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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Therapy for Revolutionaries

In 2003, Nick Cooper, a 38-year-old independent journalist and activist based in Houston, came across an intriguing T-shirt in Brazil. It featured the anarchy symbol and an image of a capoeirista -- a player of capoeira Angola, an Afro-Brazilian art form developed by slaves that combines music, dancing and fighting. The T-shirt vendors explained it is for a practice called Soma, a kind of therapy that embraces anarchist politics as a way to achieve mental and physical health.

For Cooper, who'd played capoeira in the United States and who'd long had an interest in the anarchist movement, Soma piqued his interest immediately. And when he found out that the founder of Soma, 79-year-old Roberto Freire, is still alive and perfecting his technique, Cooper decided to buy a camera and return to Brazil to make a documentary on Soma.

The resulting 50-minute film, "Soma: An Anarchist Therapy," is finished, and Cooper spent the summer touring across the United States, screening it wherever he found an interest, from Unitarian churches to makeshift theaters in activists' backyards. He's enjoyed strawberry almond juice in Eugene and vegan chili hotdogs in Athens, and crashed on the couches of "crusty punks" half his age -- and all the while making biodiesel refill stops.

Cooper describes himself as an "anti-fascist fighting against nationalism, hierarchy, brutality and unsustainable living," and the ideas behind Soma therapy obviously resonate with him.

Beginning in the mid-1960s during Brazil's military regime, dissidents were disappeared and tortured. Psychologist Roberto Freire -- blind in one eye after being tortured by the military -- found that in a climate of mistrust, violence and paranoia, his fellow comrades were unlikely to seek out therapeutic help. Freire responded by abandoning psychoanalysis and inventing Soma, a therapy for revolutionaries that he calls "fast, efficient and liberating."

Soma is a group therapy where people come together for about 18 months to do physical exercises and engage in personal and political discussion. It combines ideas from Austrian Jewish psychologist Wilhelm Reich, capoeira Angola, and anarchism. And unlike traditional psychotherapy, Soma rejects the authority of the therapist: during a session, a therapist is present, but he or she participates equally with the other members of the group and does not draw conclusions or make analysis. There is an emphasis on pleasure and physical release. The documentary shows Soma groups deep in physical play, doing theater and movement exercises. Participants call the work difficult but "delicious."

Now decades later, Soma has spread across the world and is still liberating modern-day revolutionaries -- young people, artists and students -- who are fighting against the bourgeois and seeking liberation.

Cooper says that even learning about Soma can be helpful for "gringo activists," who Cooper believer are more familiar and comfortable critiquing the authoritarianism in the government or the larger society than within themselves. As he wrote in an email:

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Siren Song of the Counter Culture

When they made their entry into the saturated world of punk rock, Chicago's Rise Against had humble goals: play some shows, put out a few records and maybe, if things went well, book a show at their city's famed (but smallish) Fireside Bowl. Four albums later, they find themselves signed to Geffen, playing amphitheatres as a co-headliner on the Warped Tour -- still the premier punk festival each year -- and being widely considered as one of the heaviest hitters in their genre.

Rise Against have long encouraged social activism, and have walked the walk by involving themselves with Punkvoter and PETA. Their latest video ("Ready to Fall") features a gut-turning parade of footage, from factory farming to stripped forests to melting icecaps. Frontman Tim McIlrath blends the political and personal in his songs; some are fiery anti-government inciters, others are straightforward stories of fractured relationships and lost love. If there is a thread connecting the bulk of the Rise Against catalog, it is simply "The time to change is now."

There comes a point, though, when increased popularity can result in preaching to the converted; few fans at a Rise Against headline show are going to be surprised or challenged by the band's beliefs. For McIlrath, this is one of the great perks of the Warped Tour, and their co-headlining tour with Thursday this fall: having to prove themselves to an audience that may not always be starting on their side.

WireTap: What do you think has helped Warped keep from fading away or falling apart like the original Lollapalooza and so many festival tours after it?

Tim McIlrath: I think [tour founder Kevin] Lyman really respects the fan, and that's important. He keeps bands on there because they are credible and he likes them and the real punk fans like them, instead of filling the lineup with the flavor of the week, top selling bands of the summer. People appreciate that and they come back.

WT: Some of the bands who have participated in the Warped Tour have enjoyed talking some loving shit about it, saying that the big appeal for everyone is that you can play a quickie set and get out of there and hang out with your friends. Is that a draw for you guys, too? What makes it a good fit for spending your summer?

TM: That's certainly a nice benefit of the Warped Tour. We've spent the last few years of our lives on the road, and when you do that, there are so many people in your life that occupy these little snapshots of time. I'll spend six weeks with this one bass player from one band as we go across Europe, and we'll have a great time together and explore Austria and Germany -- and then at the end of the tour, it's like, "See ya later." Sure, we'll keep in touch, but the nature of what we do is going to make sure that we hardly see each other ever again, unless we do a tour together. Warped Tour is this giant reunion of all these bands you've toured with; when you've toured for six years, you can't even list all the bands. Chances are, a lot of them are going to be on the Warped Tour. It's really cool, after the last kid goes home and the place shuts down, everyone hangs out by their buses and talks about all the stuff you've been doing -- this person got married, this person has kids, whatever. That's a personally gratifying part of the tour.

I like Warped Tour, too, because it's such a slice of life. You talk to so many different kinds of people. If we play a Rise Against show, I'll talk to Rise Against fans -- it's a fairly safe place for me to exist. The chances are pretty small that I'll run into somebody who doesn't like the band or is challenging something that we're saying. It's a fairly safe bubble, and punk doesn't survive in safe bubbles. On Warped Tour, you get people who are just walking in because it's a giant festival that comes to their town, or because they like that one band's song on the radio. It kind of reminds me of when we first started this band, when we were making a point to challenge a lot of people's thought processes. As the band has gotten bigger, we've kind of lost that challenge -- but Warped Tour brings that challenge back. There are Rise Against fans there, but when you're talking about a show with 20,000 people, the majority of people aren't Rise Against fans.

WT: So in addition to proving yourself to fans who might not know you guys, do you also get negative feedback?

TM: For sure. You get kids who hate your band -- or just hate what you're standing for, like, "Fuck you, I came here to have a good time with my friends, and to drink a lot of beer, and this guy is up here talking about the war in Iraq!" When Rise Against plays shows near military bases, that's always a good time. A lot of Warped Tour is like that. The couple years that we've done it, the fucking Army and the Marines have been out there recruiting. They'll sign kids up and give you free dog tags if you give them all your information. They don't really tell you what you have to give in exchange -- which, in reality, is all of your contact information, down to your dog's name, so they can haunt you for the rest of your life.

In St. Louis, it wasn't even guys from the Marines or the Army who were giving the dog tags and getting information -- it was all beautiful girls in tiny shorts and bikini tops. They were doing all they could to get these dudes to walk over there -- and kids were lining up to do it. You've got to give it to the Marines: they know how to market to the kids. It was so bad and desperate and disgusting and pathetic. They make it out as this big, amusing carnival of dog tags and whatever else, but the big picture is that they're signing people up to go to war. They're signing people up to say 'I'm willing to put my life in the hands of the Bush Administration. I will go wherever they tell me to go.'

There's such misinformation -- now you have Army recruiters being caught teaching kids how to fake high school diplomas. This shit is really happening. They're out there like salesmen, telling you anything they can tell you to get you to join. So when we go up and we have our half hour, we tend to make sure that the Army recruiters get a piece of our mind.

That's not to say that a lot of Rise Against fans aren't troops; I get e-mails from Iraq every day. I've been told that there's an Iraqi radio station that plays Rise Against. It's been really cool to hear from these troops, and I completely and obviously support all the people in the Armed Forces. These are our brothers and sisters. I just don't think it's appropriate for recruiters to be at a place like Warped Tour.

WT: Did they have the same presence this year as in years past?

TM: While they weren't a constant presence, they did show up from time to time to conduct the ever important chin-up contest. The times I did see them this year, kids were passing them right by. I think the current administration and the pathetic, misguided and ongoing war in Iraq is doing more for the anti-recruitment effort than we could ever hope to do.

WT: Is your co-headlining tour with Thursday this fall a continuation of the challenge you face with Warped audiences, or do you see their fanbase as being pretty in tune with what Rise Against stands for?

TM: I really think that Thursday and Rise Against exist on the same wavelength -- and, for that matter, so does Billy Talent, who will be joining us. Thursday have songs that challenge society's idea of sexuality and women's empowerment, and I think their last record was pretty damn political, actually. We come from the same world, Thursday and us, and I've always known that they are here for the right reasons.

WT: In those cases when people in the audience do react against you, do you think that stems from the content of the songs, or what you may be saying between songs?

TM: I think there are a significant amount of people who listen to music as background and only skim the surface of certain songs without digging into their meaning. Maybe they just like the way it sounds, or maybe they just really don't care what we're talking about. Sometimes, live, I will put the song into context be prefacing it with a statement, and then somebody realizes that the song they've been working out to or just driving around listening to is really something meaningful and important, and perhaps that rubs them the wrong way. I figure if people aren't being challenged, then we're not doing our job.

WT: When we spoke around the time of your last album [2004's Siren Song of the Counter Culture], you were saying that a silver lining of the Bush re-election was that people had woken up and realized that challenging or questioning the government was more of an American activity than an anti-American one. Do you think that people have stayed awake?

TM: I think that people are becoming awake. In the punk scene and hardcore scene, people were against the war and asking questions from the beginning, and I remember getting so much shit about questioning the war. Everybody was ready to attack us, everybody was ready to challenge us -- 'I can't believe that in a time of national tragedy that you would question our government.' In those first few years after 9/11, I really felt that we were in the margins, and that our position was really radical. The punk/hardcore scene was at the place that the American public is getting to now. People are waking up to it. Being against the war is no longer a thing that's going to get the windows of your car smashed. When the war started, we got a lot of crap about the cost-of-war counter and the anti-militaristic stuff on our website -- we don't get that crap anymore. It's been interesting to watch the sea change.

WT: While the costs and the casualties are obviously mounting, the core reasons that people are anti-war now are pretty much the same as they were in the beginning. Could the position have been better explained at an earlier time, or was the majority just not ready to hear it?

TM: 9/11 hit the American people so emotionally, and when you're hit with something that's so emotional, it affects your decision-making process -- whether it's your girlfriend breaking up with you or terrorists bombing a symbol of your country. You make rash decisions. You jump to conclusions. It turned a lot of Americans into overzealous patriots who weren't willing to look at 'Why are we bombing? Who did this? What's the best course of action to rectify this?' Everyone got trigger-happy and blood-thirsty. We were gonna get our man -- and of course we haven't even gotten that man yet. I think it also gave some people a reason to act on their violent or racist inclinations.

But people are starting to change, starting to realize that they did jump to conclusions, and that the attack on the Trade Center was retaliation after years of corrupt American foreign policy. That in no way justifies it -- nothing would ever justify it -- but it looks at the cause and effect.

WT: There was definitely a time when people were pariahs just for saying, "Hey, maybe we should think about why this happened."

TM: Yeah, the atmosphere has really changed, and it would be nice if the general way of thinking continues in this direction. Maybe in the big picture, they'll look at the Bush Administration as being such a shitty, shitty administration that it caused America to hit rock bottom and make some changes. If there's any sort of positive impact that the Bush Administration makes, maybe that'll be it. (laughs) He did such a bad job that people finally turned against the right wing.

