationships with each other and our larger planetary ecology.

The promise of Swingset Activism is that it is a new theory of activism that has the potential to be our “inner passport” to access our greatest impact on social justice in an equitable way and to imagine a transformed world where humans and their larger ecology can all thrive together.

Since 2020, the innovative concept of Swingset Activism is currently being studied with a grounded theory approach through creative social justice education with the next generation of changemakers from across the globe.


Activism - Innovation or Irrelevance

The Case for a New Type of Activism

Activism has become predictable. Its current capacity for true systemic change may also be questionable. Marches and protests happen, then everyone goes home, and the status quo carries on as usual. Micah White, the co-creator of Occupy Wall Street, who wrote the book “The End of Protest,” shares how recent years have seen the largest protests and marches in human history even though these mass mobilizations no longer truly change society. Activism is at a crossroads: innovation or irrelevance.

Innovation in activism begins with a new clarity of sight: seeing activism clearly, seeing the past clearly, seeing ourselves clearly, seeing the roots of oppression clearly, and seeing our interdependence clearly. It starts in the imagination; with a vision or a dream like Martin Luther King Jr.’s “dream” or John Lennon’s song “Imagine.” We can re-imagine the possibilities of transformation and practice by seeing beyond what is to what could be. We need to imagine a new type of activism.


Types of Activism


Not all Activism is Done by “Activists”

There are many types of activism. For example to name a few; environmental activism, relational activism, consumer activism, or design activism. Each offers a specific approach and focus lens to changemaking. Swingset Activism is a new type of activism, inspired by childhood and generated by love,that is integrative, relational, and imaginative. It centers the significance of childhood in activism as a strategy to maximize personal, social, and global transformation. Because social justice begins with childhood, Swingset Activism integrates the relationship between the inner and the outer, the past (inner child) and the present (deconstruction of adultism and commitment to childism), to offer the greatest promise of true personal, social, and global transformation.


Swingset Activism Theory: Bringing Together Ecological Systems Theory (Integrative), Relational Activism (Relational), and Our Inner Child (Imaginative)


Integrative | Ecological Systems Theory

The Ecology of the Child

We need to begin with the transformation of ourselves and acknowledge the truth that the personal, the social, and the global are deeply interdependent and interconnected. We need to see ourselves clearly as independent and interdependent interconnected beings with our larger ecology. The Cultural Creatives movement, illuminated by social scientist Paul Ray, has revealed that this shift is a larger shift globally to a humanity that embraces practical wisdom in more deliberately living a conscious life and viewing everyday moments as opportunities to have integrity to a socially just vision for the world. In reality, adult thriving is dependent on child thriving and vice versa. In addition, the roots of the Feminism movement where the “personal is political” underline the ways in which traditional activism has undervalued the significance of the personal, the relational, and the inner work that is all interconnected.


Ecological Systems Theory provides a worldview for engaging in social justice work that embraces how all levels of change connect in a bi-directional way, what I call “The Ecology of the Child.” This means that true activism is nested within our inner transformational work, the work of transforming our familial relationships, then transforming our community work, and finally linking the personal to a planetary transformation from a systems level while acknowledging the bidirectional nature of the relationship between the inner and outer change.


The Ecological Systems Theory model by Urie Bronfenbrenner places our individual stories of childhood within a larger ecology of childhood. It affirms the value of the inner work of redefining our relationship to our own childhood by integrating our inner child with our everyday actions within our relationships and how there is a bi-directional link to institutional and systemic change. Furthermore, it sets the foundation for an intrapersonal and interpersonal transformation of childhood which creates the capacity to truly transform the world with social justice that is sustained and long-lasting.


Relational | Relational Activism

Social Justice in Everyday Moments

It is important to truly see activism clearly - as not all activism is done by “activists.” In their seminal academic article, “Relational Activism: Reimagining Women’s Work as Cultural Change,” Sarah O’Shaugnessy and Emily Kennedy introduce the term “relational activism” within a feminist lens for how we approach our relationships in our personal lives that directly affect social change. As opposed to conventional activism that is traditionally masculine things such as marches and protests, relational activism captures the work activism of work primarily done by women with little credit - the behind-the-scenes, private sphere, community-building work of activism and highlights the importance of community, networks, and communication in contributing to long-term social change. Relational activism values public and private sphere, and conventional and relational actions equally while honoring the moments of social justice that happen within daily routines and in daily relations with others. Relational Activism aligns with the science of attachment which provides biological and neurological evidence of human hardwiring for relationship and for relationship to be the fulcrum of social change.

