Good Night, Youngist
When we launched Youngist in the spring of 2013, we were responding to a powerful need that we saw in our informal networks. Something big was happening, but it wasn’t being covered in ways that were immediate, honest, and present. We wanted to cover “the bold and innovative efforts of an entire generation to shift cultural and political-economic paradigms” in a way that most other publications — even those who might sympathize with young organizers and media-makers — were not.
Our initial editorial staff met through student organizing, primarily through the 2012 National Student Power Convergence, which itself was the result of formalizing networks of young people working against racism, labor exploitation, and neoliberalism in higher education in the United States and Canada. Importantly, many of us met in hallways outside of centralized organizing conversations, frustrated by white, male-dominated, and generally unintentional spaces. We became comrades in moments of personal crisis and would text one another in the middle of the night sending love.
Before coming together as Youngist, some of us met in the streets 2012 Quebec student strike, or when we were working on radical student newspaper staffs, or were trying to build student power unions in our states. What we had in common was a strong indignation towards how outside forces were speaking about us, without us. After months of planning and Skype calls between Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, Toronto, Buffalo, and Montreal, we launched our project on a sharp, clean Tumblr designed by Tom Acker. It was Mother’s Day and the first story we ever published was about Ngoc Loan Tran’s relationship with their mom. A year later—through the tireless work of Maya Richman, a young Montreal-based developer who taught herself how to build a site like this as she went—we launched our official site.
For two and a half years, our meetings (which were conducted remotely over Google Hangouts) happened between restaurant shifts and classes, across time zones, in the midst of family crises, breakups, full-time jobs, and full course loads. At the end of the day, we feel these connections and experiences were invaluable because together we sought to undermine the very existence of borders, and built something together that represented our political affect even if it was itself, not necessarily a political program. Still, we were devoted to intervening and standing up against injustice wherever we saw it, from our own particular vantage point.
Uncompromisingly, we ensured that none of our writers were older than 26. Elders warned we would run up against myriad issues related to turnover and focus. Like youth struggle throughout history, we faced questions of how to keep up our energy, how to build a staff, how to balance our workloads, and where to turn when we weren’t sure how to address novel challenges. Because of these challenges, many of the skills we honed at Youngist were skills we had to learn by doing.
We recognize that a lot of the work we do as organizers, and youth organizers in particular, is transient. Many of us now feel the harsh post-teen fatigue, struggle with depression under a white supremacist, transphobic, capitalist system…but transience is not for naught! We know we meant something to at least a portion of the people we wrote for: the young, dispossessed and visionary.
Ultimately, Youngist was sustained on the work of young people who were immersed in struggle themselves, had no previous experience running a large-scale publishing project, but came from a truly DIY ethos: no dads, no masters, no ad revenue. We launched two very successful crowdfunding campaigns, which kept the site afloat, paid our writers more than many big media conglomerates, and allowed us to prioritize the voices we still believe are left in the dust in both social movement and millennial narratives.
This model made it possible to write frankly about our visions for a world without police and prisons, give some much needed advice about surviving graduation, offer alternatives to carceral feminism, level with ourselves about how the revolution is kinda boring, and so much more. (You can read it all on the site, which will remain up for as long as we can swing it.)
Of course, this was not without its struggles. We ran up against burnout, being under-resourced, feeling confused and angry about our lack of ability to grow in the ways we originally envisioned. As the project expanded, we discovered we needed to temper our ambition with realism about our capacity, and the challenges of working horizontally with remote collaborators.
We were mentored by a group of journalists, creatives and writers who exemplify the spirit of the project: independent, critical, and connected to their communities, and to whom we’re immensely grateful: Aura Bogado, Michelle Chen, Caroline Heldman, Angus Johnston, Victoria Mahoney, Sahar Massachi, Janet Mock, Nayantara Sen, and Peter Rothberg. Their belief that marginalized youth can, and should, speak for themselves, on their own platform, was inspiring and sustaining.
Through our struggle and success, we’ve learned, ultimately, that the work is hard — but it’s worth it. To young people now dreaming of building your own platforms, we want to offer words of encouragement, but also offer some useful lessons, so you don’t have to repeat our mistakes.
Find the people that share your values and make shit together.
If you plan to run a thing and not pay yourselves, you need to be extra intentional about who you are, how you will deal with the structural hindrances to different people’s involvement, including the way classism operates and how you plan to combat it.
If you want to pay yourselves and your writers, we don’t recommend relying on ad revenue. Consider relying on your readers because ad-blocking software is killing small publishing, crowdfunding campaigns are a major energy-sucker, and grants are never really without strings.
Ask for advice and mentorship, but be uncompromising on your values.
Be responsive and accountable but do not buckle under punitive callout culture because it’s a trap. Know what you’re about and be about it.
Take risks. Make a hypothesis, test it out, fuck up, try something different.
Nourish the marginalized voices. Be willing to meet people where they are, but also lovingly challenge one another because we live under fucked up conditions that don’t give us the tools for our own liberation.
As we sunset Youngist as an active project, we wanted to take a moment to remember the work — and why we started this thing in the first place. We still believe there’s a critical need for young people to have their own spaces to tell their own stories, and if you’ve got that fire in your belly and want to know more about how we did it together, we’re always happy to talk.
We thank all of our readers, advisors, contributors, and everybody who donated resources and money to make Youngist possible.
In love and struggle,