One Year Later: Voices of Student Activists

Student ActivistsThe following is a small sampling of the diverse youth voices heard in Student Voices: One year After Seattle, a report by Bhumika Muchhala of the Institute for Policy Studies.

One year after the "Battle of Seattle," a report has been published compiling quotes from over 50 interviews with student activists.

Answers to the question: What first formed your political consciousness?

"The summer after my freshman year, I hitch-hiked my way to Alaska and worked on a salmon fishing boat, I spent a lot of time that summer in a Native American community disconnected by roads to any other part of Alaska. For the first time in my life, I saw and experienced the struggles of people in real economic problems. On our fishing boat, we were working 15 to 16 hours a day, everyday, and the prices of salmon in a 15 year time period had gone from 90 cents a pound to 6 cents a pound. When I came back to school and took global politics class the connections to my experience on the boat and in the Native American community was very strong. The idea that people's existence and lives are determined by corporate entities thousands of miles away with no investments in the community became tangible. So I first got involved with environmental and local third party politics work, building coalitions between workers on campus. In the summer of 1998 I got called to the first United Students against Sweatshops (USAS) conference and from that point I was hooked."

Eric Brakken, graduate of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, USAS national coordinator.

"My mom had AIDS while I was in high school. I know first-hand how hard it is to get medicine, and my family was lucky because we had insurance. During this time I realized that for people who don't have insurance, the medical system basically tells them that their lives are not worth anything to them. An entire class of people are being completely discriminated against. I was also aware that this system was the working of the powerful pharmaceutical companies. A couple years later, I found out about the anti-corporate movement and it all fell into place."

Sabrina Gorbett, recent graduate of Butler University, STARC organizer.

"My senior year at high school in Houston, there was a black student who was lynched in his backyard by a white supremacist. That really politicized a lot of students in my high school. As we talked about it our eyes opened to what racism and violence looks like in society."

Snehal Shingavi, graduate student at University of California at Berkeley, involved in International Socialist Organization and USAS on campus.

"Queer organizing at school were my first experiences in political awareness. I had always seen the connections with globalization and gay and lesbian struggles, but welfare organizing in Boston one summer led me into the labor movement. In Boston, I met Union Summer kids and was involved with the formation of the Student Labor Action Committee, a joint product of UNITE and Union Summer (AFL-CIO). The summer after, I got involved with USAS."

Rachel Miller, College of the Holy Cross, USAS organizer.

"...I got to the point where I wanted to be involved in determining the direction that society goes in. In high school I got involved in national organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International. During that time I became more conscious of my identity as a Chicano and learned about the history and struggles of our people, which really opened a lot of things that I wasn't taught about in school."

Jerome Chavez, 5th year student at University of New Mexico, 180 Movement for Democracy and Education coordinator.

"I hope that journalism will be a means for me to spread the message to people that we do have a choice, that the status quo is not the only way in life."

Julie Kay, graduate of Stanford University, involved in Students for Environmental Action on campus.

"I hope that I can interact with people who are diametrically opposed to me in a way that doesn't force the gap between us to get wider but rather makes that person see where I am coming from. I seek to constantly work on myself internally and on my personal relationships with other people."

Katharine Teleki, junior at the University of Texas at Austin, Amnesty International coordinator on campus.

"I think the dominant activist groups have to approach cross-cultural communication and exchange withj a good sense of who the marginalizaed are and what their backgrounds are. Otherwise, there's a danger of fearing differences, appropriating culture, not acknowledging privilege, or ignoring the significance of culture. There's a real challenge for multi-racial coalitions to work. It means that privileged partners have to give up some resources, power, space, and time to people of color and people of low income - who would otherwise be excluded because of financial, physical or cultural factors that make activism inaccessible for them."

Sarah Jacobson, recent graduate of the University of Oregon at Eugene, USAS organizer

"I felt the biggest race and class divide at the WTO protests, where the student presence seemed overwhelmingly white and middle class. I was disturbed at how the protests were not drawing in the people who live in Seattle. I saw a bunch of high school students vandalizing and destroying property and realized that there is a lot of gutteral anger that doesn't have a positive outlet. And the Seattle scenario didn't provide them with a positive, constructive influence, it gave them an excuse to display the violence inside them. On campus some step that white activists could take would be to attend and participate in the meeting of groups of color, which could be awkward for many white students but it needs to happen."

Katie Fischer, senior at the University of California at Berkeley, involved in Students Organizing for Justice in the Americas.

"At both Seattle and D.C. I felt a defining sense of why we were there, and that was resistance. We are tired of waiting for good to happen, we no longer believe or trust what the status quo tells us and thus we will continue to speak out no matter how much the government or corporation try to silence us."

Kelly Nagy, recent graduate of Syracuse University, SEAC national coordinator.
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