WireTap

Is Obama the Only Youth Game in Town?


Let me first say that generally mainstream media hasn't done the best job at covering young voters and the youth movement afoot in our country. From 60 Minutes, to CNN, and the NYTimes, to more political wonky things like The Hill, many have fallen, so it was only a matter of time before the Washington Post would contribute their latest round of blasphemy.

The piece starts out by talking about the excitment the media drums up each year about the youth vote actually coming out - and claims that every year its a disappointment.

Wrong! Since 2000, the youth vote has continued to climb upward. Young people turned out in greater numbers each year including midterm elections like 2006. The most easily accessible research will prove that. You don't even have to comb through data to find this info, so already I'm annoyed.

"They make voter registration more convenient, and they try to make casting a ballot sound fashionably subversive. Both strategies have failed," an editorial page writer Catherine Rampell claims.
Wrong! If Rock the Vote didn't have significant data to back up what they were doing, me thinks they wouldn't have funding to soldier onward. But they do. And they have. For example, registering over a million people in 2004, 15,000 Community Street Team members, and signed up 118,000 young people to receive political information and GOTV messages through their cell phones - a pioneering tactic now being utilized by everyone who is anyone. Rock the Vote has done more for the youth movement than than peanut butter has done for jelly.

Is This Finally the Year of the Youth Vote?

According to preliminary data by CIRCLE, youth turn out increased in most states that participated in the Super Tuesday primaries. In the 13 states that CIRCLE has analyzed, the turn out among 18- to 29-year-olds tripled compared with 2000 in three states -- Georgia, Missouri, Oklahoma, doubled in Massachusetts, and quadrupled in Tennessee.

Over 2 million 18- to 29-year-olds participated in the Democratic elections compared to roughly 900,000 in the Republican contests. In the Democratic contests, Obama won the largest share of the youth vote in ten Super Tuesday states. Clinton won the youth vote in MA, CA, and AR. In the Republican contests, youth support varied by state. (For more detailed, state-by-state break down of the youth turn out data, visit CIRCLE.)

Our website host had to shut down Wiretap on Super Tuesday, because it allegedly detected a hacker trying to run an attack code and alter the content of our site. Well, hackers, we are flattered that you consider our website a threatening noise machine. And I am sorry to hear that you couldn't outsmart Wiretap's genius web developers.

Shutting down Wiretap though can't cause a major blow to the youth vote or youth activism anymore. In the past five years, the field of youth organizing grew to over 600 youth-driven organizations, which means that information and resources are now de-centralized and distributed more democratically. If one of us is down in 2008, we've got a dozen of allies that can fill in.

In addition to the growing youth activism and record youth voter turn out we saw so far, 2008 will also go down in history as a year in which youth organizers collaborated more than ever. Last week, I talked to more than a dozen youth organizations that are engaged in various coalitions that convene organizers on the phone, in person, through Facebook and group emails to coordinate Get-Out-the-Vote (GOTV) efforts, share ideas about best practices and practical tools, create "Speaker Bureaus" for the media, and most importantly, build a sense of long-term community that doesn't view young voters as a one night stand.

Media Hype About Painkillers Shot Down

This story appeared originally on WireTapMag.org -– a national online magazine by and for socially conscious youth.

Shira Hassan has read the research that says prescription drug use is up among young people.

But annual reports like the government-funded " Monitoring the Future" don't often reflect what she sees working with 12- to 23-year-old women in Chicago's sex trade, said Hassan, co-director of the Young Women's Empowerment Project.

These young women don't reflect the reported youth opiate craze, and painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin aren't in unusually high demand.

"Spikes are media-driven," said Hassan, whose group is rooted in the principles of harm reduction. "The spike is more of a spike in the research."

Authors of the University of Michigan study, a composite of 50,000 8th-, 10th- and 12th-graders' disclosures about their drug use, started asking about OxyContin and Vicodin in 2002. And 2006 was the first year they included questions about over-the-counter cold medicines, as though sippin' on some [cough] syrup were brand new.

Last year, peer outreach workers with the Young Women's Empowerment Project talked to more than 400 girls in the Chicago area who were trading sex for money or drugs. More than half of those conversations were about drug use.

What they're using is what Hassan has seen consistently over the years: marijuana and alcohol are most prevalent, followed by crystal meth, heroin, ecstasy, powder cocaine and other club drugs.