Our “inner passport” for maximizing our impact on social justice and societal transformation is possible as we work with a soul generated by love to transform our relationship with our own inner child, our families, our communities, and our larger ecology.


Imaginative | Inner Child

Imagining a World Where Childhood is Liberatory Not Oppressive

Adults commonly lose their authentic voice during their childhood and it takes much work and effort to re-discover that voice which is critical for activism that is rooted in our authentic self and in love and not our pain.

The earliest experience of being in the womb is lived experience of the profound interconnection and interdependence of human nature, and for the first few years of infancy there is no “other”. This is important to remember in pursuits of solidarity and partnership in social justice. It is our true nature. It is our original sense of inter-being that acknowledges that all of our liberation is bound together. Through the integration of these insights a new mindset emerges that affirms how the whole world can be seen as one family and that children are, as Carol Stack would say, “all our kin”.

Also children generally have a clearer, innate sense of right and wrong and remind us as adults that the pursuit of social justice is not performative, but intuitive and relational. As adults, we can be mindful of taking action when something feels wrong, like we did as children, and reclaiming the power of our own inner voice. Adults can be allies to children and children can empower themselves, which is now defined by the Childism Institute at Rutgers University as Childism - the empowerment of children. Children can exercise agency by taking action on issues they care about. And adults can be allies in deconstructing the structures that disempower children. Children can liberate themselves from adultism by honoring their own feelings, trusting their own bodies, and claiming the power of their own voice.


Activism also can innovate by embracing elements of playfulness and bring elasticity to the imagination to re-imagine what’s possible. The science of human development reveals that there are gains and losses, strengths and challenges, across the lifespan. No age holds superiority or inferiority. One of the strengths of the developmental stage of childhood is the general capacity of children to imagine and play. Children engage in learning through the imagination, through creation, through play. As Albert Einstein said, “play is the highest form of research.” Play and the imagination may also have great utility in the realm of innovation in activism and in sustaining a commitment to activism across a lifespan. The future of activism starts in the imagination; with a vision or a dream like Martin Luther King Jr.’s “dream” or John Lennon’s song “Imagine.” When we integrate our inner child, we can engage in Swingset Activism, activism generated by love that is integrative, relational, and imaginative and begin to re-imagine the possibilities of a transformed world by seeing beyond what is to what could be.


Defining a New Concept - Swingset Activism

Integrative, Relational, and Imaginative

Swingset Activism lovingly embraces elements of integrity, relationality and the imagination. It highlights the significance of activism that embodies playfulness, joyfulness, loving-kindness, presence, creativity, and our capacity to re-imagine what’s possible. The process can then be socially just to match the goal of social justice from integration of these valuable ways of being that children embody most regularly into activism. Audre Lorde says, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” which calls upon our imagination and creativity in approaching social justice in new imaginative and embodied ways. It acknowledges the wise contributions of children and childhood experiences in activism. It also serves as a reminder of the solidarity and sacrifice of children and youth literally being on the front lines of social justice movements throughout time, which is not credited since history is typically told by adults. Adults can be allies in partnership with children and share the work of creating a just society as an intergenerational process.

Swingset Activism is all about integrity and requires looking critically at what I have coined the “activist paradox” - exploring the ways in which activists unconsciously recreate systems of oppression in their personal and community efforts for change, linked to their own experiences of oppression in childhood. Paying attention to these paradoxes will highlight the continual inner work adults need to do to heal their inner child. The earlier that an individual can place their own individual story of childhood within the larger story of childhood, the earlier it will be empowering to both children and adults.


A new type of activism called Swingset Activism highlights the change you wish to see - in yourself and your daily routine, ways of being, and relations with others. It links the personal to the planetary. Swingset Activism practices social justice in everyday moments, with change happening at the speed of trust, and inner and outer change being interdependent across levels.


Defining Swingset Activism

Activism generated by love that is Integrative, Relational, and Imaginative


Integrative| Authentic

Centered in Authentic Self

Feel your WHY for Social Justice

Integration of Inner Child

Befriend the Activist Paradox


Relational| Whole

Feel true connection in relationship

See social (in)justice roots in childhood

Build equal power ally relationships with children

Create equal power relationships across differences

Integrate activism as a lifestyle


IMAGINE| Imaginative

Feel inspired to imagine a transformed world

Transcend self and system

Create, play, and dream of a transformed world

Savor moments of love, justice, liberation, and transcendence


Teaching Swingset Activism through Social Justice Education

A NEW Theory of Activism – Inspired by the Roots of Social Justice in Childhood

The mainstream theory of Social Justice Education is that no one form of oppression is the base for all others, yet all are connected within a system that makes them possible, honoring the intersectionality of the ingredients of oppression without prioritizing one over another.

