May 14, 2006
I don't know how many times I have been in a meeting with a bunch of people like me - Old People - Well, wait a minute not too old, maybe I should say middle aged. Anyway the point is that somebody is sure to pipe up and say, "Where are all the young people?", meaning, "Why aren't they here at our meeting and why aren't they demonstrating like we demonstrated when we were young?" Well, its a bum rap.
First of all, when I was young I know that sitting though long meetings with a bunch of old people was not my idea of fun, or very productive of anything. I tended to stay on campus and do my protesting with other students. That is who I knew and was comfortable with. I even remember a saying, "Don't trust anybody over 30". So I'm not surprised to see students today doing the same thing.
So, what's with the youth movement today? For starters check out Wiretap, which is full of stories of youth organizing. Just now I took a look and found articles on racial profiling, Log Cabin Republicans, the Army's use of video games in their recruiting, Youth involvement in the Save Dafur campaign, and Youth Activists of Austin (YAA!), who not only get my award for best acronym (the exclamation point makes all the difference) but are doing a great job organizing high school students for counter recruiting and in support of immigrant rights.
Of course, student walk-outs helped to spark the immigrant rights movement with thousands of students walking out to protest punitive laws and discrimination, and millions of people taking to the streets. Part of their inspiration were the Chicano walk-outs in 1968, which were dramatized in the HBO film Walkout.
Students also played an important role in the Save Darfur campaign. Students organized on many campuses and helped turn out people for the big rally in Washington DC on April 30. (see this article at www.alternet.org/wiretap/35848/) The April 30 rally in Seattle was largely organized by students, who marched to the Federal Building where they staged a die-in to dramatize the dire conditions in Darfur.
The Campus Antiwar Network (CAN) brings together students from college campuses across the country. They held regional conferences last month in New York, Chicago and San Francisco focused on "Turning Antiwar Sentiment into Antiwar Action". CAN's website explains, "Campus Antiwar Network is the largest and leading independent, democratic, grassroots network of students opposing the occupation of Iraq and military recruiters in our schools at campuses all over the country. ...Our goal is to unite all antiwar students on colleges and high schools alike to democratically build a broad antiwar and counter-recruitment movement to help bring the troops home now." They provide a clearinghouse for students to report on what is happening on their campuses and mobilize support when it is needed. The Midwest conference included admission to a concert afterwards.
Counter recruiting has been the biggest issue on campuses recently. The military recruiters have been especially intrusive at High Schools where they roam the halls at will, when the school administration will allow them to, bombarding students with their sales pitch for a military "career". They will also call students at home repeatedly. Students have responded by leafletting, debating the recruiters, and urging their fellow students to "opt out" of having their names released to the military. The No Child Left Behind Act requires schools to give out student names and addresses to the military but it also allows students or parents to opt out of having their names released. Unfortunately schools often overlook this part of the law unless there is concerted pressure on them.
Last summer Oregon and Washington students attended a camp designed to give them organizing skills. Organized by the Ruckus Society and the Teen Peace Project (founded by my wife, Liz Rivera Goldstein), the camp used two biodiesel buses to bring in mostly high school activists for workshops on counter recruiting organizing skills. This was the first of a series of Not Your Soldier Camps organized by Ruckus in cooperation with local and national activist groups. The Ruckus Society has long been organizing training camps for mostly young activists on a variety of issues. They have just come out with a new Flash animation called "Punk Ass Crusade". It's packed with mind-bending images and an hot new song from The Coup. It is featured on the Not Your Soldier website. You can even download the song as a ringtone for your cellphone.
College campuses have recently seen an increase in recruiting as the military struggles to meet their enlistment goals. Colleges are now seeing increased counter recruiting efforts as well. Last year students at Seattle Central Community College chased recruiters off campus in a well publicized action that has been repeated across the country. High School and college students staged a walk-out in several cities last November to protest recruiting abuses. Over 1,000 rallied in downtown Seattle. Seattle voters are now being asked to sign a city wide College Not Combat initiative to restrict recruiters. Although Federal law requires that the military have equal access with colleges and employers, there is a lot that local authorities can do to rein them in and prevent the abuses that are all too common. This initiative is based on a successful San Francisco initiative.
The Tent State protests link cuts in education funding to resources wasted on the war. To quote their statement of purpose: "Tent State University (TSU) is a national movement that believes education is a right, not a privilege. Hence, TSU opposes tuition hikes, cuts in public funding, and wasteful wars abroad. Tent State, locally, creates an educational alternative where students, faculty, staff, and community can come together, work together, learn together, and practice democracy together. TSU challenges the undemocratic elements of our universities and our society."
Tent State started at Rutgers, where they set up an encampment at which students can attend alternative classes,workshops and teach-ins, but about 20 other campuses have followed their lead and held similar encampments. Relationships with university officials have varied. Some faculty have been very supportive but administrators don't always feel comfortable with these encampments springing up without asking permission, especially since some of the criticism is aimed at the university itself.
At UC Santa Cruz last year the Chancellor called the cops to prevent students from camping out at the entrance to the campus during a Tent State protest. The police attacked these non-violent protesters with clubs and taser-guns and purposely applied force to pressure points in their necks until some passed out. Other injuries included dislocated shoulders and many bruises. 20 were arrested.
Student activists do no have an easy time these days. There have been several instances of students who have been arrested and/or subjected to often arbitrary university disciplinary proceedings for protesting.
For instance, there is an article on the CAN website about the SFSU 10, asking for letters of support. When San Francisco State students stood up to protest military recruiters on campus, police physically (and none too gently) took them out of the building and banned them from campus. Since some of the students lived or worked on campus they became instantly homeless or unemployed. All this with no recourse, except at the discretion of the university administration.
Young people are doing great work everyday on their campuses and off. They combine activism, socializing and music to make organizing fun and effective. They are making a difference and the rest of us can help out by paying attention and giving them our support when they need it.