"I haven't met a kid who their primary passion is pills in a long time," Hassan said.

Where prescription drugs like Xanax, Valium and Ativan do come into play is in combination with other drugs. These pills are benzodiazepines, the "downers" that calm the nerves or ward off a crash as the high from cocaine or meth subsides.

But if this is new to researchers, it isn't to users.

"That's been going on since the beginning of time," Hassan said.

What is relatively new is recreational prescription drug use among the population university researchers can access easily: middle-class teenagers who go to school.

And among this group, yes, access to parents' pain pills and the exchange of Adderall and other drugs prescribed for attention-deficit disorder and depression are increasingly common, said Marsha Rosenbaum, a medical sociologist and director of Drug Policy Alliance's Safety First project.

The 2006 University of Michigan study reports that 9 percent of high school seniors had used a prescription narcotic in the previous year, compared to the just over 4 percent who had used ecstasy.

One reason for this comparatively high use is the medical community's shifting approach to pain management, Rosenbaum said.

"You have a little surgery, you get some pills," she said of young people's access to adult family members' prescriptions. "To doctors these days, Vicodin is like aspirin."

Rosenbaum doesn't suggest restricting people's ability to alleviate their pain, but she does say parents should throw away or lock up their unused meds. Even more important is realistic drug education that teaches young people to reduce harms associated with drugs if they do choose to use them, she said.

And because young people know exactly what they're putting in their bodies when they use prescription drugs recreationally, Dan Bigg of the Chicago Recovery Alliance sees their use a sign that more young people are taking the principles of harm reduction to heart.

With these drugs, there's less of a crapshoot around how much to take or potentially dangerous fillers.

"The Internet provides a wealth of information," Bigg said. "It's easy to read about it and understand dosage. You have an opportunity to do that, that you don't [have) with illicit drugs."

Of course, abuse can still be a problem. Ninety minutes north of Chicago in Racine, Wis., Sammy Rangel is seeing the young people -- mostly white boys -- who get caught stealing cough medicine from local pharmacies. He also sees the teenagers hooked on OxyContin.

A director of the street outreach program at Racine's SAFE Haven youth shelter and a licensed drug and alcohol counselor, Rangel shares Hassan's skepticism that there's a recent spike in prescription and over-the-counter drug abuse. He doesn't see it among the population he works with: primarily black and Latino youth between the ages of 13 and 25.

The biggest change he's seen in the last year is the increase in young black men snorting heroin.

"That was something I hadn't seen in a long time," Rangel said. "You worried about a kid getting a hold of crack."

This trend follows a boom in heroin sales in nearby Kenosha in the early 2000s, and now the drug is big among 16- to 25-year-old black men, Rangel said. They're adamant that they never shoot the drug, but he thinks a stigma often forces injection users into silence.

"You're a partier or a casual user if you're snorting it, but you're a dope fiend if you're shooting up," Rangel said.

Marijuana is big among the younger teenagers he works with, which is no surprise except he thinks the volume -- some talk about smoking an eighth of an ounce every hour or two that can have long-lasting effects, including severe memory loss and motor skill deterioration. Rangel said the glorification of blunts in pop culture is partly to blame for skewing conversations around moderation.

"Nobody talks about joints anymore. I think they get laughed at," he said. "It's one thing to smoke marijuana, it's another thing to saturate your system."

Rangel also worries about the crack cocaine and PCP that sometimes make their way into blunts.

But Googling prescription drugs isn't the only way to steer clear of unforeseen toxins. At the Young Women's Empowerment Project, people do still talk about joints, and on a recent day Hassan overheard a 13-year-old girl asking how to tell whether one had been rolled using papers laced with embalming fluid.

A 19-year-old colleague of Hassan's used the peer education model on which the organization prides itself. Without judgment, without shaming the girl into clamming up, the staffer started brainstorming ways the younger girl could stay safe.

Hassan watched the two puzzle through the problem together:

"If you're out with a guy, don't let him smoke you up," the colleague suggested. "Roll from your bag. Don't carry too much. Teach yourself how to be in charge of your drug use."

A Different Breed of Tutor

People often say that there are no seasons in Los Angeles, but the end of summer is felt almost as deeply in L.A. as it is anywhere else -- particularly in beach communities like Venice, where the number of tourists and casual surfers begins to shrink as the slightly colder temperatures set in. For children, of course, the seasonal shift presents the same bad news for everyone: time to go back to school.