Blogging From Beirut

The morning of July 12 started like any other summer morning in Beirut. The biggest dilemma for most people on that day was how to fit the numerous seasonal activities into their weekend schedule. There were summer concert festivals competing at the various historic sites around the country. The hottest ticket this summer was the Lebanese iconic diva Fairuz, who was to perform in a musical play on a stage sandwiched between the majestic temples of Bacchus and Jupiter in the city of Baalbeck.

Baalbeck also happens to be one of Hezbollah's public strongholds. On the morning of July 12, Hezbollah fighters captured two Israeli soldiers in the border region between Lebanon and Israel. The goal of this military operation was to exchange the captured soldiers for Lebanese prisoners of war held in Israeli jails. Hezbollah and Israel have constantly stepped on each others toes in this border region, but these skirmishes were usually quickly contained since neither side had an interest in the escalation of hostilities. This time, however, things evolved differently. By that afternoon, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had declared war on Lebanon.

Just like that, the Lebanese people went from planning leisure summer activities to worrying about their survival. Personally, the idea of being in a war zone didn't sink in for a few days, even when the fighter jets were overhead and the massive explosions were shaking my bedroom. But our priorities changed overnight. Suddenly, the questions we had to answer were life and death decisions. Do we have access to a safe shelter? How long will our food and water supply last? Should we leave everything behind and evacuate? Is there even a safe road that we can take out of Beirut if we wanted to leave?

After convincing yourself that you have taken all the precautions you could possibly take in these circumstances, you move on to trying to maintain a sense of normalcy in your day-to-day life. The helplessness of not having control over your fate is the most nerve-wracking factor during war. That is when you start planning your days one at a time. Days lose their names, they all become "Today."

The blog must go on

I started blogging a year ago about the silly idiosyncrasies in Lebanese society. Life in Beirut provided me with an unending supply of curious oddities that only this unique city possesses. This satirical look at Lebanese politics, culture and daily life was my meditative outlet, a way to release the stress and frustration caused by the overwhelming experience of living in a dysfunctional yet exciting environment.

When the war started, I was naturally expected to transmit an image of what we were experiencing here in Lebanon. After seeing international media networks oversimplifying and Hollywood-ifying the news coverage of the suffering of thousands of my compatriots, I felt that any little contribution toward helping people get a more informed idea of what goes on beyond CNN's camera frame was a worthy one.

In my case, that meant reaching the hundreds of daily readers that stumbled upon my blog in search of answers and granting interviews to international radio reporters around the world. At the same time, I wanted to stay upbeat -- for my readers inside Lebanon and for myself. So I tried to keep some sense of humor in my blog posts even in the darkest of times.

Some of my blog entries during those five weeks of hell might give the impression that I was too comfortable and unaffected by the war. This was not the case at all. I don't think any person in Lebanon during this period was left unscathed. Even the lucky few who did not experience the terrorizing F-16 raids suffered major inconveniences from the air and naval siege placed on the country. That didn't stop people from lending a hand to the over a million people, one-quarter of the population of Lebanon, who were displaced during the war.

Setting an example for the world

A number of young people I know got involved -- not only helping house and feed thousands of families, which required a large volunteer workforce, but helping with the thousands of confused kids who could not possibly understand the concept of war. The wartime solidarity that the people of Lebanon showed should be an example for the world. People put all their differences aside, and found time and energy to help others get through the crisis.

Ironically, this example shown by the politically and religiously diverse population of Lebanon while under attack could be the model for future peace in the region. Lebanon suffered from a lengthy civil war in the past due partly to injustices stemming from colonial divisions of power. The warring parties ended their fighting by sitting around a table and coming up with an accord that was far from flawless, but definitely more just than the status quo ante.

Negotiations and justice are the keys to peace in the region. I don't want to bore you with a lengthy and complicated political analysis, but Israel is widely viewed in the region as oppressive to the Palestinian people. The common belief is that Israel -- with the generous backing of the United States -- is trying to bully the people who are opposed to their policies into submission. When George W. Bush and Ehud Olmert call Hezbollah a terrorist organization, they are not taking into consideration that, on the other side of the fence, these people are widely viewed like the U.S. Marines are in the United States -- a few good men defending their country.

These differences have been in place for nearly six decades, and both sides have always resorted to violence to impose their will. Not once has there been a just solution on the table, which has moved the sides to the point of extremes. The prospects that the parties involved will sit down together and negotiate peace seems far-fetched on days like these, but in my opinion, that is the only choice for peace. In the meantime, the open exchange of ideas -- through avenues like blogs -- is even more crucial than ever.

Turning Outrage Into Power

Saying hip-hop is global now isn't telling you something you don't already know, unless you have been living under a rock since Planet Rock first dropped. But using the art form for political gains is something new, and spearheading this movement is the National Hip Hop Political Convention (NHHPC).

The 2006 NHHPC in Chicago -- the second biennial convention -- opened on July 20 and over the course of three days engaged over 1,000 participants in the debates over issues like misogyny in hip-hop, media justice, the aftermath of Katrina, grassroots activism, organizational leadership and electoral politics. The convention closed with a concert on Saturday featuring Dead Prez, Chicago Poets and Boots Riley among many other artists.

NHHPC was founded in late 2002 when some elders pulled organizers from all over the country for the first national convention in New Jersey that aimed at creating a political agenda for the hip-hop community. I first got involved at this time, as we worked at finding the issues of our community. Born and raised in California's Bay Area, I had been speaking publicly since a young age, but became really active when I finished filming MTV's Real World series. After the show I traveled as a motivational speaker to colleges and got involved with youth organizations committed to the fight against Big Tobacco. Through a good friend I got invited to the Bay Area's Local Organizing Committee (Bay-LOC) meeting, and began to get involved in hip-hop politics.

Like other local organizers around the country, we went around our community with issue sheets for people to fill out, which we used to create a state agenda. During the state convention individuals from over 30 states and Puerto Rico came together and created a national agenda. By February 2005, a group of different LOC members had a retreat in Atlanta and formed a national body with a steering committee whose goals were to help bring local groups together and facilitate any national work that needed to be done.

After Bay-LOC returned to California, we began to organize a local Hip Hop Summit at Laney College in Oakland in September 2005. One day of workshops and a concert, which included performances from Dead Prez and E40, attracted thousands. We had support and speeches from Rep. Barbara Lee and Bay-LOC's own Dereca Blackman, and handed out voter guides, which we rewrote in new language that identified with the hip-hop generation.

Around the same time, the Chicago-LOC began working as a host committee for the next convention. It was up to them to handle the event program, and the event's success can only be attributed to their hard work.

The convention itself started with a dialogue between organizers of past movements like Civil Rights and Black Power, including Fred Hampton Jr. (Prisoners Of Conscience Committee), Cliff Kelley (WVON Radio Host), Angela Woodson (Federation of Democratic Women), and writer and activist Amina Norman-Hawkins. Organizers both young and old felt this was needed, since many believed the torch was never passed on to the new generation.

Hip-hop politics today -- as I see it -- identifies strongly with the Black Power movement; the lyrics in conscious rap resonate with ideals of Malcolm X and self-determination. The Bay Area especially identifies with the Black Panthers since its roots are found here. But all over the globe -- and even in early days of hip-hop, when most music came from New York -- lyrics focus on the social ills and mistreatment of people of color in this country. The same "fuck the system" attitude gave birth to gangsta rap. And although the majority of it now focuses on the material and the misogynistic, early pioneers of the art form told the world what was going on or was absent in their neighborhoods. In other countries like Brazil, Venezuela, Cuba -- today more than ever -- hip-hop serves this same purpose.

Not everyone at the convention represented a LOC, and with the alliance building that had been taking place since the NHHPC's inception, I saw other hip-hop groups like the Hip Hop Congress represented there in full force, leading workshops and hosting the concert piece. The League of Young Voters had a huge presence, and not only helped raise money for the convention but also taught workshops on branding the hip-hop political movement, lobbying, base building and electoral politics.

The first day's workshops seemed geared at creating better methods of organizing the organizers. Panels and workshops focused on alliance building, using art for activism, political prisoners, organizing against war and occupation, hip-hop and gender politics, nonviolence strategies, and the use of electoral politics.

On that Friday afternoon, a jam-packed room of folks from all over the country listened to Kali Acunu (Jericho Amnesty Movement), Troy Nkrumah, (chair of the NHHPC steering committee), and chairman Fred Hampton Jr. (Prisoners Of Conscience Committee) talk about the many political prisoners that are currently incarcerated. Harman Bell, Kamau Sadiki, Zolo Azania Ojora Lutalo, Rodney Coronado, and Veronza Bowers were a few of the names mentioned. Rapper Immortal Technique event came in and voiced his support on the issue, and it definitely was one of the most informative panels.

Saturday, July 21, seemed to begin with many issue-based workshops and panels on education, criminal justice, health and wellness, Katrina, immigration, gender rights, white privilege in hip-hop, and media justice. The media justice panel included Lisa Fager (Industry Ears) and Davey D (Hardknock Radio/Breakdown FM), who talked about a variety of subjects like the media's control over hip-hop and net neutrality. The immigration and gender rights were two new issues added to the 2006 agenda. I led the panel on gender rights, whose purpose was to expose some of the misogynistic rap lyrics in a social context, allowing participants to better understand why the popular rap pushed by record executives and radio stations seem so focused on portraying negative images.

After the panels were over, a concert was thrown with a battle between local folks. Using all the elements of hip-hop, from rapping, break dancing, DJ-ing and graffiti, crews took to the stage to compete for a $1,000 prize. Afterward, local conscious artists like Akbar, and national artists like Dead Prez and Immortal Technique gave amazing performances. Even Chicago's rain and thunder could not clear the crowd formed at Mandrake Park.

Sunday was a day for the national steering committee to hear the voices of participants. Delegates representing different LOCs, artists and organizers for different groups were allowed to change the agenda and recommend action steps that the LOCs can take home and start implementing. The location for the next convention will be announced soon. Will it be back East in New York, down South in Atlanta, out West in the Bay Area, or will newly formed but highly active Las Vegas LOC take the 2008 to its Red State? We shall have to wait and see.

The organization as a whole has a talent at balancing the varied political views of its members, some of which seek to fight for social justice through electoral politics, while others seemed more determined to fight through grassroots activism. The way these varied ideologies have still found a way to work together for a common goal is why the NHHPC is still going and growing strong. The structure with no leader but still led strong through the local organizing committee gives this organization a type of strength that I have not seen in many other organizations that function more top-down. I believe this unique model will help keep their work relevant, and the organization intact.

When Bombs Are Directed at Me

"So I guess you've already heard the news," my history professor said last Thursday morning. In the same composed tone he might use on any other day to lecture on 17th century England, he told us about the arrests British police had made in connection to a plot to bomb several flights leaving the United Kingdom. "They targeted American planes," one of my classmates added. While the exact details of the alleged plot were unclear, it was evident that Americans headed home from vacation in the United Kingdom were the main targets. For us, a group of mainly American college students studying in London for six weeks, the news was startling.

Last week, many of my classmates' families were visiting and, fortunately, most made it home before flights were canceled. Some didn't. One student's mother, who was visiting from Indiana, flew out that morning and faced the same restrictions as other passengers bound for the United States: no carry-on baggage, no liquids of any sort, limited medications. The news was just as pressing for us. This is our last week in London, and most of us will fly home by the end of the week. Those bombs might have been meant for us.

