The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child [CRC] was created in 1989 as the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights-civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. The Convention intends to protect children’s rights by setting standards in health care; education; and legal, civil and social services. Created with the help of the United States, Madeleine Albright, then ambassador to the UN, signed the CRC on February 16th, 1995. It was subsequently declined for ratification by the Senate due to conservative opposition.
Clad in their evening attire, a score of high school students from across the city assemble in to the auditorium of Central Library. All are members of the Minneapolis Youth Congress. This meeting is not on the agenda. I reluctantly step forward onto the stage, only to be met with a sparse crowd, made increasingly apparent by the large number of unfilled seats. “Folks, I need to talk to you about the CRC.”
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Revolutions start with whispers.
The connotations for revolutions amongst youth are predominantly negative-and with good cause. Lacking organization and discipline, youth revolutions have a tendency to devolve into chaotic, purposeless frenzies of hysterical vitality. On this night, the Minneapolis Youth Congress decided their revolution would be of a different kind.
“The Committee on Child Rights has one goal, and one goal only,” all heads in the auditorium look up, “and that is to incorporate the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into the Minneapolis City Charter.”
There was no roaring applause, only contemplative silence. Whispers tend to be quiet.
In the United States, there are 75 million youth.
14 million American youth have dropped out of high school.
13.5 million American youth live in poverty.
12.4 million American youth live in households without food security.
8.25 million American youth have no health insurance.
As the unemployment of millions of American workers harms the condition of the present, so does the under-education, impoverishment, and vital insecurity of millions of youth harm the condition of the future. As the nation struggles to secure the wellbeing of today, the MYC declares that no less important is the wellbeing of tomorrow.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is the most widely ratified of any international treaty. It has been adopted by every democratic nation on the planet. Somalia and the US are the only two exceptions. Recently, Somali leaders have declared intentions to ratify the CRC, which will have to wait until Somalia can establish a stable government. That leaves the United States. The nation responsible for the creating of numerous articles and providing the ideological basis of the CRC is the only one who has neither ratified it, nor shown signs of considering ratification.
The first opposition was based primarily on the argument that parental rights are jeopardized by the CRC. The supporters of the CRC refuted that the Preamble to the Convention regards the family as the fundamental unit of society, whose authority should not be tampered with by the state, unless if the interests of the child are compromised. But the discussion discontinued. The Senate never voted on it, and at this. the Minneapolis Youth Congress is confused.
The memories of our members don’t go as far back as 1995. That may work to our benefit. This makes our task is quite simple. Enact the CRC into the City Charter first. Then, ensure the creation of policies aimed at achieving the full implementation of these rights amongst all Minneapolitan children, regardless of any distinguishing differences. Thus, create a model for the nation, where the prioritizing of the best interests of the child results in a better society for all. That is our revolution.
The term “revolution” here is used in the most literal of senses-a turning of the wheel. Currently, and quite understandably, the focus has been overwhelmingly on the current crisis. Facing recession and a difficult state of world affairs, the contemporary situation absolutely merits focus. But a nation that does not provide for its future cannot expect much from it. The Revolution of the Minneapolis Youth Congress declares that the rights of the youth, designed to ensure their wellbeing, deserve ratification. The youth are important. We are the future.
“Now as I have said before, our job is to get this [the CRC] into the Minneapolis City Charter. It sounds like an ambitious plan-and it is.” I hesitate to say the following words. “This plan is designed to fail.” A pin could drop. “Yes, this plan is designed to fail. We have made all the modifications necessary to make this document compliant with the rights of the state and the federal government. We know that a city cannot ratify a convention intended for national enactment. So we will ask from our city what we deserve from our country. Through the struggle of our municipality, we might just influence Washington to live up to its 15-year-old promise. If we can provide a basic set of universal rights to the thousands of youth in need in this city, and truly affect their wellbeing, then the American in me trusts that our nation’s Senate will do the same.” At this, the MYC applauds.
Minneapolitans, perhaps tempered by the indomitable winters, like their change to occur in a different manner. Being too cold to march outside, they hold their revolutions indoors, and the children of Minneapolis take on that nature. Marching and protesting and revolting are all beneficial when used correctly, but the Minneapolitan youth choose the tranquil form over the more spontaneous alternatives. We want the CRC. We want it enacted into the law of the nation. But not having enough influence to that directly, we choose to use our own City and her Charter. Our revolution is legislative in its nature.
Now, please, don’t think we are starry-eyed do-gooders. We are kids from across the tremendously diverse city of Minneapolis, appointed by the city’s Youth Coordinating Board for our proven leadership and dedication to our communities. Nor are we beret-donning radicals-we know that talk is cheap and that action is often served best by silent efficiency. We are a group of youth who take pride in our city and our country. It is our firm belief that the CRC is in the best interest of both.
It is the end of the assembly, and the twenty-odd members in attendance are anxious to vote. “All those in favor of submitting the CRC to City Council, raise your hand and say aye.” I wished for a full consensus. “All those against-” and a single hand rose in the back. I was disappointed that the ambition was not approved by one of our members, no matter how outnumbered. A moment later, the member rescinded their vote, quietly converting it into an “aye”.
Revolutions start with whispers.