For the handful of kids enrolled in 826LA's English Language Learner summer camp, it also means putting aside their temporary day jobs as comic book designers and music critics. Fortunately, 826 will still be waiting for them during the school year, offering free drop-in tutoring for students aged 8-18. In a city where the numbers in the education system are overwhelming, 826 is the rare sanctuary where a student can find one-on-one assistance, whether with a tricky poem or with the multiplication table.

"We'll do any subject, although parents tend to come here because they know we work on writing," said Mac Barnett, the programs director for 826LA. "We really focus on one-on-one attention. That doesn't mean we always have a one-to-one ratio in drop-in, but the numbers are small, and we make sure there's an individual focus on the student's work and the student's needs. That one-on-one attention is so crucial -- and so hard to get. I think that sets us apart from a lot of tutoring centers."

The six weeks of the summer's English Language Learner program culminated in a performance by the class, who had been writing and revising monologues -- the tutors consistently stress the importance of revision -- in which each student took on his/her own character, such as a solider who eases his mind by building towers of plastic cups. But even if these flights of fancy are often replaced by the pragmatic demands of homework once the school year begins, the tutors at 826 are determined to show students that there isn't such a gulf between the two areas.

"Even cell division and fractions involve some element of comprehension, writing and story-building," said Joan Kim, director of education at 826NYC.

Another approach to the 'business' of tutoring

Tutoring has become big business -- the Los Angeles Times reported last month that the tutoring "industry" is worth $2.2 billion -- and that's particularly the case as colleges become more competitive and as schools scramble to keep up with the No Child Left Behind act. Children are given benchmark tests at an increasingly early age, even as classroom sizes have continued to expand. There are over 725,000 K-12 students in the Los Angeles Unified School District, and while efforts have been made to improve the teacher-student ratio and to support after-school programs via the Beyond the Bell program, many students are still being lost in the shuffle.

Set on the second floor of a converted police station several blocks from Venice Beach, the sparse but inviting headquarters of 826LA present a refreshing change of pace to tutoring-as-commerce. McSweeney's founder and "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" author Dave Eggers started 826 in San Francisco in 2002 (the flagship center is called 826 Valencia, after its street address), and its effects were so immediate that is has already spawned offspring in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Seattle and Ann Arbor, Mich.

As befits a center founded by a professional writer, the programs and activities at 826 unusually present creative expression as a viable vocation. At 826LA, Barnett and his colleagues have a bottomless pool of working professionals to interact with the students by giving readings and leading hands-on workshops.

"Professional writers and creative professionals talk about doing things a little differently than teachers do," said Barnett. "Teachers do a great job, but they're so busy with all their state standards that I think it's hard for them to design a curriculum that juggles all these demands. How can they read four drafts apiece for all these kids? So we've sent volunteers into schools so they can assign multidraft pieces. You need the chalkboard stuff, too, but to actually talk to a writer about writing, there's something different about that. Kids get really excited and have 10 million questions about what it's like to work as a journalist."

In workshops this fall at 826LA, students can prepare for their college application essays, put on a fashion show under the guidance of Movies.com editor Lien Ta, or try their hand at designing spaceships. The eclecticism reflects the tutor base, which is largely made up of entertainment types -- screenwriters between projects, freelancers with flexible schedules -- but also includes a barber and, yes, a rocket scientist.

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Exploring Christopher Columbus Day

Today, youth across the nation are told by our government that Christopher Columbus merits honor and celebration.

Historically, recognition of Columbus Day has reflected a bipartisan consensus: It was Democrat Franklin Roosevelt who first suggested in 1934 that all states adopt Oct. 12 as Columbus Day; in 1971, under Republican Richard Nixon, the second Monday of October officially became established as a federal holiday to honor the explorer.

To "discover" more about the man behind the day off, last year, on the eve of the nationwide break from school, I headed to my university library to learn about Christopher Columbus and the days following Oct. 12, 1492.

My findings were horrific:

* Two days following Columbus' arrival in the Bahamas, he recorded in his personal log, "These people are very unskilled in arms … with 50 men they could all be subjected and made to do all that one wished." This first impression would prove ominous.