Increased restrictions, canceled flights, more armed personnel at airports; this was all eerily reminiscent of the aftermath of 9/11. At breakfast the next morning, some of my classmates seemed mortified at the idea of leaving their music players, medications and books with their checked luggage. The carry-on restrictions, long lines at ticket counters and security checks were all inconvenient, but nothing new to traveling Americans. What was new, then? The type of people targeted, and where they were targeted -- American tourists traveling back from the United Kingdom, a country that supports American influence and military involvement in the Middle East.

For the last month, I've been troubled by the close relationship between these two nations and how it has contributed to the violence there. One recent set of cargo planes carrying bombs to Israel, for example, refueled in a Scottish airport. Whether or not it was officially sanctioned by the United Kingdom -- whose officials commented on the United States' not following proper procedures -- it disturbed peace activists all over the region. At the protests I've attended -- like the one last week in front of London's House of Parliament -- my American passport felt especially heavy.

Even as an American citizen, I have no say in whether the United States -- a nation that purports to represent me -- involves itself in violence, and that makes me reluctant to have anything to do with it. With last week's bombing plot, I felt a similar disaffection. I was targeted because the passport I carry linked me with the American political and corporate machine, a mechanized, militarized force that has completely alienated me.

At the same time, last week's events enhanced a disturbing new sentiment in me: When I became the target, I was increasingly hesitant to criticize the British government-deemed safety policies. Even before the announcements of a plot, the threat of an attack as deadly as last summer's underground tube and bus attacks loomed over much of my time here. In fact, I arrived in London the day after the one-year anniversary of the July 7, 2005, bombings. My dormitory is just steps away from the underground line that was bombed, and everyday on the way to class, I pass by the site where a double-decker was torn apart by a blast. The first few times I rode the tube, I felt cramped and trapped, and once I even experienced a momentary sense of panic.

A year ago, the entire city grieved for those who died. But Londoners learned to, or were at least forced to, move on as they had during the Blitz of the 1940s when the city suffered daily bombings. At London's Tate Britain, a gallery that specializes in British art, I was struck by a drawing depicting a dark, hazy underground tunnel filled with the huddled bodies of people taking shelter from the German bombs. Last summer, Londoners who used their camera phones to document the underground evacuations caught a strikingly similar image.

In light of the information British officials say they have in regard to the attempted bombings, measures to restrict what people bring onto planes seem practical. After 9/11, however, I felt that the U.S. measures in response to the attacks were excessive. In my mind, many, such as the Patriot Act, still are. But I realize now that it was much easier to be critical about these responses as a student in California, so far from the reality that students in New York experienced; the World Trade Center, terrorism, all of it was too distant, almost foreign. Here in London, those fears are all too real for me.

Whether this city will return to George Orwell's vision of a war-torn Airstrip One, awaiting the next barrage of missiles, or whether the United Kingdom will finally step out with American foreign policy by taking greater responsibility for the injustices it has historically caused in much of the world, is yet to be seen. The outcome is up to British politicians and citizens.

As the threat level in the United Kingdom is lifted to "critical," the highest level, George Bush seems convinced that the "Islamic Fascists" are after our freedom. Maybe they are. Maybe the American tourist symbolizes everything that's wrong with our country's foreign policy. The image of the American -- whether a politician, a diplomat, or a soldier -- is that of the tourist who feels entitled to the world, free to travel widely and act without consideration and without consequence.

At the British Museum, there is an exhibit on Islamic modern art that features the work of many artists responding to war, invasion and foreign occupation. When the Lebanese begin reconstructing their torn country, and responding to the violence through art, film or another type of political commentary, a chief concern will be why a former imperial power such as Britain was so compliant with Israeli military and American corporate interests when it could have largely prevented other nations from repeating its past wrongdoings. Or why Americans -- after facing death -- returned from their holidays without questioning the administration that consistently gambled with their lives to achieve its own political, corporate or religious agenda.

Rethinking New Orleans Schools

On Friday, July 21, 19 New Orleans public school students gathered to speak about their vision for improved city schools. They stood outside Sherwood Forest Elementary, a flooded and devastated public school in a still mostly desolate New Orleans East neighborhood.

In front of the assembled crowd, they opened the door to the school, showing hallways filled with trash and the unmistakable smell of mold and neglect. Aaron Danielson, a middle school student, told the assembled crowd, "People often think that kids want impossible things but we only want things that are essential, like good teachers, better books and enough supplies."

The students were part of Rethink, a project organized by education advocates that is aimed at bringing youth voices into evaluating and shaping the future of New Orleans' schools. The students told bleak stories of the problems facing their schools. "We have to share a desk, we have to share books," Shannon Taylor, 16, explained. "A friend graduated school, and she never owned a book sack, because the school never gave her books."

The kids and organizers of Rethink are just some of the voices in a wide-ranging cacophony taking place in New Orleans' schools, a struggle in which everyone seems to be speaking for what they claim are the best interests of New Orleans' children.

By highlighting the voices of city youth, the Rethink project has taken an important step towards reframing the debate and highlighting the severity of the issues faced. They also placed demands on school board officials for a continued role for youth in evaluating their own schools.

Battleground in a national fight over charter schools

Post-Katrina New Orleans has become a battleground in a national fight over competing visions for the future of urban education. Last September, with the city evacuated and all the schools closed, with no parents or students or teachers around, suddenly anything became possible. Instead of making gradual changes to an existing system, there was no system, and virtually no rules or limits on what could be changed. "It's almost a blank slate for whatever agenda people want to bring," confirms New Orleans-based education reform advocate Aesha Rasheed."

Days after New Orleans was flooded, the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank based in Washington, D.C., was already advocating for vouchers and "market solutions" to the city's education problems. Late last year, President Bush announced the allocation of $488 million to help families displaced by Katrina place students in private schools. Critics viewed it as a back-door approach to get public funding for private schools and would essentially create the first national school voucher plan. Charter school advocates, opponents of teachers unions, and many national education activists on the right and left have joined the fray.

Before the storm and displacement, New Orleans had 128 public schools, 4,000 teachers and 60,000 students. The system was widely regarded as in crisis. Three quarters of eighth-graders failed to score at the basic level on state English assessments. In some schools, the high school military recruiting program was a mandatory class, mostly because funding wasn't available for other programs. Ten school superintendents in ten years had been fired or quit. Many parents, especially white parents, had pulled their kids out of the system -- almost half of the city's students were enrolled in private schools and parochial schools. Advocates accused the school system of functioning as little more than a warehousing program for Black youth.

The deeply rooted racial and class inequalities New Orleans faces date back to at least the Jim Crow era. Soon after New Orleans schools integrated after the historic Brown v. Board of education court decision, white parents began pulling their kids out of the public schools and with them much of the tax base that had funded these schools. For decades after, the schools steadily declined.

A blank slate for remaking schools

Now, the post-Katrina school system has already been radically reshaped. A mostly public school system prior to the storm has become a mostly charter system. While the city's private schools saw almost 90 percent of their students return in spring 2006, only 20 percent of public school students returned. A total of 25 schools have reopened with just four run by the local school board, 18 are charters, and three are run by the state. Most former public school students remain displaced.

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What Does an Anti-War Movement Look Like Today?

Marciella Guzmán was a politically conservative 21-year-old when she joined the U.S. Navy as an information system technician in 1998. By the time she left in 2002, she said she had become liberal.

Guzmán, now a counter-recruitment activist in Los Angeles, said that she lost respect for the military: "I didn't trust that we had enough training or manpower to go into Iraq and Afghanistan at the same time."

Despite rare glimpses of growing popular opposition to the war, such as Cindy Sheehan or Medea Benjamin with "Bring Troops Home Now" signs on national television, the mainstream media still does not provide a consistent space for a critique of American foreign policy.

And while soldiers continue to desert the military, and 72 percent think that the United States should exit Iraq within the next year, the Bush administration and Congress cannot seem to come up with a concrete strategy for addressing the growing chaos and deaths in Iraq.

Impatient with the current status quo, students, war veterans, anti-war activists and soldiers and their parents across the country are thinking of new ways to get their message to the government and general public.

Realizing that mass national protests did not sway the Bush administration from staying the course in Iraq, many young organizers focused their strategy on local counter-recruitment campaigns. And their work seems to be making an impact.

The Air National Guard missed its recruiting target by 14 percent last year, and the Army missed its goal by 8 percent, its largest recruitment failure since 1979. Military recruitment costs have risen, totaling $3 billion of taxpayers' money each year, and will only get higher if the Iraq war continues and the ability to recruit young men and women to enlist decreases. Right now, the Army's new recruitment tactics increasingly include allowing young men and women with criminal records to enlist, recruiting members of hate groups, easing restrictions on recruiting high school dropouts and raising the maximum recruitment age from 35 to 42.

Spreading the real story of military life

In 1998, Guzmán needed money to go to college and thought the military would be a good way of getting that money. But when she stepped into boot camp, she realized she'd been sold on lies. Paperwork battles ensued until she finally received the higher wages and rank she was initially promised.

Her first command was stationed at Diego García, a tiny island in the Indian Ocean. "The U.S. military personnel basically lease the island from the British, and the only people who are allowed there are military personnel and the workers there -- Filipinos who are brought to the island," said Guzmán. "It was very difficult to see how the American soldiers treated these people. The workers had poor benefits, they were underpaid, and the military didn't respect them. That reminded me of my family here. I'm Mexican-American, and it reminded me of the struggles my parents went through in this country. And so my ideology started to change."

Guzmán's perspective finally shifted for good after she left the military in 2002 and went to the VA to receive treatment for the back problems she acquired during her service. She had to fight to get even the most basic treatment.

Now Guzmán spends what little time she has between work and school to educate high school students about the realities of military service.

She just came out a month ago with the sexual assault she also suffered during her service. A fellow servicewoman had shared her experience with sexual assault, which helped Guzmán come to terms with her own experience. It has been four years since Guzmán was last in the military and she still has not told her family about the incident.

"I want [young people] to question why it was allowed, and that it's still happening in the military, especially for women," said Guzmán. "And what they're going to get into [if they join the military]. I give them the option: 'If you still want to go to the military, I will go with you to the recruitment office to make sure that they don't lie to you.' It takes so long to educate young people about the myths of the military."

And that's where recent counter-recruitment strategies like the Not Your Soldier initiative and STORY Collaborative come in.

"I do anti-war workshops all the time, and so often I have very intense conversations with youth about the war in Iraq and everyone is like, 'It's all about oil, it's all about money, it's all about power,'" said Steve Theberge, youth and counter-recruitment program coordinator for the New York-based War Resisters League. "I think young people often feel that there's not much they can do about it. There's not a sense of empowerment or that energy or ability to make change. Not Your Soldier is about taking that political analysis that a lot of young folks have and translating that into possible action."

The War Resisters League, along with The National Youth & Student Peace Coalition, the National Network Opposed to Militarization of Youth, the American Friends Service Committee, and the League of Independent Voters have joined forces with the Ruckus Society to produce the Not Your Soldier initiative.

Not Your Soldier was first marketed through MySpace and through word of digital mouth like emails and text messages. "It's an educating tool that they themselves can use and pass along," said Adrienne Maree Brown, executive director of Ruckus Society, based in Oakland, Calif. (Full disclosure: Brown serves on the WireTap advisory board.) Through Not Your Soldier, youth can participate in the anti-war and counter-recruitment activities by visiting NotYourSoldier.org, watching the Flash movie "Punk Ass Crusade," the "Addicted to Oil" Flash movie, attending Not Your Soldier camps and going to concerts for revolutionary hip-hop band The Coup.

