We often define power by how much money, experience, or skill one has. Whether it’s the mid-19th century or the year 2018, youth are not often the CEOs of fortune 500 companies, wealthy leaders of nations, or corporate tycoons. That doesn’t mean they don’t have power.
Disney’s Newsies, our youth production running September 21st-30th, shows power in another way: Protest. In this form of power, youth can have the upper hand, leveraging their influence in creative ways. Protest provides an opportunity for any person to use their voice and stand up for what they believe in or against some form of injustice. From racism to environmental injustice, protest has given the “everyman” the opportunity to band together with a group of likeminded individuals to demand change.
Protesting can be seen in movements of the war torn 60’s and 70’s, to today’s fight for gender equality in the workplace. To be involved in a strike is one form of protest. In this context, Merrian-Webster defines “strike” in the following way: “to stop work in order to force an employer to comply with demands.”
The “newsies” leveraged their power by striking and naming specific demands that would improve their working conditions. Until this point, working conditions for newsboys were demanding and unfair. During this time, the newboys were employees of the publishing companies not the newspapers. This meant that they couldn’t sell back the newspapers that were leftover, making it impossible to gain financial freedom. This is just one of the many reasons they became frustrated, eventually organizing to improve their conditions. Their determination made them unstoppable.
Remember, these movements were led by youth - a group characterized as poor and stripped of their power in the musical. This was an incredible switch of power and allowed for those who usually can’t make decisions have their voices heard!
Annie Kelly was one of the only newswomen to follow the strike. She was known as “the brick of all women and the most faithful of the strikers” and as “almost a patron saint.” After being pulled onto the stage at a mass meeting at New Irving Hall in 1899, she shared an inspiring message: “All I can say, boys, is to stick together and we’ll win. That’s all I’ve got to say to you.”
Simple and powerful, her message communicated an essential point: We are more powerful together than we are on our own.
How Our History Inspires the Future: Parkland
Historically, the Newsboys Strike of 1899 was the series of events that inspired Newsies. These events not only realized their power by striking for financial freedom, but by inspiring youth-led labor strikes in Butte, Montana in 1914 and in Kentucky in the 1920’s.
Today, there are plenty examples of young people leveraging their power in this way. Parkland, Florida is an example of this as a group of high school students, having experienced a tragedy in their own school, sparked rage and protest in the lives of our nations’ youth.
Many of us know about the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018 that claimed the lives of 17 students, faculty, and staff. Often when tragedy in our nation occurs, it is immobilizing. After the shooting in Parkland, the survivors rose up in anger to demand gun violence policy changes.
Their bravery and strength inspired others to stand up in their local communities. Nationally, schools were urged to protest the gun violence that occurred in Parkland, as well as the gun violence that is prevalent in the United States-more than any other developed nation in the world. Students were inspired to participate by staging their own “walk-outs” at their schools. Most of those that organized rallies or “walk-outs” were students in elementary and high schools.
Demanding change is often daunting. We feel powerless when the odds of winning are stacked against us and when there is no guarantee that protests will work. When we stick together and organize for equality and fairness, we pay tribute to the movements for justice that came before us-like the Newboys Strike of 1899.
We hope you are inspired by the actors and actresses that will bring Newsies to life, as well as the story they are telling. It is important to know that we all have a voice in times of oppression, disempowerment, and darkness.
JOIN US on September 23rd from 6:00-7:00pm after the Sunday matinee of Newsies for a Near West Theatre Community Conversation on Newsies, Youth Empowerment, & Labor Law. Explore the social context and relevance of Newsies, historical perspectives on labor and employment law, the role of Youth Empowerment in social progress, and roles WE can play (regardless of age!) in justice for underserved populations.
OUR SUNDAY PANEL INCLUDES:
Steven Beiting, Associate at Kastner Westman & Wilkins, LLC
Melekte Melaku, Policy Associate at the ACLU of Ohio
Courtney Mickens, Senior Impact Manager at City Year Cleveland
Doug Taylor, Director of the Boys And Girls Club Of Cleveland - Broadway
We know this dynamic group will bring a diverse body of knowledge to the table, and we look forward to having a productive conversation with all of you!