The Swingset Institute is positing a new theory of social justice education inspired by childhood. Since the oppression of children is the earliest, most normalized, and rationalized form of oppression; it provides the foundation for other forms of oppression because the first relationships in childhood root initial experiences with the common elements of oppression. Adultism sets an invisible infrastructure for other socially constructed power-over divides across social identity to find deep hold. And oppression of children is intersectional with all other forms of oppression while still being mainly unseen or mistakenly seen as mistreatment instead of being acknowledged as oppression. The normalization of the subordination of young people is so extensive that child victimization, child neglect, child abuse, the treatment of young people in institutions such as schools and at home, abuses in the child welfare system, or infanticide are typically described as mistreatment and not seen as oppression. By centering childhood in activism we can begin as Teresa Graham Brett has envisioned to “imagine a world where mistrust, power-over dynamics, domination, and oppression no longer exist because children have never experienced them.”

Social Justice Education

Social Justice Education – Definition, Goal, and History (Bell, 2016)

The definition of social justice education includes both an interdisciplinary conceptual framework for analyzing multiple forms of oppression and a set of interactive, experiential pedagogical principles to help learners understand the meaning of social difference and oppression both in the social system and in their personal lives.


The goal of social justice education is to enable people to develop the critical analytical tools necessary to understand oppression and their own socialization within oppressive systems, and to develop a sense of agency and capacity to interrupt and change oppressive patterns and behaviors in themselves and in the institutions and communities of which they are a part.

Social Justice Education has its roots in social identity and cognitive development theory. Its history in the US can be traced to the early 1940s with lab experiments beginning around intergroup prejudice with reflective group practice. In the 1950s this foundation was utilized for multicultural and cross cultural training and the creation of the Peace Corps, Study Abroad, and International NGO’s). This expanded into the 1960s as Intergroup Dialogue and Intergroup Relations were pioneered by SCLC and SNCC in the Civil Rights and Black Consciousness Movements in which Black and Ethnic Studies departments called for education relevant to real world problems of racial inequality and injustice. And Feminist pedagogy focused on lived experience, viewing all education as political and about consciousness raising and reflection connecting the personal to the political. Social Justice Education has been shaped by Black and Ethnic Studies, Gender and Women Studies, Multicultural Education, Social Justice Teacher Education, Experiential Education frameworks, and Critical Pedagogy frameworks that deconstruct oppression as not a part of the natural order of things in the world.


Pedagogy of Social Justice Education (Adams, 2016)

The pedagogy of Social Justice Education involves seeing and engaging in Social Justice as both a process and a goal through:

· Co-facilitation model of allyhood where everyone is a learner and a teacher with use of presence, reflection, and experience while paying explicit attention to social dynamics within the real-time education process

· Balancing both: process and content, AND emotional and cognitive while seeing social justice in the process

· Acknowledgement and support for the personal dimension of experience, while making connections to and illuminating the systemic dimensions of social group interactions

· Affirming and celebrating changes in awareness, personal growth, and efforts to work toward change


The Power of Transforming Childhood for Social Justice

The Cycle of Socialization by Bobbi Harro is a common tool used in Social Justice Education programs. It is useful as a diagram that shows why the status quo was the way it was. Most social justice education experiences do not focus long on “The Beginning” and the “First Socialization” but social (in)justice begins there. In social justice education classes, individual students typically share early experiences of oppression but they are focused on incidents of established “isms” such as racism or sexism. There is typically never any mention of adultism, which encapsulates the entire beginning of the socialization process.


Social Justice Education inspired by childhood highlights adultism as the air we breathe in our “First Socialization” by people we love and trust like parents, relatives and teachers. It is the foundation for all oppression that lays its roots in the “First Socialization.” We have to challenge the entire idea of adults using power and control over children as simply being seen as mistreatment or even worse as invisible and begin to see it for what it really is – oppression. This shows how Social (In)Justice begins with childhood.


Childhood is dominated by three institutions; (1) school, (2) home, and (3) media. Children typically experience powerlessness and being controlled in both the school and the home and then tend to be drawn towards media where they have some power and control. Even though schools are listed as institutions within the Cycle of Socialization, the most foundational institution for oppression that is not even listed or thought of as an institution is the institution of the Home. We know that children spend more time at home than in the institution of school and that home is the least “policed” institution left in the world where adults can use their power and control over children.