* In November 1493, on a return trip to Hispaniola, Columbus ordered the enslavement of six indigenous women for the purpose of allowing his crew to rape them.

* In February 1495, Columbus rounded up 1,500 Arawak women, men and children, and imprisoned them. He then selected the 500 of them that he deemed the most marketable and shipped them to Spain. Only 300 arrived alive in Seville.

* In 1498, documents indicate that Columbus enslaved another 600 Carib people.

* By the decade's end, it appears that Columbus had kidnapped at least 1,400 indigenous people to send back to the Spanish slave markets.

Additionally, Harvard historian and Pulitzer Prize laureate Samuel Eliot Morison writes, "The cruel policy initiated by Columbus and pursued by his successors resulted in complete genocide," and "the natives were reduced to a species of slavery or serfdom and declined in numbers catastrophically."

Given the realities of Columbus' campaigns of mass murder and enslavement, why do we commemorate this man ever, much less every year?

It is clear that we are not lauding his skills as a sailor, considering that history teaches us his so-called "discovery" was purely accidental. What do we care that some man from Genoa sailing on behalf of Spain landed in the already inhabited Bahamas? And how does that involve ordinary students within the United States, who overwhelmingly speak English as their primary language (and not Spanish nor Italian)?

Perhaps if Columbus Day were a somber, yearly reminder of our nation's origins, which spurred us to reflect upon our responsibility to undo these oppressive traditions, the day would be beneficial. But as it stands, by seemingly rewarding youth with a day off from school to praise the man who in many ways initiated and still embodies the mass murder of indigenous peoples, Columbus Day instead serves to reinforce these abhorrent crimes.

If we cannot recognize enormous acts of brutality committed half a millennium ago, (but, in fact, actually celebrate their chief perpetrator) then what implications does this carry for acts of brutality committed more recently?

One week after Columbus Day, elections within the United Nations will determine Argentina's replacement for the Latin American seat on the Security Council -- and the United States' current lobbying campaign may yield some sort of indication.

Rather than admonish Guatemala for failing to prosecute its past dictators and military brass for upwards of 600 massacres committed against the indigenous Maya, the United States is pushing hard for Guatemala's appointment to the Security Council. Their efforts have paid off, as many in the European Union and Central America appear to have been won over by the superpower's diverse means of persuasion.

It seems that for the United States government, publicly esteeming those who carried out, or continue to leave unpunished, a heinous genocide (many of whom remain remarkably powerful within the Guatemalan state), encompasses more than a once-a-year affair.

But can the United States' annual lauding of Columbus really be plausibly linked to its cheerleading for Guatemala? Ward Churchill, an educator at the University of Colorado, argues:

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Freaky Fridays

Dear SG,

I've started seeing someone who everyone knows. She has forbidden me to speak about us, keep it on 'the low.' Does that mean I'm not the only one? Or is she embarrassed of me?

Shady Relation

Dear Shady,

Yes, and yes. No, seriously … she might have caught onto your insecure, paranoid, jealous tendencies. No, seriously: You are not 'seeing' each other. You see each other sometimes. I'd guess on her terms, when she wants something in particular. If you are ok with this power dynamic, by all means respect her desire for discretion and keep it on the low. If you would like to be more of an equal player in the situation, and especially if you have a desire to ever be the person everyone knows she is seeing, you should ask her straight up: why you tryin' to put baby in the corner?

Good luck!

SG

=======

Dear SG,

I have just started sleeping with this woman who is very well known and respected in my field, and I think I might be falling for her. In her eyes, I can tell she feels the same. She's more amazing up close than she seemed from afar, which is saying a lot. My problem is, I have been underperforming in my work and she works for one of my key allies. I am scared she's going to find out that I am not nearly as amazing as she is and … I couldn't bear to lose her. I know I could do better … how do I cover my tracks?

Another Lover

Dear Lover,

It never ceases to amaze me that people will sit in awe of their lovers, but not themselves. If she's that amazing she already knows. The point of wanting to be a better person is -- as far as I've observed -- simultaneous with the point of no return in love. Tell her she makes you want to be better, and then be better. No matter how the love goes, it never hurts to raise your own bar.

SG

=======

Do you have a question? Email SG at SexAndRelationships@WireTapMag.org.

Rules:

1. I hate rules!
2. There are no stupid questions, only stupid hang-ups.
3. Pleasure came before political correctness, and so should you!
4. Love yourself first.