"We've recognized the need to go beyond training," said Theberge. "For a long time we've hoped that we would be able to provide training and somehow somewhere, somebody else was going to step up and organize on the local level. We have to shift our tactics. A lot has changed, and unfortunately the anti-war movement hasn't."

Not Your Soldier also connects young people on an emotional level by connecting them with men and women who have served in the war in Iraq. Theberge said, "I can throw as many stats out there as much as I want. I can talk as much as I want about the war. But I think that, for many people, hearing veterans speak is about as close as you can get." To that end, the group has put on three regional camps this summer and plan to host several more in the coming year.

"I think if you look at the anti-war movement, it's a lot of really good people, but it's not a lot of young people," Brown said. "A major belief of Ruckus is the impacted community has to be at the forefront of your work. We have to find ways for soldiers and students to be active components of their own liberation and guaranteeing their own rights."

Boots Riley, leader of the socially conscious hip-hop group The Coup, is currently on tour and talks about the Not Your Soldier initiative in the middle of every concert.

"I sometimes see people from the military coming to my shows and saying that they're fans. And not just someone who is in the Army, but someone deep in the military," Riley said. "There have also been military recruiters. And after the show they're like, 'I really agree with what you say, but being a military recruiter is just my job.' And I'm like, 'I guess.'"

Riley added that he's always found people against the war in his audience. "I'm talking about Old Smith, Montana. I'm talking about El Paso, Texas. I'm talking about Alabama. I'm talking about Ohio," said Riley. "Everywhere people were and are against the war. And these weren't just people who were coming to see a revolutionary hip-hop show."

Providing another option to enlisting

Riley can relate to the military option so many young people feel they have to take. Although he's been a progressive organizer since he was 14, when he thought he was going to be a father at age 17, he considered joining the military.

Riley's dilemma is one of the greatest challenges of the anti-war movement, according to Doyle Canning of smartMeme, a nonprofit collective of long-term organizers, strategists, trainers and communications professionals based in Burlington, Vt.

Canning said, "The U.S. military-industrial complex, for better and for worse, is selling young people on the idea of economic opportunity. And how does the progressive community offer that opportunity? And how can we actually do counter-recruitment -- like actually not just say, 'Hey, the recruiters are lying. Don't join the military'?"

In response, smartMeme has come up with a different strategy. They are working to build a network of organizations -- nonprofits, for-profits, institutions, businesses, farms and more -- that are willing to provide another option to young people who feel that they have no choice but to enlist. Canning said, "We have to ask [these young people], 'Why don't you come and become an intern at this progressive organization?'" And she said smartMeme is asking organizations, "Would you be interested in giving an opportunity to someone who is thinking about joining the military?"

Early in July, smartMeme gathered young Iraq veterans, students, counter-recruiters and peace activists, all under the age of 30, for an intimate retreat to discuss the anti-war movement at the historic Highlander Center in Tennessee. The project, the STORY Collaborative to End the War in Iraq, is online and soon will be publishing its findings. While no concrete answers came out of the Collaborative, Canning views the stories as the keys to gaining connection and momentum throughout the movement.

"The stories are at the center of our strategy," she said. "Recentering ourselves with our stories and realizing that we have such different stories, and that we have different relationships with the war in Iraq … people of Arab-American backgrounds, people who live on the border and who see the militarization of the U.S.-Mexican border, and people from the South, people from Oakland, people from all over, saying, 'Yeah, we have different experiences, and we have different stories, and we have different relationships with this war. But we were able to come together and find some common ground.'"

Echoing the Ruckus Society's beliefs, Canning is clear that the anti-war movement needs new leadership: Those most impacted by the military's recruitment and the poverty draft need to be empowered to work against the struggle that most affects them.

"When we're talking about counter-recruitment, we're talking about the U.S. military targeting low-income people and youth of color, and that's for real. And so the role of traditionally white-led peace and justice organizations is to work in solidarity with those communities in resisting U.S. militarism. And that needs to be a collaborative relationship in order to really support the leadership of young people of color in those communities," said Canning.

Canning feels the anti-war movement should take notice of another important fact: Young people listen to young people. "That's the whole lesson of MySpace," she said. "That's the whole lesson of all this huge viral marketing stuff. It's about peer-to-peer networks. It's about who we listen to are people who we can relate with, people like us. And so how do we incorporate that learning into our counter-recruitment work?"

Ruckus Society founder John Sellers is hopeful that the new direction his organization is taking to contribute to the counter-recruitment movement is going to produce results.

"Basically, in a year or two, it's very likely that [the anti-war movement] will be as dynamic as college campus activism during the anti-apartheid movement. It's definitely spreading down to high schools, which is critical because that's where most recruitment comes from -- high school-age young folks from rural and urban backgrounds." He also likened the present day to the last time this country had a vibrant anti-war movement. "During Vietnam, we had the draft. Now we have the poverty draft. But we think that, by making all of the military recruiters miss their quotas, that's going to impact how Bush and Rumsfeld and Cheney are going to view this war -- if they have less cannon fodder at their disposal."

Freaky Fridays

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.

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.

=====

Dear SG,

I met a man online who seems to be perfect for me. I won't go into the details -- perfection is so specific. But I organize people to vote -- it's a big part of my life -- and I can't find him in the voter lists for our state. I know he's lived here for a long time, I can't imagine that he votes elsewhere. With the way things are going in this country, it is imperative to me that anyone I am dealing with is thinking about how to bring a progressive majority into power. We haven't slept together yet -- how can I be with someone who doesn't engage in our democratic process?

Hoping you V-O-T-E

Dear Micro-Stalker,

I see your dilemma! Is there anyway that you can incorporate voter registration into your seduction? Lean into his neck and whisper about power dynamics. Nibble on his knuckle while begging him for an end to Democratic submission. Equate registering with a spanking -- a delectable punishment that is part of the great game of love. And when election time comes, remind him that if he comes home with an 'I Voted' sticker in the right place you'll take it off!

SG

=====

Dear SG,

I met this black woman this weekend and I can't get her out of my mind. We were at a party and I just thought she was magnificent. I haven't been exposed to lots of black people and I got the sense flirting with white men was rare for her too. I was drunk and when the conversation turned to sex I think I offended her by saying I've never been with a black woman but have always been sexually attracted to them. I mean, she didn't look mad, but it was just dumb to say. Honest, but dumb. I have to see her again. Is there any way to pursue her without being misconstrued as exoticizing her?

"That Feverish White Boy"

Dear Culturally Challenged Lover,

This is generally a controversial topic. Some people feel you have to be post-race in desire. I've never quite been able to pull it off, and I've never quite seen a race-free love affair. Specifically, I am not sure it is ever possible to engage with your first lover outside your race and not have stereotypes block your real participation in it. You can't go back and remove your fetish from your mouth. However, you can shift how you move forward. Change your whole framework -- as long as you think of yourself as the white man pursuing a magnificent black creature, that's how you will be seen, sized up, and rightfully rejected.

SG

Soundtrack to the Movement

It's surprising how far shoes can take you.

On a recent Friday afternoon, Chris Lyons sits at a small wooden table dressed neatly in a green polo shirt and blue jeans. Jokingly, he chimes, "My shoes are better than yours!"

Incredulous, Brutha Los turns around to defend himself. "Are you serious?" he asks, pointing down to his Akademiks sneakers, adorned with earth tone-colored art that could have walked straight out of the latest graffiti gallery exhibition.

From helping lead the street protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle to marching in opposition to California's Proposition 21, which increased criminal penalties for youth, to rocking the stage at some of Northern California's premier performance venues, Brutha Los has ample reason to boast about the role of footwear. His shoes are loud yet subtle, elegantly youthful, undeniably stylish and quintessentially hip-hop. They help to declare that the 34-year-old has been with hip-hop from the beginning, back when it benefited from and simultaneously fought against benign neglect from the world's pop culture radar. No doubt, he's gonna floss a part of what he helped create.

"My shoes might be plain," Lyons offers with a confident smile, "but they keep people looking!" Just weeks removed from helping promote Youth Movement Records' fourth hip-hop and R&B album, "Change the Nation," Chris is poised to become a no-holds-barred leader in the music industry. This past spring, he organized a national tour that included partnering with Amnesty International at its national conference, "Make Some Noise," in Portland, Ore. The show, which aimed to bring awareness to the genocide in Darfur, was supported by musical stalwarts such as rock group Incubus and Audioslave's Tom Berello.

Pretty impressive for someone who just graduated from high school.

Though sometimes it may seem like hip-hop has crip-walked its way past political consciousness onto a stage of vapid over-indulgence, hip-hop activism has emerged as one of the this generation's most powerful weapons, with people like 18-year-old Chris Lyons helping lead the battle cry. As one of Oakland-based Youth Movement Records' most visible young leaders, Lyons has benefited from the tutelage of long-time community activists like Brutha Los, who combine industry savvy with the fight for social justice.

"What's both exciting and problematic right now is that young folks have to redefine what they're doing, since hip-hop has changed so much over the past five years," says Los, preaching from his imaginary pulpit.

Helping to define that struggle is just one of the tasks of Youth Movement Records (YMR), one of the nation's most innovative record labels. Working with youth aged 13-19, YMR offers training in everything from stage presence to legal contracts, working in conjunction with industry professionals and local schools to address issues, including violence, education reform, police brutality and sexism. Whether stepping on stage or in protest, YMR is changing the way this generation does music.

The San Francisco Bay Area has a storied history as the birthplace of some of the most radical music to penetrate and often fuel the anti-war movement of the late '60s and early '70s. Artists like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane became rock legends amidst a backdrop of hippie fervor and Haight Street bravado, calling for an end to U.S. imperialism abroad and burgeoning economic disparities at home.

Now, facing yet another war opposed by an increasing number of Americans and soldiers stationed in Iraq, the Bay Area has once again become the home of protest music, heralding hip-hop as one of the new voices of political dissent. Groups such as Zion I, Blackalcicious, Lyrics Born and Ozomatli are just a few who have stood at the forefront of the Bay Area's artistic explosion offering up a bevy of protest anthems.

Facing multimillion dollar budget shortfalls, many Bay Area school districts have followed a nationwide trend of cutting crucial art and music programs, leaving many youth with few creative outlets.

Lyons, who's learning audio engineering and does a significant portion of promoting, says, "Since a lot of the music money is being cut in the schools, it's all we have to express our music aspirations."

Currently, the state of California, which is the seventh-largest economy in the world, ranks near last in state spending on education in America, a problem that spells disaster for many inner-city public schools. Music, art and creative writing programs are often the first to be cut from curricula.

When in 2002, the 30-year-old social work graduate student Chris Wiltsee stepped into the Bay Area scene from Michigan, youth-run record labels did not exist. There was, however, a tremendous need to mobilize youth and counteract the negative mass media and music industry portrayals of people of color.

After teaming up with Bay Area-based Youth Media Council, a project that works to equip young people with the resources to challenge media misrepresentations, YMR forged stronger connections with neighboring social justice organizations. Now, the once fledging dream of a graduate student has become an integral component of a much larger grassroots effort to engage youth as independent, critical thinkers.

Wiltsee worked previously as program director at a nonprofit organization called Neutral Zone in Ann Arbor, Mich. Similar to YMR in terms of vision and design, Neutral Zone encouraged youth development through a variety of arts programs. Since Chris was managing many different aspects of the nonprofit, he wasn't able to focus on the music program. "I wanted to build that program again, see if it was replicable and really develop the model more fully," he said.

