A couple months ago a small youth organization called Youth Force approached the Design Studio about helping them design an action that would send a message to private corporations that get tax breaks in Boston without giving back to the community by hiring youth. As part of the larger Youth Jobs Coalition, Youth Force was taking the lead on pushing private corporations to increase the number of youth they hire.
Each year the Youth Jobs Coalition rallies 1000-2000 youth over February Vacation to demand more youth jobs in the city and state budgets. Despite tons of evidence about how important jobs are for young people, their families and their communities, youth jobs are forever on the chopping block. The annual rally looks like this (from boston.com, 2011):
(An interesting aside: Some years back United Youth and Youthworkers (UYYW) did some excellent research that showed how in years with more youth jobs there was less youth violence. Unfortunately today the data is rarely shown and is sometimes reduced to an idea that if we just occupy youth with jobs they won't kill each other--or us.)
But back to this year. Youth Force was looking for a unique way to pressure private corporations into doing their share of supporting the future of Boston. We talked about what made an action look and feel like an action--the crowds, the chanting, the signs, the marching. We explored what would be powerful and challenging about creating an action that felt entirely different. What if it had to be humorous or still or silent or single file? Suddenly one of the members thought about how a single file line of youth looking for work would look. Interesting. Could they build a line long enough to attract others? What if 200 youth lined up for a job at Fidelity, which never hires youth? Would interesting conversations arise from passers-by in the business district?
In addition to opportunities created for one-on-one conversations with passers-by, we were interested in making it an authentic gesture. Each youth would bring their resume (or a mock resume provided by Youth Force) to the front desk of Fidelity, to earnestly inquire about work. We wanted the gesture to actually connect with the target, rather than be a performance of that interaction. The youth leaders decided to further the impact by asking participants to dress in interview attire, and to speak with any interested passers-by as formally as if even that were an interview.
In the end they didn't manage to get 200 youth, but they did create a unique action that grabbed the attention of both passers-by and the local press (see the Globe photo and caption at top). We're still debriefing what the action felt like for them, and they're still planning their next steps with Fidelity. To be continued...