Who: Who I am is unimportant. I do, however, enjoy sex, dally in various relationships, and on top of that I am an organizer by trade, or perhaps faith. I declare here and now that I know as much as anyone about sex and relationships -- which is roughly nothing and everything.

Why: Organizers, activists, change makers, closet progressives -- people trying to save the world often have a hard time figuring out how to … do it. Whatever it might be at the moment -- love, dominate, submit, indulge, deny, give, take, fight, let go, wonder, know. I secretly suspect that if everyone were able to find the freedom to really love and please themselves (not to mention each other), the world would be a much more peaceful place.

Why Student Media Matters

If writing for the school newspaper is good experience for a career in journalism, then dealing with censorship, administrative pressure, funding trouble, and the host of issues that affect those in student media is indispensable experience for a life in today's media.

Student media issues are often dismissed as unimportant ("You have to understand I've never taken the student paper very seriously -- these are kids," says John Schulz, the dean of Boston University's communications college). They are often considered insular to the world of higher education, relegated to the trite analogy of the university "bubble." A serious examination, though, reveals that these so-called "student issues" are not only significant in their own right, but have profound implications for and parallels to the broader mainstream and independent media.

"College journalists are breaking stories, shaping news coverage and making law that all journalists (and all who care about the profession) should be interested in," says Mark Goodman, director of the Student Press Law Center. Sara Gruen, the coordinator of the Independent Press Association's Campus Journalism Project, takes the role of the student journalist even further, claiming that "campus papers can save journalism." "As mergers and budget cuts squeeze local papers ever tighter," writes Gruen, "indy campus reporting has an increasing role in documenting local news."

There are hundreds upon hundreds of campus publications -- Wikipedia lists 383, NewsLink.org lists 392 and eReleases.com tops them all with 470 -- and many of the most prestigious professionals in journalism today began their careers with college publications. As a student at Pomona College, executive editor of the New York Times Bill Keller founded an independent newspaper called the Collage. David Remnick, before becoming editor of the New Yorker, worked at Princeton University's Nassau Weekly. In the Vietnam era, student newspapers like the Michigan Daily (and its editor-in-chief Tom Hayden) were instrumental in fomenting and interpreting the mass social movements that centered on youth.

While student journalists, as Goodman points out, are breaking their own stories, they are also gaining experiences that will influence their careers in the mainstream and independent media, experiences that can potentially affect people all over the world. This is one reason that student media issues transcend the campus walls and can have far-reaching ramifications.

While the mainstream media is often criticized for succumbing to administration pressure and not vociferously questioning government policies and assertions -- most notably, perhaps, with Bush administration claims of WMD in Iraq and an Iraq-9/11 link -- the student press has often displayed the courage and principles to stand up to what it feels are unfair or repressive decisions made by the school administration.

At Essex County College's Observer, students raised $1,100 to publish their own graduation issue after Susan Mulligan, the dean of students, shut down printing. Dean Mulligan insists that the newspaper was shut down because it lacked an official advisor, and called censorship claims "absurd," the Observer's editor-in-chief, Melinda Hernandez, asserted that the real gripe arose because the paper began to criticize the school administration. The staff of the Observer turned the issue into a "bill of rights" edition.

Censorship and funding are two issues that most often affect student media. Dean Mulligan was able to cancel printing because the Observer is financially supported through the college's payroll system, allowing officials to cancel payment.

The manner in which a publication is funded was a central issue in the case Hosty v. Carter (7th Cir., 2005), in which three staff member of Governors State University's The Innovator sued the university after dean Patricia Carter impeded publication and demanded prior review because of articles that had been critical of the administration. The Court found that it was unclear whether the decision in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, which held that high school publications could be regulated by school officials, applied to colleges, effectively absolving Carter.

Colleges have become the focus of several battles over free speech, particularly in relation to speech codes, controversial speakers/groups on campus and student media. This sort of turmoil can be threatening for a college official who is given the task of maintaining a positive public image for the school to attract both students and donations.

At Peru State, two faculty advisors to the Peru State Times have been fired by the president, Ben Johnson, allegedly because the paper had been critical of the administration. According to Mark Goodman, it is not uncommon for school officials to say, "'We don't like what they're publishing, so we're going to do something about it.' It turns a student newspaper into a PR sheet."