He hatched a plan to develop YMR in 2002, a concept he had initially come up with years earlier. After spending the first nine months fundraising and creating community partnerships with organizations such as nationally renowned Youth Speaks and La Peña Cultural Center, he began YMR's first and only recruitment by going to various high schools and pitching the idea to students in neighboring art and music classes. The students, enticed by the idea of a record label that gave them the freedom to explore themselves musically and learn about the business, came out in impressive numbers to YMR's first meeting in October 2003 at La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley, Calif.

"There were about 30 youths at that first meeting," Wiltsee said, "which was really encouraging because for the first time I said to myself, 'This can actually work, people are really interested.'"

The first objective for the organization: Put on a show. Wiltsee helped contact Zion I, which eagerly embraced the idea and agreed to perform in front of the sold-out show of loyal fans and YMR faithfuls. Soon afterward, the organization was invited to perform with hip-hop legend KRS-One.

"Kind of quickly things started on the rise," says Wiltsee, "so we've just been trying to keep up with it all."

Wiltsee invited Brutha Los on board to be YMR's program director. A lead member in the campaign to unplug media conglomerate Clear Channel, Brutha Los is a teacher and internationally recognized hip-hop scholar who's earned his stripes as an emcee and producer for the group Company of Prophets. With years of experience in activism and artistry, Brutha Los brought with him a pedagogical approach that has proved crucial to the organization's success.

"All of our mentors and instructors are professionals who've worked in the music industry," he says.

Much more than just a record label, Youth Movement Records is but one of many organizations nationwide engaged in hip-hop activism. Generally, hip-hop activism refers to a broad range of social change practices spearheaded by urban youth. In the case of YMR, music and entrepreneurship serve as the avenues by which youth combat violence, develop skills and create community change. Officially serving youth between the ages of 13 and 19, YMR members boast a 90 percent high school graduation rate, compared with 48 percent for the Oakland Unified School District.

The label has produced four albums, including "Taste Test," a compilation featuring the young women of YMR, as well as "Change the Nation," which came out on July 4. All of the albums are produced, performed and promoted by the youth of YMR. Along with working directly with 500 young people to produce their four albums, YMR has reached over 15,000 youth with more than 100 safe, sober weekend events.

"Now we have more formalized training, curriculum, resources, internships, connections to the industry," says Wiltsee, "as well as more 'movement' activity in regard to connecting with other social justice organizations and campaigns."

With all these central components in place, youth are taking the lead beyond the entertainment arena. On their recent tour, members of YMR teamed up with the Vera Project, a youth-run night club in Seattle, where they performed a live show. After holding a workshop at Camp Sweeny, a youth detention camp in northern California, YMR members were so compelled that within two weeks they came up with a project design and raised $10,000 to continue holding music workshops at the camp next school year. Everything, from the proposed lesson plans to the last penny raised, was youth-directed.

With more programming and courses scheduled for the fall, Youth Movement Records is fast becoming one of the most recognized youth development organizations in the country. Since YMR's inception in 2003, at least three other youth-led record labels have opened their doors in the Bay Area.

"I see this model as one that could be replicated and developed nationally, and even internationally," says Wiltsee.

Chris Lyons agrees, "The impact on the field has been tremendous, and there's a youth music movement that we've helped spark."

Guatemalan Youth Rewrite History

La Violencia is a term employed by some Guatemalans to describe one of the Western hemisphere's bloodiest civil conflicts in the modern era -- a 36-year-long period stretching until 1996, when the state army launched a violent campaign against alleged guerrilla sympathisers, wiping entire villages off the map. More than 200,000 people -- most of them civilians -- were killed or have disappeared.

A United Nations-led commission calculates that 93 percent of the "human rights violations and acts of violence" during this time span were perpetrated by the Guatemalan government. They document at least 626 massacres committed by state forces against Mayan communities during this period which, coupled with findings that 83.3 percent of La Violencia`s victims were Maya, contributes to an increasing awareness within Guatemala and worldwide that the extraordinarily brutal, government-led campaign indeed constitutes genocide.

Despite the ongoing failure of Guatemalan courts to move forward with legal cases seeking to charge former state authorities for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide -- left in limbo since an initial filing in 2000 -- a sudden glimmer of hope along the judicial front has recently emerged.

On July 7, by declaring the right to "universal jurisdiction" in the interest of human rights, a Spanish judge issued international arrest orders for ex-dictators, military leaders and other government officials responsible for the genocide. Among those named is past president Efraìn Rios Mòntt (1982-1983), who not only ruled over perhaps the most gruesome chapter of La Violencia but even now remains a political heavyweight within Guatemala, having served as president of the National Congress as recently as 2004.

In addition to their plans to exterminate the Maya, who make up about half of the population of Guatemala, the intellectual authors of the genocide also attempted to eliminate political opponents -- many of whom resided in the nation's universities. The University of San Carlos, for example, transformed into a hotbed of subversive activity to challenge the state-led violence. In 1980 alone, at least 127 members of the San Carlos academic community -- mostly students, but faculty and administrators as well -- were either killed or have disappeared.

Today, members of H.I.J.O.S. -- Hijos e Hijas por la Identidad y la Justicia contra el Olvido y el Silencio (Sons and Daughters for Identity and Justice against Oblivion and Silence) -- represent a new front of radical Guatemalan youth intent on battling the executors, cheerleaders and benefactors of La Violencia (as well of those who continue to exercise similar state repression and order similar forced disappearances to squash social movements, while similarly enjoying impunity for their crimes).

HIJOS -- largely comprised of youth whose family members were killed or disappeared during La Violencia -- first surged to the public light a mere 30 months after the Guatemalan state, under mounting international pressure, inked a finalizing ceasefire agreement with an organization of surviving guerrillas. On June 30, 1999 -- the perennial holiday within Guatemala termed Army Day -- at a public celebration honoring generals from the genocide in the company of the nation's commander-in-chief, HIJOS shocked onlookers by disrupting the commemoration with screams demanding justice.

HIJOS' omnipresent anti-impunity street art, along with its organizing against Guatemala's ratification of the Central American Free Trade Agreement and various other programs, has triggered the attention of state authorities and other powerful forces within Guatemala. On Jan. 8 of last year, HIJOS' office was raided; personal agendas, organizational archives, computers, a megaphone and paint were stolen, while other objects of value were left behind. Several months later on May 12 -- one day after three other Guatemalan social justice groups were raided -- HIJOS' office was targeted a second time. Again, numerous photographs and a laptop were taken, while more costly items were untouched.

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The Real Tragedy of Student Debt

There's been a lot of talk lately about increasing levels of student debt. With all of the fuss, you'd expect that lucky high school seniors receive a sobering invoice with their college acceptance letters. But for many students, the plunge into debt is much more insidious. Like drug dealers, the lenders start small and cheap, lulling students into a false sense of security. By the time the full effects of debt creep in, it's too late.

I hope that my experience will shed light on similar stories unfolding across America, illuminating the impossible choices that meet working-class students. It's also a cautionary tale for countries seduced by the false promises of private college education financed by student loans and credit cards.

At my working-class high school in Connecticut, I was always a top student. The overwhelming message for high achievers was that brains, determination, and charisma would lead to success in any career, and I dutifully pursued volunteer work, leadership training, part-time jobs, and anything else that would 'look good on the resume.'

My hard work paid off when I was accepted for a prestigious early-entrance program at the University of Southern California. The Resident Honors Program (RHP) selects 'exceptional and highly motivated' students to begin college a year before graduating high school, recruiting from the top 4 percent of sophomores nationally. From a pool of 25,000, between 30 and 60 join the program each year.

I got a $6,000 scholarship, along with $19,500 in grants and work study. In order to make the required fees and expenses of $28,000, I took out a $2,500 student loan my first year -- a manageable amount, I thought.

Once I got to USC, I worked for a month at a grocery store, then got a work-study job for 20 hours a week, $6 an hour. An irregular schedule caused me to miss RHP activities, and I had to skip some classes. But keeping my debts under control seemed worth it. My first summer home, I worked on a farm and earned $1,000 -- enough to buy my plane tickets.

My second year, USC's tuition fees increased by $2,000, and my mother's income increased by $1,000. Ironically, this pushed our family out of the 'low-income' category, and I lost half of my grant money. I considered transferring to a less expensive school, but USC's general education classes were so obscure that I'd have to repeat my freshman year anywhere else. So I held my nose and took out a $9,500 loan, hoping to apply for scholarships later on.

I got another work-study job -- on top of running two student organizations, taking honors-level classes, and dealing with a roommate from hell. Getting to the library was becoming impossible, so I took out a $1,500 loan to buy a laptop. It was my first experience of a private student loan, and I was told it wasn't much different from a federal loan. The interest was slightly higher, and there were slightly different rules, but overall it all seemed the same.

After Christmas, the overload became too much, and I had to prioritize. I decided that leadership and education were more important than meaningless employment, so I quit my job and took out another $2,000 private loan. I navely hoped that my education would someday allow me to earn more than $6 an hour.

My third year, I attended Edinburgh University in Scotland, where tuition fees were half of USC's. That year, I needed only a $4,000 loan, and didn't have to worry about a job. But the next year brought hardly any grant money, and rather than give up in the 'home stretch,' I took out more loans than I ever expected I'd need.

When I graduated in the summer of 2002, I was $36,000 in debt. My only consolation was that my debts were equivalent to one year's cost of attendance -- a bargain, really.

A shift from grants to loans hurts working class students

I moved back to my mother's house and began looking for a job. But in the recession following 9-11, employers wanted practical, predictable degrees, not esoteric subjects like anthropology. From seeking meaningful employment, I slid into looking for any job. I had a few days of temporary office work, a few months in retail. I went to Scotland in search of a better job market, but couldn't even get an interview before my money evaporated.

Since my degree wasn't helping me find work, I decided I needed a skill. I started a multimedia course at a community college, paid for with wages from a salon. But I soon discovered that my little laptop couldn't handle graphics work, so I bought a new computer with a private loan for $2,000.

Six months later, I finally got what I really wanted -- a meaningful job. I put multimedia on hold and began working as a union organizer. In exchange for 'unlimited hours' -- sometimes 70 hours a week -- the salary was excellent: $2,000 a month. I paid off my credit cards and started on the loans. By this point, with capitalized interest, my total debt was $43,000.

Six months later, I was burnt out. I could deal with the impossible hours, but it was an upward battle just to maintain the status quo for the workers I was helping. An overwhelming sense of futility made me wonder if anything was ever going to change, and I retreated to school to reconsider my goals and tactics. My loans were in deferment, giving me a little breathing room.

Eventually I came to the conclusion that multimedia could earn me a living, but I still wanted a career that would help disadvantaged communities. I applied to an 'alternative' master's program in Edinburgh that was ideal -- studying social change. I couldn't get any scholarships for an obscure foreign school, but I could finish in half the time of an American master's degree. I took out a private student loan for $18,000 and worked as a 'Santa's Elf' at a shopping mall (among other jobs).

As of finishing my master's degree, my debt hovers around $70,000 -- it will grow to over $100,000 by the time I pay it off. My repayment schedule reaches into my late forties, at $650 a month. If I do the kind of low-paid, meaningful work I want to pursue -- teaching, writing, grassroots organizing -- I will likely struggle to make each payment.

To be fair, I made the choices that put me in this situation. I attended an expensive university 3,000 miles from home. I stayed at that school, even though I could get a cheaper education elsewhere. I studied an impractical subject that I loved, then continued my studies at an obscure foreign university. I wasn't always aware of financial consequences.

