From Flower Power to Graffiti: A New Youth Peace Movement

News & Politics
graffiti artistWith a can of spray paint in hand, 18-year-old Ricardo Frias crouched beside a large banner taped to a parking lot wall and worked on the edge of an enormous pig's face. Beside the pig, the words "IT'S A MONEY WAR" were sprayed across the banner in urban graffiti style. Other youth gathered in the empty parking lot of San Francisco's Mission district were hard at work spray-painting signs, cutting out cardboard and cloth for gigantic puppets, and brainstorming chants and slogans that expressed their discontent with the Bush Administration's plans to go to war with Iraq.

Although there has been a strong youth presence at recent anti-war protests across the country, the lack of a united youth front has been the subject of talk among activists young and old. "At the last protest, most of the faces I saw were older faces -- not a lot of youth," Frias said. "It sucked not seeing my age group out there [at the protest]."

Raj Jayadev, a reporter for Pacific News Service, wrote in a recent article: "Today's peace marches have individual youth participants, but no generational presence. The scene-stealers are older, like the 'Code Pink' feminists or the graying Mothers Against War."


To join forces with the youth coalitions in San Francisco and New York, you can meet up with them before the marches begin:

February 15 in New York:
The United NY Youth Bloc will be meeting at Union Square Park at 10:30am. The youth contingent from uptown Manhattan and the Bronx (organized by Uptown Youth for Peace and Justice and other groups) will be meeting at 9:45 AM at W157 St and Bwy to march north to 168th or at W 179 St. and Bwy to march south to 168th. They will march through the neighborhood and then go downtown together on the subway at 168th and Bwy for the big demonstration. At 168th Street they will converge with another contingent waiting there and will enter the subway together at 10:30am. Contact cmeyers@WHEDCO.ORG for more information.

February 16 in San Francisco:
Meet up with student activists from the City College of San Francisco, a youth Afro-Cuban drumming ensemble called Loco Bloco, In-Depth Funktions and thousands of other young people on the corner of 16th and Mission Streets at 11am. From there, they will march to San Francisco's Civic Center at 2:00pm to demand peace. For more information, contact

ALSO: A pre-march SPEAK OUT student and youth event begins at 11am at Golden Gate University (536 Mission Street on the corner of First Street). This event is being organized by the Campus Anti-War Network (CAN), Not in Our Name, International ANSWER Student and Youth, United for Peace and Justice and students from all over the Bay Area. Contact the CAN at (510) 333-4604 or

This was apparent at the January 18th peace rally where young people could be seen wandering around half-heartedly shouting the thirty-year-old chants left over from the 60s. It seems that the youth at today's protest rallies see flower power as a remnant of their parent's era, and because of that there is a need for something new -- something that inspires young activists and speaks their language.

A New Kind of Flower Power

Organizations such as In-Depth Funktions in San Francisco, NY Youth Bloc and Uptown Youth For Peace & Justice in New York have begun the search for that "something new" that will galvanize the youth of the anti-war movement in much the same way that flower power did thirty years ago.

In New York, organizers have been building the East Coast youth contingent with teach-ins, poetry slams, banner drops and training workshops over the past few weeks. "We're mobilizing energetically in our schools and our communities for this [march]," said Mike of NY Youth Bloc, a coalition organized by and for New York City high school students for peace, justice and empowerment. This Saturday (February 15) in New York, he and other youth organizers are hoping to see young people "at the front lines of the movement to turn the tide against this war, instead of the front lines in the Persian Gulf where the 'powers that be' want us," he said.

In an effort to pull together a cohesive youth coalition for the February 16 march in San Francisco, Ricardo Frias and other youth spent the previous Saturday crafting anti-war rally props and discussing their tactics. According to Frias, the preparation event was a direct response to what he called a "lack of youth unity" at the last large-scale anti-war protests in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington DC. He went on to say that although it was encouraging to see that the last San Francisco rally had such a large turn out, 200,000 people by some estimations, "there were a lot more older people there with older chants and messages."

Some believe the lack of youth unity in the present anti-war movement is because young people today have no direct relationship with war, while the three generations before them lived through two World Wars, the Korean War, the Cold War and the war in Vietnam. And while the U.S. has had many military involvements in the past two decades -- Operation Desert Storm, Somalia, Bosnia and Kosovo being examples -- these situations were rarely thought of as "wars" but rather were portrayed by the mainstream media as "peacekeeping" efforts.

Graffiti and Peace Politics

Lined up along the parking lot wall where Frias was working, other banners were slowly taking shape. One had the word "COMPASSION" with a bomb standing in for the letter O and dollar signs for the two S's. Another banner was a picture of a Middle Eastern town next to an oil derrick about to be hit by a missile that had the word "GREED" written on its side.

The unmistakable flavor of graffiti style in the banners represents a shift from the conventional peace signs and tie-died shirts of yesterday's peace movement. And for a peace movement that is looking for a way to unify the youth into as potent a force as they have been in the past, the melding of graffiti and peace politics seems as natural as peanut butter and jelly.

Furthermore, as Frias pointed out, using graffiti to convey anti-war messages transforms a formerly stigmatized and criminalized activity into something much more constructive and political. "We need to show something positive being done with graffiti -- get kids involved with things that they're already into," he said.
graffiti artistgraffiti artistToday's generation of youth is one of contradictions: they do more community service than the generations before them, yet they also appear to be less politically involved as a group and their voting records show it -- only 36 percent of young people ages 18-24 voted during the 2000 presidential election. But with the impending war just around the corner and the peace movement growing at an exponential rate, youth like Mike of NY Youth Bloc and Ricardo Frias of In-Depth Funktions are demonstrating that things may be turning around. The sleeping giant of the youth generation will either wake up and unite or they will suffer the consequences of living in a world that is designed behind their backs and without their consent.

Jesse Alejandro Cottrell, 20, is a college student in San Francisco and a member of San Francisco's Youth Commission.

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