But clashes with the administration are not the only problem student journalists face. The student newspapers at California's Evergreen Valley College, Ventura College, and Oxnard College have all been discontinued due to funding problems. Other publications struggle to stay afloat by dedicating an increasing amount of space to advertising and forming corporate partnerships that may dilute student voices.

While Gruen heralds the student media as a catalyst in a media revolution, students are not immune to the same criticisms that are often flung at the corporate media. Steven Dick, an assistant professor of radio-TV at Southern Illinois University, says, "I have seen far too much irresponsible journalism come from college press. ... I have seen privacy invasions, misrepresentation, heavy handed opinion in news articles, and outright defamation."

This is the same indictment that is often leveled at blogosphere and other forums for citizen journalism -- that a lack of experience and oversight can result in a lack accountability and responsibility. This is especially dangerous when one manipulates the media with an underlying agenda.

Such a situation arose at Wesleyan University in Connecticut in the spring of 2006. Wesleyan, which has for a long time been consistently described as a left-leaning and politically active school, was well-represented by students at the "March for Peace, Justice, and Democracy" in New York City on April 29. When the student newspaper, The Argus, covered the story, the right-wing sentiments of the then editor-in-chief, who had previously written an article proclaiming his conservatism, were clearly displayed: the picture chosen from the many options to accompany the story was one of a giant banner that said "The Bush Regime Engineered 9/11." By painting a massive demonstration of over 350,000 people as a forum for paranoid extremists, the editor of a student newspaper at a small liberal arts school used a trick dirtier than Fox News ever would.

It is a mistake to callously label the student media as either irresponsible amateurs or as trendsetting saviors. Students are seizing an opportunity to make their own media using every method available to them, whether it is a blog, a self-published 'zine, a podcast, etc. The do-it-yourself attitude and the democratized means of production have transformed how we think about media and have helped many more students become active producers, not passive consumers, of information.

The nuanced issues that affect the student media are the same issues that affect today's media, the future of journalism, the way we see the world, and our role in the world. It is not enough to call the student media the leaders and voices of tomorrow without recognizing the tremendous role that they are playing today.

How Progressives Can Win in the Long Run

For nearly 30 years, ultraconservatives have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in young people and built an infrastructure that initiates young people into the radical right movement through campus activism, leadership training and career development. Their investments have paid off. The radical right wing now controls the executive and legislative branches of government, and it's only one seat away from complete dominance of the Supreme Court.

If progressives want to achieve the same sort of political success that the radical right has enjoyed for the past two decades, we're going to have to do more than focus on the next round of elections and pay lip service to engaging young people. We must make a serious, long-term investment in our next generation of progressive leaders. Young people provide a vital infusion of ideas, energy and passion to the progressive movement right now, and their commitment to continued activism and leadership is critical to building a progressive future.

The right wing's investment in young people

For decades, right-wing organizations including the Leadership Institute, Federalist Society, Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation have spearheaded a massive effort to bring young people into their movement. Last year alone, the Right invested $48 million in 11 youth-focused organizations aimed at increasing the number of ideologically friendly campus papers, fostering networks of students on campuses, shifting the way that students self-identify in terms of political ideology, providing skills and strategies training, and promoting right-wing values.

Students are cultivated by the right-wing campaign against college courses that conflict with their agenda. For example, they have accused more than 100 professors of making "anti-American" statements. They attend courses with titles like "How to Stop Liberals in Their Tracks." They have internships, fellowships and jobs waiting for them when they graduate. They learn how to run campaigns and how to run for office.

The return on this investment has been enormous. A powerful network of young ultraconservatives fills state capitols, the halls of Congress, the executive branch and the courts. It is supported by community leaders, skilled organizers, academics and media personalities that help dominate the debate. The leaders in whom the right has invested in are familiar names. In 1970, a man named Karl Rove was head of the National College Republicans. In 1981, Grover Norquist took the reins. And in 1983, it was Ralph Reed.

Progressives need to do more

Young people have been at the forefront of every social and political movement in the history of the world. Through organizations like United Students Against Sweatshops and others, young people have defended the struggles of working people and challenged corporate power. And progressives have made great strides in supporting young progressive leadership development at a national scale over the last few years through the creation of new, progressive leadership development organizations with a nationwide and multi-issue focus, including Young People For, the League of Young Voters and the Center for Progressive Leadership.