Yet I made my choices based on the values I had been taught -- that helping others is more important than making money for yourself, meaningful career is more important than net worth, and brains, determination, and charisma are the key ingredients of success. I realize now that I subscribed to the fantasy of an equal society, when in fact everyone's options arise from class, race, gender, and a thousand other subtle differences in our experiences, assumptions, and privileges.

There are alternative models

My experience with higher education exemplifies the conundrum of the working class. Universities guarantee financial aid to low-income students, but often shift from grants to loans after a year or two. Students are expected to make higher contributions each year, even though upper-level classes are more demanding than introductory ones. Students are encouraged to take leadership roles in extracurricular activities, but working-class students have to fill their summers with meaningless low-paid jobs instead of volunteer work or internships, and are put behind their upper class peers.

Adding insult to injury, education gives a tantalizing glimpse of the wider world. For many, college is where they realize that their experience of injustice is not isolated, and many gain a desire to work for social justice. But to pay back their debt, graduates must forget their ideals and go to work for the highest bidder.

To put it in perspective, the average debt at graduation in America is $19,300. In the United Kingdom, it's $16,000; in New Zealand, $9,600; in Germany, $7,000. Most countries require repayment only when a graduate earns a certain salary -- in the United Kingdom, it's $28,000. In Germany, it's $14,500 -- but students enjoy a five-year grace period, subsidies for good grades, and forgiveness on all loans above $12,500. Sweden's grace period is three years, Holland's is two, and most countries in Europe forgive student loans after 15-25 years.

These different arrangements allow students to 'get on their feet' after graduating. New graduates have the time and space to find a niche, rather than getting trapped in the first job that comes along. They are allowed to engage in useful work without worrying about excessive loan payments, making contributions that aren't measured by the GDP.

Grants rather than loans also limit the flow of educated, desperate young people into the semiskilled labor market, leaving service jobs open to those who have not pursued higher education. While this contributes to social stratification, it also makes jobs available to people who need them.

In America, with its tangled webs of overpriced private colleges, usurious credit cards and bankruptcy-proof student loans, it's unlikely that socialized education would be embraced. Still, it's heartening to know that our system is an excessive anomaly -- most other countries make much better investments in their young people regardless of their class and race.

In many ways, this pattern is one manifestation of a larger trend in America: sacrificing the opportunities and livelihoods of lower- and middle-class people for the profit of banks, corporations and the wealthy elites. But there's only so much sacrifice people can handle before they're bled dry, and only so long a country can prosper on credit cards and loans that can't be reasonably repaid.

What is writ large in corporate bankruptcies, withering federal programs and industrial outsourcing is writ small in stories of impossible choices and shattered educational dreams. The real tragedy is not that America's young people can't afford their college education -- the tragedy is that they are told their entire lives that education is their birthright and a chance to social mobility, and then are forced to watch that birthright crumble under the weight of unbearable debt.

Wassup Rockers

"I wanted to have fun and fuck with the white people in Beverly Hills." � Larry Clark
Wassup Rockers, Larry Clark's new film, breaks from his obsessive chronicling of desperate and sexually unhinged teenage lives just when the issue was growing stale, and delivers attractive and socially redeeming fare about race, class and being a Latino immigrant in the U.S.

The Rockers in question are El Salvadorian and Guatemalan skate punks in South Central, 13- to 16-year-olds who wear their hair long and their pants tight, and whose daily lives are a struggle to be themselves without getting beat up in their hip hop neighborhood. Perhaps Clark understands that poor immigrants tend to be linguistically and culturally isolated from the mainstream and that they are seen by a certain part of the American mainstream as lettuce pickers, landscapers, job-stealers, the 20 men living in a four bedroom house, and, sometimes, the corpses found huddled in puddles of shade in the desert near the border.

Wassup Rockers de-alienates these kids in a two-pronged attack. The first half is a documentary of uniquely adolescent and recognizably American stories about fighting, playing in a punk band and awkward sexual experiences, told while the camera lingers over their shirtless bodies and full lips (hey, it's still Larry Clark).

The film is also a stereotype-challenging exploration of identity politics, as the kids' hair and clothes make them outsiders even within South Central, an area Clark claims to understand. "There is a big section of LA that is isolated. You ask white people about South Central and they say 'you'll get killed don't go there.' You wouldn't know about the racial politics of the ghetto unless you were out there," Clark tells me during an interview in New York City.

Then Clark decided to get them to Beverly Hills to have fun and "fuck with the white people" in a variety of stock settings -- Beverly Hills High girls' bedrooms, a trendsetter party, a tragic turn in the backyard of an armed Dirty Harry / Charlton Heston doppelganger, and the bathtub of a supermodel. The film is a glimpse of the class war and race war as they tease out in daily real life. The boys leave their ghetto for a neighborhood where brown people are unwelcome except as servants, are fetishized in the white girls' mansion, kicked out by the girls' boyfriends, and hassled, baited and arrested by a white cop while skating.

Clark found Kiko, 15, and Porky, 18, two of the Rockers, while on a photo shoot on Venice Beach for the French release of his previous skate film, the more disturbing and narratively obtuse Ken Park, which is still unreleased in the states, allegedly due to clearance issues.

"Kiko and Porky looked totally different, with their long hair and tight pants and shoes falling apart and taped up and painted. They just had this style. They said they were from the ghetto, from South Central." Clark photographed them for four days and met the rest of their friends, including his star, the photogenic Jonathan, 15, who is portrayed in the film as the requisite boy who gets tons of play. "I took them a copy of the magazine with the photo spread when it came out, and they called me the next Saturday morning, saying 'come get us, it's time to go skating!' Every Saturday for the next year we'd go skating together. It became our day. I always showed up, I was reliable, and they got to know me and I got to know them. I got all the stories of their lives in South Central. Then, as the idea for the film came together, I assured them the film would happen."

The kids are not actors -- they've never even worked -- so Clark relies on his undisputed skill as a photographer and relentless visual seduction until we acquiesce to their giggling and looking off camera through the whole film. And the skating isn't shot with a typical skate video fisheye lens that exaggerates distance and danger. The immediacy and intimacy of the footage of them attempting the nine steps, doing choreographed skates through their neighborhood, horsing around in a playground, most of it shot in golden late afternoon light, is heartbreakingly beautiful.

Clark bristles when asked how an old gringo who doesn't speak Spanish gets so much access to teenagers' daily lives and embarrassing (i.e., hilarious) memories about first sexual experiences and nuanced racial tension. "I'm a good guy, that's why! I'm interested in their lives and I got to know them well. We trust each other and that's why the film works. It's the only way this film could have been made." And, he claims, they had all seen Kids (or knew of its notoriety).

Getting the kids comfortable, coaxing them into digging up all the details, and getting it on film was the trick. "I'm always trying to get real moments, where it's really happening in front of you." The shoot was like herding cats, Clark said. "These are real kids, they are not actors, and their process was to be themselves all the time. And I understand process. You can't walk seven adolescent boys in off the street, tell them to sit down and shut up, and then tell them to be themselves when the director is ready." They were wild, playing pranks on everyone and nicknaming everybody. "I almost lost my crew. It was a crazy, crazy difficult shoot" Clark says, then adds almost in awe "but when the kids were ready, it was magic … they produced wonderful moments."

The kids do manage to paint some fine strokes of the racial tension and chronic disappointments in their lives -- getting jumped for the way they look, friends shot and killed for no apparent reason -- without veering into a sticky after-school-special land. I ask Clark if the on screen romances were real or acted. "There might have been some romance behind the scenes, it's possible there was, but they are kids, you know?"

There is no explicit sex in the Rockers, which wasn't a deliberate choice of Clark's, he says. "It just turned out that way. Plus, I didn't need to remake Kids or Ken Park." And he's not mining for nostalgic repeats of his own rocky and sordid youth, as documented in remarkably intimate and beautiful pictures of his methamphetamine-shooting coterie in his landmark photography book, Tulsa [1971]. "Most of [the Tulsa era friends] are dead. I still talk to the living ones -- they are old, doing different things, lucky to be alive. I'm always talking with friends from that time, but I'm trying to live in the present. Move forward, that's my motto."

I met the Wassup Rockers kids at a press screening in Santa Monica. They were delivered via an SUV car service that also collects them from their high school for film-related events. All standing under five feet tall, feline, mumbling short answers in accented English to the crowds around them, but hyperactive around each other, the teens don't appear to care about fame.

Yet they all keep a cagey eye on the hive of publicists, B to D list celebrities and industry people surrounding them. And they eschew the free booze at the open bar and have a great time hooting and hollering with their friends in back of the theater at choice on -- screen moments. Their conduct in real life is like that around the freaky socialites, crazy models and designers who feed on them at the trendsetter's party in the movie: hungry yet watchful and cautious, and maybe a little embarrassed for their hosts and the conceits of their industries. Passively and quietly, they seem in control to the best of their ability.

Clark seems protective of his stars, whose real lives don't differ much from the South Central portion of the movie. Their lives have been full of poverty and disappointment, and they aren't setting themselves up for more. "The film shows what it's like to live in South Central in the ghetto," Clark says. "It's pretty dangerous and it doesn't change. It doesn't stop. The ghetto is the ghetto and that's the reality."

Reflecting on how far he's come with them, he says, "I had problems getting some of the kids to be in the film because they felt so worthless. So it's wonderful to see them open up and blossom and have a sense of self worth, a chance to fulfill their potential. Rosario Dawson [Kids] was a 14-year-old girl sitting on a fire escape on 13th St, living in a squat with her parents when I met her. It's great to see what's happened with her. We'll see what happens from now on."

The kids get zero justice at the end of the movie but real life will be different. They are being paid for the film and they are now skating on a team. Plus, one had the moment every boy lives for: being bathed by a voracious Janice Dickinson in a skimpy gown. Small steps thus far, but they are being taken care of. Watching Kiko, the shortest and most assertive one, strut and make demands for more press from the publicists at the screening, I have doubts they'll remain happy with their lives in South Central and get nothing from this but to say "I made a movie once."

Rockers, if it does well, should slough off some of our mainstream misconceptions about Latinos, and it's right on time. Clark's work tends to come out well ahead of the media curve, in spite of bogging in desperately boring verite vs. exploitation debates. Kids came out in 1995, when ketamine, ecstasy, acid, nitrous, raves, having sex and getting alcohol poisoning were all the rage among teens at my artsy magnet high school, and kids at the poorer urban high schools were shooting each other on campus and off. However it took wealthy suburbanites shooting each other at Columbine in 1999 to launch the debate on kids, guns and drugs, and sex into the national conscience.

Now established in a career of covering deviant behavior, Clark says he "just seems to be able" to evoke realism from his subjects. "I do everything on instinct. I know how to poke and prod, and I get to know my actors and subjects and I recognize when it's real. I knew the Kids actors well and I definitely know the Wassup Rockers kids well."

Because he shoots from the inside of his own world, Clark deftly address challenging issues with candor and timeliness, something few other mainstream artists pull off without bungling. Tulsa, published in 1971, anticipated Time and Newsweek's cover stories on the Midwestern scourge of methamphetamine abuse by 35 years. It's worth mentioning that Clark was shooting up with the addicts depicted in Tulsa, and he did two stints in prison, for stabbing and shooting offenses. With the help of his authentic subjects in Wassup Rockers, he's produced a realistic pure documentary film that nails the class and race war better than Crash ever could. And Clark has finally gotten "kids" right.

Ise Lyfe Style

Unless you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, Ise Lyfe is a rapper you've probably never heard of. But you will, soon.