It may feel purposeless as adults to go back to our childhoods and our “First Socialization.” We may be more drawn to the work of dismantling systemic injustices by fighting for change at an institutional and societal level. However, activism really begins with healing our inner child. We can’t change what happened to us in childhood but we can change our relationship with our own childhood. We also can see our childhood differently when we see it within the larger culture of adultism that is normalized and invisible. This does not excuse anything that happened in childhood, it simply helps us understand and make sense of what happened so that we can be empowered to transform our relationship with our own children, with children who shares our life, and with the future generations. When we realize this truth, we can also begin to forgive ourselves and those who harmed us and ourselves. We can begin to truly heal and treat the children in our lives in socially just ways so that we can imagine a transformed world where the experience of childhood is not oppressive but safe, joyful, and loving.

The Cycle of Liberation by Bobbi Harro shows what is possible when we “wake up” and break out of the Cycle of Socialization. As Teresa noted above, the average time of critical incidents was in college. By this time young people had already experienced 18+ years of being dominated and controlled by the adults in their life.


Even if we were to eradicate racism, sexism, heterosexism and the like we would still be left with adultism and the wounding of the domination and control of our earliest years of life. When we reach the magical age that culturally is decided to be the age of adulthood we carry with us the experiences of childhood.


What’s important to note is that it is all interconnected. You cannot simply begin fighting against oppression when you become an adult because at that point you already have experienced adultism and any other forms of oppression that intersect with your identities. To reclaim the power that was lost in childhood, we need to revisit our childhoods as adults and explore our inner child. That way we can reclaim our own authentic voice and power to create change.


A Grounded Theory Pilot Study of Swingset Activism

2021 and 2022 Pilot Programs

We created a new 7-week intensive virtual pilot program which had 7 diverse applicants from all over the United States in our first year and over 45 diverse applicants from all over the globe in our second year. In our first year pilot, we were able to offer a competitively paid fellowship to 3 students - one graduate student and two undergraduate students and our second year pilot we offered a competitively paid fellowship to 6 students – 3 graduate students and 3 graduate students. The students went through an immersive adventure into learning the habits of mind, practices, and philosophy of activism inspired by childhood.


Students reported practicing embodying their activism and affirming the significance of their activism in everyday moments in relationships.

“I've always embodied relational activism, and in a sense, felt like I had to constantly prove it was activism. Given the term, I've even now been able to empower other (mostly women) to know that what they are doing daily and with their heart IS activism!” - Graduate Student

Social justice can come in so many forms, and sometimes the behind the scenes parts are just as important. I learned that even if I am not actively and visibly doing social justice work, educating myself and others and building relationships through that is just as important” - Undergraduate Student


Students reported learning new ideas such as the terms childism and adultism and how oppression begins in childhood. Students also reported growing in their understanding of social justice and how important it is to “know your why” in social justice work.

“The terminology for childism and adultism. The idea that oppression transcends what we have come to think of it as, and is so deeply rooted in the trauma we each experience prenatally, and beyond.” - Graduate Student

Social justice is bigger and broader than what it is defined as and may look different for everyone. Social justice in children is just as important as it is for adults” - Undergraduate Student

How you need to know your why. You also need to know who you are and your goals in order to take on such a big challenge.” - Undergraduate Student


Students reported that mindfulness and embodied practices are necessary for real sustainable change and that change starts with the self and to balance your attention between yourself and others as you work towards social justice.

“Everything. Being enveloped in both a social justice community and a spiritual one, I have often wondered why they didn't overlap more naturally, and felt that with one foot in each, my role was to be the bridge. In my worldview, the reason social justice efforts have not made the lasting impact needed for sustainable change is because the embodied practice of shifting our own consciousness, and taking responsibility for our own healing / role has been largely missing from the conversation.” -Graduate Student

“Mindfulness is so important in social justice because change starts with the self and your relationship with the self. Mindfulness can help improve the self inwards so that you can move forward in making outward changes.” - Undergraduate Student

“You just need to be mindful. Practicing mindfulness helps strengthen your brain and reminds you how you need to focus on yourself and others. That attention should be balanced between both.” - Undergraduate Student

Students reported how learning about oppression beginning in childhood helps them to fully realize the significance of their relationships with children and how to truly listen and see the child. Students shared how if children don’t experience oppression in childhood they will not become oppressive as adults and how central advocating for children is to larger social justice efforts.

