The vast numbers of students and young adults among the protesters in Los Angeles this week can only point to one thing: youth can not be silenced; not by corporate control on a global level, or massive police presence. Amid riot gear-wearing polic officers on foot, in cars, helicopters, on motorcycles, and bicycles, youth started off the week by making their presence known at two of the week's larger protests, one to fight globalization and another to further awareness about Mumia Abu-Jamal's imprisonment.
The fun started on Sunday, when vast numbers of socially conscious young people showed up to take part in the 4,000 person-strong Free Mumia Abu-Jamal march.
The protest was sponsored by organizations such as the Los Angeles Coalition to Stop the Execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal, South Central Solidarity, an L.A. community organizing group, and the National Lawyer's Guild, a progressive bar association. The protest drew activists from a wide spectrum of political causes; from the United Farm Worker's union to Rainbows for Mumia Abu-Jamal. The participants themselves were a diverse bunch and were of all ages and numerous ethnic backgrounds, but the young people here exhibited an overwhelming stamina, proving that while some young become activists because it's cool or trendy, many of them are willing to stick it out until they get results.
Speaking at a rally before the march on the disproportionate number of people in color in prison in the U.S., United Farm Worker's co-founder Dolores Huerta, said, "Mumia is a symbol of the growing apartheid system of people of color in the U.S." And, indeed, the crowd was filled with youth of color.
Prominent activist Pam Africa of the group MOVE, was among many of the featured speakers to criticize Democratic National Convention Chair Ed Randall. Mumia activists charge that Rendell is implicated in Mumia's incarceration for being the District Attorney in Philadelphia when Mumia was sentenced to death in 1982.
Abu-Jamal, a radio journalist, was charged with killing a Philadelphia police officer in 1981, and has been on death row for 18 years. An ever-increasing number of Mumia supporters maintain that his trial was unfair, arguing that Mumia was allegedly targeted by the police for his investigative articles about racial issues, and that he was convicted by a racially unbalanced jury make-up, and by witnesses who have reversed their original testimonies.
Kotrisha Nicholls, a 16-year-old student at Garfield High School in San Diego, said she attended the Mumia protest because she says she doesn't "want the same thing that happened with Malcolm X [to happen with Mumia]" she said.
But why, after all these years, is the sentiment to free Mumia from prision and get him a retrial so strong?
"He's a brilliant, articulate, man who really tends to have his finger on the pulse of what's happening in our society," offered rally speaker Medea Benjamin, director of Global Exchange and Green Party U.S. senatorial candidate. "It's not often that we have people on death row with that kind of access to the public."
Nefta Pereda, a senior at the University of California, Santa Cruz, attributes Mumia's staying power to the increasing network of people talking about his case. "The Mumia protesting groups have gotten larger," he said. "It's a growing realization of what's going on." And the fact that this protest took place within the larger context of the Democratic National Convention also says a lot about the number of youth taking part in the attack on institutionalized racism in this country. Many of the youth at the march, such as University of Massachusetts student, Hanna Jones remarked on seeing Mumia as a symbol of the "racist" and "classist" U.S. economic, and justice systems, echoing much of the discussions going on within this week's Shadow Conventions.
Monday brought the first day of the National Youth Conventions as well as tour of "corporate shame,' through downtown L.A., organized by San Francisco-based human rights group Global Exchange. Despite the sweltering 90 degree temperatures, this event sent an estimated 3,000 protesters marching by the corporate offices of such corporate giants as Wells Fargo, Citigroup Inc, B.P. Amoco, and ARCO.
When asked about the message of the protest, Heidi McLean, the protest's stage manager, said, "We want to get across that the corporations whose logos are up on these buildings are part of the problem." McLean, who is with the global education and outreach group, Sacramento Activists for Democratic Trade, described the "problem" as the "corporate globalization of the world's economy for the benefit of the few and the sacrifice of the many."
Protesters accused Wells Fargo of union-busting for doing business with Oregon Steel. Among the several reasons Citigroup made the protester's shameful list, is for its large role in getting Glass-Steagall, a New Deal law which limited the power of banks to become super-mergers, repealed by Congress in 1999. The protesters also had many bones to pick with ARCO for environmental damage and negatively impacting the communities where it does business.
The rally before the tour included a short performance by country singer Bonnie Rait, who said she was "tired of Gore talking like a Green, and acting like a Bush."
Speaker Leonard Binali, representing the Navajo people, said Peabody Coal Company's mining at Big Mountain in Arizona, home to Hopi and Navajo/Dineh indigenous peoples, is "cultural genocide." "We don't have the right to live on our own ancestral homeland," Binali said to the crowds at Pershing Square. "They tell us the air we breathe doesn't belong to us."
As the protesters marched around the corporate offices in downtown L.A., social satire was on the stage as the Billionaires for Bush and Gore, dressed to the nines, sang and chanted from a moving "stagecoach," modeled after Wells Fargo Bank's symbol. One the songs from the Billionaires repertoire adapted lyrics from Janis Joplin's song "Take Another Little Piece of My Heart" to "Cut a little piece of the forest down baby."
Among the protesters marching was Micalea Davis, a third-year student at the University of California at Berkeley, who described the protest as a "free-for-all," because so many causes were represented. And Davis has a point - though the theme of Monday's protests was corporate greed, protesters also marched to address a number of issues, from U.S. immigration policy to advocating Green Party candidate Ralph Nader for president.
The youth protesters at the march reflected the diversity of issues. Hector Delgado, a 22-year-old from the Los Angeles area, was protesting against U.S. immigration policy, among other things. A Colorado high school senior carrying an upside-down American flag, going by the name of "Bean," said he was there to fight against capitalism and stand up for human rights. Jeremy, a 19-year-old from San Francisco was with Boycott the Gap and Save the Redwoods. He was protesting "the corporate take-over of America, and the annexing of U'Wa land by Occidental Petroleum."
Back at Pershing Square after the march, the Young Koreans United of USA (YKU) performed traditional dances amid the mass of protesters and held a banner calling for the U.S. to remove its troops from South Korea. YKU member Haena Cho, a 21-year-old from Los Angeles, said, "We're asking the U.S. government to support the North and South Korea peace talks while withdrawing the troops."
Although none of the youth protesting this week were alive to see the Vietnam Protests in the 60's and 70's, it was easy to see a similarity to the footage you'd see on television or in films such as Nixon and 1969; thousands of young Americans followed closely on both sides of the street by scores of police officers who, at times, had to run to keep up with the pace of the protesters. Heat, exhaustion, and a whole lot of voice. And while the bad guys are perhaps less easy to identify and much more nebulous than they were in the 1960's, this week just might mark a revitalization of spirit and proof that today's youth are resisting systems of greed and oppression once again becoming invested in the shaping of their country.