The 23-year-old Oakland emcee has been making a name for himself ever since bursting onto the national poetry scene in 2000. As a member of the San Francisco Bay Area team at the Youth Speaks National Poetry Slam, he helped capture the national title and captivated audiences with his verse.

Since then he's traversed the country, often blurring the already nebulous line between spoken word and rap, performing on Russell Simmons' Def Poetry Jam and sharing the stage with some of Hip Hop's most iconic figures, including Lauryn Hill, Dead Prez, E-40, KRS-One, Saul Williams, Erykah Badu and comedian Dave Chappelle.

Now, armed with a book of thought-provoking rhymes and fearless determination, one of America's brightest young artists sets out to promote his most recent musical endeavors, including the re-release of his debut album, SpreadtheWORD, and a new mixtape, Forward Ever: The Next Level P.O.W.E.R Move.

Growing up in the place where "crack and the Panthers both first started" (i.e. the streets of East Oakland, Calif.), Ise Lyfe admits to not having been overtly politicized in his early years. Like so many young people living in underserved communities burdened by high unemployment, inadequate school funding and debilitating crime rates, Ise found himself apathetic to the menacing social ills that surrounded him and with little hope for his future. It wasn't until witnessing a murder outside of a concert when he was 15 that he realized how numb he had become to violence, so he returned to his rhyme book.

"Murder," a brilliant track off of SpreadtheWORD speaks to the apathy and misguided anger apparent in many communities under siege as Ise laments, "I'm stepped on by the white man's boot/that's true/but ain't no white man in a suite/ever been on my block and started to shoot." In rhymes that are neither cliché nor condescending, Ise paints a vivid picture of the world as he sees it in an effort to galvanize his listeners to be their own purveyors of self-determination and social justice.

Ise's poetic rap skills and tendency to delve into a unique singing ability on tracks like "Beautiful" bring back memories of Mos Def's Black on Both Sides. On "Culture Vulture" Ise's tone rises from an invective fervor shrouded in urgency and on "Love With You Anymore" his captivating romantic whisper ensures his appeal to a wide range of listeners. Despite this comparison, Ise Lyfe stands on his own as an artist with a sound destined to change the rap game's perspective.

SpreadtheWORD was first released independently in 2003 and was re-released in late June 2006 under fledging Hard Knock Records. The new album includes several new tracks, new artwork and a free full length DVD featuring a biography, concert footage and a video for the album's first single "Beautiful." Ise Lyfe continues his world wind summer by kicking off a cross-country tour in July with perennial hip hop mainstays The Coup.

The mixtape, Forward Ever unabashedly falls in line with its full-length predecessor, but also pushes the envelope of revolutionary struggle even further. One notable track amidst a bevy of quality contenders is "Live or Die" which, using the hook of 2Pac's classic "Hail Mary" opens with "Pac said the power of the people is in the politics we address/ therefore we are the answer/and the most absolute threat." From there, Ise extends his venomous tribute to exploring the conditions of his community and the contradictions they often give birth to, once again calling on his listeners to challenge the cycles of systemic oppression that so often devour the people's promise.

Even with the release of two albums and a tour, Ise Lyfe continues his community activism. His organizing include co-founding People Organizing with Each Other for Revolution (POWER), a multi-faceted Oakland-based organization that provides healthy food for elementary school kids and teaches youth "the root causes of violence in their communities" among many other deeds. Ise also teaches social history and spoken word at one of the most innovative charter schools, The School for Social Justice and Community Development in Oakland. He co-wrote and performed in "Cause" -- a hip hop theatre piece that fused spoken word and modern dance, and serves as the Arts-In-Education Associate Resident at Youth Speaks.

Ise Lyfe's activism undoubtedly informs his socially conscious rhymes, and as this gifted poet continues to spread the message of empowerment, more people are destined to be touched by the power of his words.

Freaky Fridays

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.

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.

*****

Dear SG:

I've asked all my friends this question, and no one seems to know the answer. I'm an activist woman who works in the political and non-profit world in D.C. I don't usually have a problem getting a date -- which rules -- but every guy I date is hot, younger, and … eventually scared of my intense political views. I have two questions.

First, while I certainly will work on not scaring people to win arguments, how far should I go towards becoming less intense? Isn't intensity about politics and helping people what makes most of us activist types so great? My second question is, where in the world do I meet guys my own age? I'm 30 and meeting guys at the bars is netting me quite a few dates with 25-year-old men. This isn't working for me anymore. Please advise.

Too Intense

Dear Perfectly Intense,

In general, I am never a fan of improving one's game by dulling one's edges. So my first advice is, stop thinking of yourself as 'too' anything -- political, scary, old, intense. Whoever ends up with you is going to end up with the actual you, so might as well start as close to real as you can in this wicked world of dating. My second bit of advice is that scaring people rarely wins arguments in the long run -- people remember you as a fierce debater but are not convinced so much as beaten. Be intense, not scary -- that's just the basics of the game.

Now, the time has come for you to set your standard. Don't focus on what you don't want; don't go places where clusters of boy lovers await you. You have mastered and become bored with what you can get -- those hot boys are feeding your ego more than your soul now. Calm it down a bit so you can let your new desire fully form in you -- what are your needs? Where in your life do you see room for a partner? A wise man who has been very lucky in love told me, “You cannot manifest in life that which you don't leave yourself room to dream.� I laughed at first, cause it sounded a bit hippy-loopy, but then I realized that he has succeeded in love with that mantra, so I pass it along to you. I also step out on a limb to say, isn't that what non-profit conferences are for?

SG

*****

Dear SG:

Until about a month ago, I was sleeping with an old friend, mostly out of convenience. It's hard, as an organizer, to find someone who is really on point on the things I care about -- so sometimes I just get one of my needs met, and not all. But recently I had to be clear about not having the same feelings for Friend as Friend did for me. Sucked.

Then the other night I met Someone -- Someone I wasn't expecting who is making me feel magical. And I am not a magical-feeling kind of person, knaw mean? I didn't even realize Magic was one of my needs. So, I am moving forward with Someone and haven't been returning Friend's calls, and I think there's a better way to handle this. I don't want to hurt Friend, I don't want a whole emotional teary-eyed mess, I don't want to feel bad about Magic Someone. Can you help?

Skipping and Shit

Dear Skippy,

First of all -- I am so excited for you to have found a Magic Someone. It is so hard, no matter what you do, to find magic. It is especially hard if politics play a central role in your needs in a lover -- so don't you feel bad about a thing if you have found a Someone you can respect!

In terms of 'Friend'? My recommendation is to tell Friend in person and be genuine about your new feelings. I often find in friendship-lover settings there's this, "So sorry, wish it could work. I really like you but ... " energy which is just a tease, faking hope where there is usually none to be found. Have the respect to give Friend a clean hard break and start the healing process -- show Friend that in no uncertain terms you are not interested, and have met Someone, and are really excited about it. Your friendship will bode better if you make sure your need for Magic is met, and set Friend free to find some magic that has nothing to do with you.

SG

Saying No to Suicide

As suicide rates continue to rise among young people, students in high schools and colleges across the nation are finding that small, all-volunteer clubs can often make a big difference. They are opening chapters of the Yellow Ribbon Club, a national, nonprofit suicide prevention organization, to raise awareness about depression and suicide among their peers and get help to those who need it.

The Yellow Ribbon Club was founded in 1994. Its creators, Dale and Dar Emme, lost their son, Mike Emme, to suicide. The organization now has over 100 chapters in the United States, and it also has chapters in Australia, Canada and Scotland.

The Club grew as a response to the alarming suicide statistics, especially among young people. Each year, around 5,000 people ages 15-24 commit suicide, and it is the third leading cause of death among people ages 15-24, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' National Strategy for Suicide Prevention and the Massachusetts Alliance of Samaritan Suicide Prevention Services.

Candace Lohr, a junior at Avon Grove High School in Pennsylvania and vice president of her school's Yellow Ribbon Club chapter, has friends that were depressed and wanted to do something to raise awareness about the issue, as well as help her friends. "Depression is fairly common," she said. "Sometimes people really don't see it is a problem until it's too late."

Lohr became involved with her school's group -- which has been around for two years -- when she started chatting with people in the club and saw a commercial for it.

Her school's group raises awareness through education. Throughout the school year, members visit different classrooms and hand out information to students about depression and ways to help, hoping that students will realize that it is a serious problem. "I think it's more of a problem than people suspect it is people don't talk about it that much," said Danielle Wolf, president of the school's chapter. Like Lohr, Wolf joined the organization because she had friends that were depressed.

Suicide rates have risen dramatically over the years among young people. The suicide rate among people ages 15-24 was 4.5 deaths per 100,000 residents in the '50s. By 2002, the number rose to 9.9 per 100,000 residents, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly half of all college students admit feeling depressed at some point in time, and 14.9 percent meet the criteria for clinical depression, according to a 2004 survey by the American College Health Association.

Experts have listed various causes for depression, including stress, relationship problems, genetics and a chemical imbalance of the brain's neurotransmitters. Some blame increasing isolation for depression. According to a recent study published in the Washington Post, a quarter of Americans say they have no one to talk to and confide in.

Some of the most common symptoms of depression include a sudden loss of interest in favorite activities, restlessness, decreased energy, a loss or gain of weight, irregular sleeping hours, and feelings of hopelessness and pessimism.

The members of the Yellow Ribbon Club at Avon Grove High School held more events to stop suicide and depression that they found effective. One of the most popular was a recent movie screening of "The Dead Poet's Society," a film where one of the characters, Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard), kills himself because of personal struggles with his father.

Lohr hopes that the different events touched community members and parents and sparked a discussion about the issue. "Sometimes parents are in denial about their child having any type of mental issue," she said. "We're trying to help people realize that it's not a bad thing to be depressed, and it can be fixed."

With only a year until graduation, Lohr and Wolf want to leave the club with enough members to carry on their work. "I want the club to continue, gain more strength and reach the goal of really making people understand about depression and suicide," Lohr said.

This summer, Wolf and Lohr plan to visit neighboring schools and promote the Yellow Ribbon Club. "We originally just wanted to send some informational packets to different schools and guidance offices we thought if we actually went to the school, it might make a bigger impact," said Wolf.

Lohr emphasized that students helping students is one of the best defenses against depression and suicide. "If students can't reach out to their peers, it's difficult to save lives and make the statistics go down," she said. "If more people know about it, more people would be willing to accept it, get help and move on."

When someone is depressed, Wolf believes that a friend has a responsibility to help. "If you're unaware of a hotline in your area you can always call the police, she said. "Take everything seriously."

Free to Rock Out

"I like to sing, but I'm not doing that this year," said Hugo Orozco, 10, of Brooklyn, New York, a member of the bands Hellish Rellish and Magnolia. "I'm doing drums this year."

A native of Austin, Texas, Orozco first found out about rock girl camps last year when a family friend who worked at the Rock and Roll Camp for Girls in Portland, Ore., paid a visit. Orozco was all ready to rock out in Portland, but her family moved to New York. Luckily she found out about the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls in New York City. And now Orozco will be attending the camp for her second summer.

"I got a letter two weeks ago saying that I got accepted. Yay!" said Orozco.

Thanks to the work and inspiration of the Portland Rock and Roll Camp for Girls founded in the summer of 2001, one-week-long summer rock camps for girls (ages vary between 8 and 18) have been sprouting across the United States and around the world. The camps have encouraged and taught thousands of girls to sing and play guitar, drums and keyboards, as well as tutored them to perform and record music.