“When I first started this program, I thought it was going to be about teaching children social justice education. I did not realize it was eons ahead of that, including childism as the first form of oppression all people experience. Therefore, childhood-centered social justice education is so much more than what we are teaching children, it's how we are treating them. And it's aim as I see it, is to design systems of education for educators to know, recognize and change what that looks like. The promise of childhood-centered social justice is to listen and see the child, in all their uniqueness and individual needs, in a way that creates a life of freedom and exploration for them that they don't have to grow up healing from. My Mom, who was very much on this journey with us would always say, "this is what you talk about!" I just didn't have all the terms, nor did I know there was a community and movement already doing it.” - Graduate Student

“Children will never have mistrust or fear power dynamics because they won't experience it.” - Undergraduate Student

“The concept that children need to be advocated for. We oftentimes exert too much power and control over children and that is not beneficial to them or their education.” - Undergraduate Student


Students shared how social justice education allows us to “become” social justice in our everyday lives and how it provides an inclusive and safe space where everyone is heard and valued.

“Social justice education gives everyone the chance to learn and change in a protected setting where everyone's thoughts and ideas are heard and validated. This turns into them knowing and sharing information and so on leading to more informed people who want to make social justice changes.” Undergraduate Student

“ I think the main reason history has been repeating itself without enough progress is BECAUSE we haven't integrated social justice education in everything else. Children naturally get it. They just need a space to explore it. That's our job, and systematically, we need to catch up. If children can know, embody and practice social justice in their daily lives; if we can incorporate it in their normalcy, then developmentally, they are BECOMING social justice.” - Graduate Student


Students reported feeling empowered by this new type of activism emerging that it is what has been missing from our societal masculine dominant view of activism and how it is an embodied balance between being and doing.

It's everything that has been missing from our masculine-dominant interpretation of activism. It is the capacity to celebrate BEing AS activism as strongly as we promote doing. It is relational, embodied and connected, not only to ourselves and with each other, but to the earth itself. It connects all things, and finds the beauty of growth within the relationship.” -Graduate Student

“Absolutely wonderful! It was so beautiful to find the connectedness in all of the activism that is being done.” -Undergraduate Student


Students shared how they benefited from the creative aspects of the curriculum including the significance of the poetry that was shared throughout the curriculum.

“For me the most impactful reading was not a specific reading from the curriculum (sorry I know that was the question), but it was one of the poem's Dave read at the beginning of a process session, "For one who is exhausted, a blessing". “ - Undergraduate Student


Students indicated that they loved how the learning community was co-empowered and truly unique and how you will feel seen, heard, and trusted and being a part of the forefront of a movement. Fellows also shared how you will learn a lot about yourself, your “why” for social justice work, and how everything connects to within you and how amazing the people are that you meet in the program.

“You will be invited into a co-empowered community that is truly unique. You will feel seen, heard, and trusted with your place in the Movement. You will learn SO much about yourself, this work, and how they are indisputably interconnected, and will grow and change in unexpected ways. Your life will change, as will your perspective of the world. It will no longer be seen as something outside of you, but rather from within. And this is the future. This is the revolution. It's radical and progressive work, and exactly what the world needs right now. It's an incredible honor to be at the forefront of this Movement.” - Graduate Student

“The people you meet and interact with are amazing. The lessons and concepts you learn are so meaningful and important. You find and learn more about yourself.” - Undergraduate Student

“Supportive environment, you learn a lot more than you would somewhere else, you learn your best "why" you do what you want to do.” - Undergraduate Student



References

Adams, M. and Bell, L. (2016). Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice. 3rd Edition. Routledge Press

Brett, T. (2011). Parenting for Social Change. Published by Social Change Press, Learning Enterprises, LLC, Tucson Arizona. ISBN: 978-0-9829515-0-7

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1992). Ecological systems theory. In R. Vasta (Ed.), Six theories of child development: Revised formulations and current issues (pp. 187–249). Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

O’Shaugnessy, S., and Kennedy, E. (2010). Relational Activism: Re-imagining Women’s Environmental Work as Cultural Change. The Canadian Journal of Sociology. 35(4) DOI: 10.29173/cjs7507

Pearce, J, C. (1992). Magical Child. Published by the Penguin Group. Copyright Joseph Chilton Pearce, 1977.

White, M. (2016) The End of Protest: A New Playbook for Revolution. Penguin Random House Knopf Canada


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