Stamina Over Volume: Spending days two and three with the youth of the DNC
The first day of school is right around the corner and young people around the country are relishing these last few days of summer vacation like the drippy end of a popsicle. But what about the youth who have spent the week in L.A. organizing and protesting at the DNC? Well, it hasn't been a vacation, but it hasn't been a waste of energy either. In fact two major youth-organized events happened in Los Angeles over the last week, bringing the young activists here in to a new level of clarity in their demands.
One might say that Tuesday's Justice for Youth protest and Wednesday's National Youth Convention panel ended with mixed results. On one hand they served to highlight the way that youth are are grossly disregarded by mainstream politicians and major media outlets. But on the other, this hasn't stopped young people from being involved, nor has it stopped them from having their voices heard by third party leaders.
The roughly 200 high school and college students who participated in Tuesday's Justice for Youth/End the Racist Set Up march know that youth are almost always represented in a negative light in the mainstream press. To counteract this, they included a message about talking to media in their flier: "Experience has shown that the media will try and marginalize, belittle, or basically screw up our message. To counteract that, we have media talking points and designated media spokespeople. Please don't consider taking on the mainstream media monopoly by yourself!" The youth protesters heeded the advice on the flier, and only those wearing big "Press" stickers across their chests were spoken to at all.
Protesters marched past the Los Angeles City Schools Administrative Offices and California Governor Gray Davis's L.A. office, chanting in English and Spanish such statements as "Schools Not Jails," and "Hey hey/ho ho/your racist tests have got to go." The protest was centered around 10 points, which included ending high stakes standardized tests like the Stanford 9, SAT, and GRE; building toxic-free schools; repealing Prop. 227, which ended bilingual education two years ago; repealing Prop. 21, under which youth under 18 can be tried as adults; and also repealing Prop. 209, which ended affirmative action. The march was put on by four activist youth organizations: the Coalition for Educational Justice, a coalition of teachers, students and parents centered around improving education, Communities for a Better Environment, a group of youth fighting for environmental justice in Southeast Los Angeles, University Coalition, which fights for affirmative action, and Youth Organizing Community, a state-wide group which fights for education and against the prison industrial complex.
At the governor's office, four of the protesters attempted to speak to Prop. 21-supporter Gray Davis, to present the 10 points. But when they did so, they were treated with fear and disrespect. Although the protest was entirely non-violent, the four students were escorted by as many as 10 police officers in full riot gear to Davis's office. Upon arriving at the office, the youth speakers were not given time with Davis. Instead, they were met by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and a few police officers (at least these one's weren't in riot gear) who stayed around to "protect" Davis's representative from the evidently non-violent students.
"He could have at least sent the Secretary of Education," said Alfonso Gonzales, one of the four student speakers and a University of California Los Angeles student. Gonzales speculated that the multicultural make-up of the protesters may have influenced Davis' choice, adding, "He sent the Minister of Foreign Affairs because he's Latino."
Gray Davis's office did not return WireTap phone calls seeking comment on why he, nor any other education representative, refused to speak to the youth protesters.
Governor Davis, who is trying to develop a reputation as "The Education Governor," was also absent from the National Youth Convention's panel on Wednesday, which he was invited to. The NYC, which convenes youth delegates from around the country, met in Philadelphia during the RNC and again at on the campus of Occidental College in Los Angeles. A project of the Global Youth Action network, the convention is designed to address, and form solutions to, issues important to youth such as violence, the environment, education, and human rights.
Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore, who was invited to attend the Convention as early as last year, didn't make it, (nor did Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush in Philidelphia two weeks ago). Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, did make an appearance in Philadelphia, and Reform Party Candidate John Hagelin was in Los Angeles on Wednesday.
Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan also spoke at the event. When asked why he turned out for the Youth Convention, Riordan said, "I want to learn from the youth. They're so much further ahead than adults as to what's going on today."
Riordan made a speech and took questions from the youth in the audience, drawing applause when he asked if he could continue answering questions even after his time limit was up. In response to a question about politicians who deem youth issues trivial, Riordan said, "I think they're pretty foolish it they don't listen to you."
On a light note in his speech, Riordan brought up the complex issues youth face around relationships. He spoke to "having the courage to "to get into a relationship with someone of the opposite sex and also have the courage to get out of it." He was responded to by a young audience member who asked if he was only addressing heterosexuals. To that, Riordan drew applause with the remark, "Or with the same sex. I believe in an all-loving God that expects us all to love and respect every human being."
After Riordan's speech the youth panelists asked difficult questions of Hagelin from their platform. The National Youth Convention platform, which the youth delegates shaped in Philadelphia and finalized in Los Angeles, was rather progresive and put forward a number of ideas and plans of action that challenge the status quo. A sampling of the platform includes: changing the age to buy firearms to 21 and implementing more background checks and permit requirements for gun owners; increasing funding for school counselors to help with problems facing youth; continuing to recognize Roe v. Wade; and extending civil rights to legal non-citizens in the U.S. Panelists also called the death penalty a form of "cruel and unusual punishment," and criticized Prop. 21 and the prison industrial complex as a means of controlling today's youth.
When Hagelin said the government has no "moral authority" to make abortion illegal, and called for the end of the death penalty, he won a standing ovation from the youth in attendance. "My whole campaign is government for the next generation," said Hagelin, when asked why he had participated in the NYC panel.
The political involvement of the thousands of youth here in Los Angeles shows that these high school and college students are not going to wait around for the major parties or the mainstream media to hear them. By taking to the streets and the convention halls on their own. They're creating their own forums and inviting the world to listen in. And as they become increasingly more organized, the two major parties, absent politicians like Gray Davis, and the mainstream media, are going to turn around one day to find a huge number of organized, articulate, and seriously committed youth on their hands - the most damaging opposition of all. Riordan was right when he said that those politicians who don't listen to politically active youth are foolish, foolish indeed.
But what the protest did show was a commitment by a couple hundred young people throughout the state to get together, in sweltering 90 degree temperatures, during their summer vacation, to let their voices be heard. Though the students were insulted by their treatment at Davis's office, Gonzales said, "We're going to keep fighting."