Swingset Activism | Original Concept Paper by David Charles Metler

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


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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

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

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