At Young People For, we've created a diverse national network of young leaders on campuses around the country. We connect them with each other and provide them with skills and training from national progressive movement leaders. Over the course of their one-year fellowship, they work to implement individually designed Blueprints for Social Justice -- creating important change in the present while at the same time learning valuable lessons they can put to work in the future.

This year alone, fellows at Young People For have played a key role in shutting down Florida's juvenile boot camp system, expanding campus nondiscrimination policies, creating leadership institutes on college campuses for high school students and GLBT leaders, and engaging young people in the political processes by registering them to vote.

Collectively, we're doing great work, but we're not doing enough. Right-wing groups spend more than ten times as much on long-term political leadership development than we do, and financial trends over the past four years show that progressive leadership development organizations are actually, on average, experiencing a decline in revenue. Unlike their conservative counterparts, youth-focused progressive organizations are often funded with a "buying," not "building," mentality, meaning that donors want their contribution to have immediate payoffs, such as election-year voter registration, but are not focusing on investing in the strategic, long-term sustainability of those organizations.

We need more investments through growth capital followed by sustainable, multiyear revenue. Doing so would allow youth-focused progressive organizations to plan for increased growth and build for the future. Eventually, this sustained investment would also help them create reserve funds that would allow them to continue operating at the same scale if funding sources temporarily decline.

Progressives should make a commitment to youth leadership development throughout our nonprofit organizations -- not just youth-led organizations -- that is on the same scale as that of the right wing. It's time to scale up our efforts by demonstrating our commitment to young people through mentoring, professional development, networking and intentional training opportunities to help develop young leadership.

A way for progressives to catch up with the right's infrastructure

In order to address this disparity, we must build widespread knowledge about progressive leadership development needs and opportunities, increase awareness about the gaps between right-wing leadership programs and their progressive counterparts, and support progressive programs over the long term. We need to identify gaps in progressive leadership development programs and start to support programs that fill those gaps. And we need to be clear about the ways in which progressive programs are falling short and develop new initiatives.

Getting to scale is the process of expanding effective programs to achieve greater impact by:

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Students Helping Students to Fix New Orleans Schools

Sometimes it takes a kid to get something done right. Amid hundreds of tales of greed, waste, deception, mismanagement and sheer incompetence during the aftermath of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, not many would expect to hear of a success story that was created and implemented by school kids. But that's exactly what happened in Amherst, Mass., on Sept. 17.

It began with Joshua Wolfsun, a 12-year-old from Amherst who has displayed a vastness of heart and conscience with which to match his natural reserves of musical talent, comedic nature and willingness to commit to a lot of organizing and production.

When he first learned of the Katrina disaster and began seeing images of the devastation in the city of New Orleans, Joshua took to the streets, busking (street performing) with his guitar and voice to raise money for the relief and recovery efforts in the Gulf. Before long, he had called his friend Tess Domb Sadof, a 12-year-old saxophonist who helped jazz up his street act and attract more attention, and subsequently more donations rolled in toward the cause. The duo eventually raised over $800, which they donated to the Red Cross, a decision they later re-thought after reports of the agency's mishandling of the situation surfaced.

Oddly enough, with some serendipity the pair discovered that re-thinking was precisely what was needed. After a winter of watching the crawling pace of relief efforts and wishing they could come up with a way to help out more, or at least more effectively, Joshua and Tess found exactly what they were looking for: another group of school kids some 1,500 miles away, in the heart of the situation they were trying to help resolve, who called themselves The Rethinkers.

One of the better ideas to come out of the Katrina tragedy, the program Rethink, or ''Kids Rethinking New Orleans Schools,'' was, of course, conceived and organized by kids (are you paying attention, FEMA?). Originally composed of 19 students, Rethink is committed to producing ''report cards,'' not for students or even teachers but for the schools themselves, which many have noted were sub-par even before the hurricane. Now, post-Katrina, New Orleans public schools have been described as ''filthy'' and ''ill-equipped'' to educate or even ensure the basic health and safety of the students who attend them.

Rethink held their own press conference this past summer outside the hurricane-damaged Sherwood Forest Elementary School in New Orleans East, and several Rethinkers gave testimonials describing what they think is wrong with their schools and what should be done to fix them.

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