Girl rock camps -- which are inclusive of music genres from hip hop to country -- have now spread to the South and the Midwest in the United States. There are also rumors that there will be a girl rock camp in Hawaii soon. As for the world, Canada and Sweden now have girl rocks camps of their own.

Karla Schickele, director and one of the founders of the Willie Mae Rock Camp, was a volunteer at the Rock and Roll Camp for Girls in Portland for two summers before she thought New York City should have a rock camp for girls of its own.

"A lot of my friends are musicians who are women, and I knew there would be a ton of women who could get into something like that," said Schickele. "And obviously there are a zillion girls in New York who would be interested in rocking out for a week. It just seemed like a good idea that made sense."

Like many rock girl camp volunteers and leaders, Schickele has a 9 to 5 job and gigs with her bands Ida and K, to balance in conjunction with her volunteer work with Willie Mae. But these commitments don't stop her from wanting to expand the camp.

Approaching her second summer camp session, Schickele is hoping to draw 200 girls to the camp -- more than three times as many girls as the camp had last summer. Schickele is also looking to create a Girls Rock Institute similar to the one at the Portland Rock Camp, a yearlong after school program "so the girls can have a chance to play music and work with other girls on a year-round basis. Not just one week in the summer," said Schickele.

Rock girl camp isn't free, but all the camps offer some type of financial aid. According to Schickele, more than half of the campers at Willie Mae last summer got full or partial scholarships. In addition, some of the families that can afford to, have given a little bit extra to help offset the cost for some campers.

According to Alexa Weinstein, board member and long-time volunteer at the Portland Rock and Roll Camp for Girls, it costs their camp $700 per girl.

"We charge $300 and offer financial aid to a large number of the girls who apply, so it often costs $500 or $600 with the financial aid or donations we get. But it's really important that we do this because we want to make sure it is accessible to everybody; that no girl is turned away because she can't afford tuition," said Weinstein.

"The hardest part is fundraising," added Weinstein. "The economy is not so great, and most people don't have the extra money [to give]. It's also tough because people are starving, people are dying in Darfur, and from Hurricane Katrina ... There are really terrible, undeniably horrible things that are truly leaving people in desperate need, and I think sometimes people think why should they give money to a rock and roll camp when they could give money to an organization that is working on hunger? It's a really tough question to answer. I can't tell people what they should do with their hard-earned money."

But what she can do, and what many of the camps do, is prove that the camps really do make a difference in the lives of young girls.

"There are so many girls who don't fit in the mainstream at school ... A lot of girls feeling like they have to join and can't fit in," said Weinstein. "They might not fit in because they're queer and out in high school. They might be big girls. There are a million things that cause them not to be a part of mainstream groups at school. But here, they can work with four other girls who they've never met before and have nothing in common with and can write a song with them in a week, get up on stage and play it, and truly have an amazing experience. It really helps them to blossom, and to change, and to come out of their shells."

Kelley Anderson remembers what it was like to not have a community to call her own. Growing up in South Carolina, there were only one or two girls in her entire town that played music for a live audience. She then went away to college in Tennessee in hopes of finding a women's music scene. She didn't find one there either.

"I just thought it was my town that sucked," said Anderson. "But I ran into the same thing here [Murfreesboro], and it was disappointing. There were a lot of girls at the shows, but there weren't many girls on stage."

So in hopes of changing all that, Anderson founded the Southern Rock Camp for Girls (SGRRC) in Murfreesboro while a sophmore at Middle Tennessee State University.

In addition to following many of Portland's Rock and Roll Girl Camp's curriculum workshops such as media literacy, song writing, zine making, merchandise making and learning about sexism in the industry, Anderson also wants to make sure the girls know that there are a lot of opportunities in the music business for them besides being the lead performer.

"We want to encourage girls -- let them know -- that you really don't have to be the guitar player out in front all of the time," said Anderson. "Not everybody can do that, and you can still be a very valuable member of the band. Promoting a true music community is just as valuable and important as being a drummer in band."

Anderson is currently working with her co-directors at SGRRC to develop a youth arts organization -- Youth Development Through Art and Community -- that would sponsor different programs for girls and boys. So far, they're sponsoring SGRRC and simultaneously working on having an afterschool camp.

"One thing we're seeing is that we nurture the girls to a certain point. They form a band, they learn instruments -- they're doing all this cool stuff, and there's nowhere for them to play," said Anderson. "We want to provide a really healthy, positive environment for them to perform in. [Because of their young ages], they're completely cut off from the local music scene. It's just one of the discriminations against young people."

Now facing its third year, the North Carolina Rock and Roll Camp for Girls, led by Amelia V.B. Shull, is looking to expand the summer camp in the heart of North Carolina between Chapel Hill and Durham to more than one week per summer.

"After the first year, we had such a great response that we added a second week last year," said Shull. "So this year, we tried to find a way to keep growing, and rent or lease a building that would allow us to accommodate more girls, over more weeks. We couldn't find anything! It was frustrating!"

Maria Cincotta was there in 2001 when Portland's Rock and Roll Camp for Girls made history. She is now in New York volunteering at Willie Mae and keeping all the girl rock camps in touch through an electronic list serve she organized. She hopes the rock camps expand in size and reach as well.

"I hope that the rock camps will continue to connect and share resources, and I would be totally excited if there was ever a rock camp for girls conference in which the ladies from all of the rock camps could meet each other, share resources and ideas face-to-face, and share experiences," said Cincotta. "I hope that rock camps for girls will continue to grow as a global movement."

Rachelle van Zanten is working on it. A volunteer for the Rocker Girl Camp of Canada in Central Alberta now in its second year, van Zanten emailed me while on tour for her latest CD, "Back to Francois," in Germany.

"This is a very cool concept, and I see it catching on like wildfire," said van Zanten. " I am going to do what I can to make it happen in the Western provinces Hopefully someone will do it in the East and let those girls have a chance to attend."

Freaky Fridays

What: "Freaky Fridays" is a sex and relationships advice column for the young at heart.

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), we'd have world peace.

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.

*****

Dear Sex Goddess,

I am dating a man who never comes. In bed he just stops, without making sure I finished. He's hard but then … nothing. Is he gay? Is his dick broken? Is he doin' that African sperm thing? I literally can't get no satisfaction … help!

Sincerely,
Unsatiated

Dear Unsatiated,

First of all, I am throwin' up a hand for you sis. I won't dismiss the possibility that he is gay, or is conserving his spiritual chi in a traditional practice. But many men, even at a young age, face various levels of sexual dysfunction. Having learned very little about healthy sex and relationships, many in our generation have developed a deep disconnect between love -- which they fear -- and sex, which they … also fear. My advice is to address this outside of the bedroom, as hard as that seems. In the moment, too much is on the line in terms of shame to broach the discussion.

SG

***

Dear SG,

My girlfriend is an ideological simpleton. She watches the news and concludes that the great chaos and conflict we live in all comes down to 'dumb Bush and the dumb Republicans.' When I point out that if they are dumb then we who oppose them are dumber since they keep winning, and that perhaps there is a more complex praxis to consider, she goes into a childlike apoplectic fit. It's affecting our sex life. How can I make her hush or put some meat on her skeletal thought process?

Me, my brain and I.

Dear Superior Being,

The contempt with which you speak of your girlfriend must register in her tiny brain, so I am sure it does affect both of your bedroom manners. But really, who cares about your sex life, it's your ego you need stroked well. You are in a no win situation … if you think she's simple, besting her in political sport will soon get boring. Save yourself now, get thee to a Mensa meeting (surely you know about genius mixers) and find some ideological equals!
SG

***

Dear SG,

This dude I am hooking up with … his down there is stinky. He says deodorant and the idea of folks having to smell the same is a colonizer's poison, and then with showering he's on this water conservation tip. I think he's smart and sexy and good on politics … how do I get him into that so fresh feeling?

Pinched nose.

Dear Pinched Nose,

Wait one second while I finish laughing. Aw! You got what I like to call a cute-n-stinky! While it's unlikely that you can enforce a pro-deodorant lifestyle on him, and you love the politics that make him this way, there are some options for you:

1. Build showers into your foreplay! Spend a lot of time polishing the nob. It would take me three columns to fully cover all the unspecial feelings that can come from unclean genitals.
2. Use all-natural soaps.
3. Conserve water by showering together as often as possible.
4. Make sure he is eating well and drinking lots of water, in general reduce the toxins entering his body. Bad smells often start inside.
5. Make sure he washes and changes his undergarments daily. A lot of the odor comes from build up of bacteria in clothing.
In terms of what to say, I would suggest saying you also hate the colonizing socialized need for universal shower fresh smells, but you do love his natural smell and want more of that! And keepin' it really real, pinched nose? Tell him if it's dirty, it won't go anywhere near your nose. He'll figure it out. Good luck!

SG

From Grassroots Activism to Nonprofit Bureaucracy

(Ed's Note: As Gavin writes, "Leadership of the social justice movement is changing." Today, we kick off our new series "Building a Movement" in which 20- and 30-year-old leaders will share their lessons learned, tactics, tips and ideas that have helped them move closer to lasting and substantive social change.

We invite you to participate in this discussion by posting a comment or sending in your story ideas. Never published before? Not a problem. We will send you "A Guide to Writing for WireTap" and our editor will help you finish your story. For more information, email Kristina at K.Rizga@WireTapMag.org.)


Leadership of the social justice movement is changing. Young people across the country are beginning to take on increased roles of responsibility, picking up skills and talents on the fly. I'm one of those young people, and when I get the time to reflect on the journey here, it's certainly not at all what I imagined.

Sometimes, I lose my way -- we all do -- so it's essential to pause, take a look at where we've been, where we are today, and where we want to be in the future. That way, we're far more likely to stay on the path to change without losing sight of that drive that got us started in the first place.

How we got here

My mom has been doing nonprofit work of some sort for my entire life, and while my dad's not quite so much of an activist, he's far from apolitical. My dinner table discussions were filled with anecdotes from recent meetings, there are more than a few photo albums with little me at protests, and while I can't explain exactly why I do what I do, it's got to be traced back to some of those childhood memories.

After five different schools and universities, growing up mostly in Ohio and the Midwest, but also having spent time both out West and on the East coast, I ended up in Cincinnati just months before the riots of 2001. I had finally figured out that I'm from the Midwest and that's where I belong.

I quickly got involved with community-based issues in my adopted neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine -- Cincinnati's poorest neighborhood, and the epicenter of action after Officer Stephen Roach killed unarmed 19-year-old African-American Timothy Thomas. I spent hours on end building with local cats at the barber shop around the corner from my apartment. We carried those conversations around the city and eventually decided it was time to do something with all of our talk. Before too long, we're now in our second year of building an institution "Elementz: The Hip Hop Youth Arts Center." We knew that to truly begin to make long-term change, we would first need to develop trust and relationships with youth in the community, and Elementz allows us to do that.

Now, many of my peers are in similar positions where we're working to generate the kinds of opportunities and ideas that came naturally for us. We sat in on workshops and trainings, attended protests and vigils, and most importantly, listened to the people in our communities with an eye for how to turn that talk into action for change. Now we use our experiences, and the reflections and knowledge that came from our community, to guide our efforts. We set up leadership development workshops and classes and programs, all in hopes that a critical mass of people will get caught the way we did.

Kohei Ishihara is another brilliant young leader, and fellow of "Building Leadership, Organizing Communities." Kohei says that what "started out as a community uprising" eventually turned into a full-time gig. That gig being executive director at Providence Youth Student Movement, the organization he helped found.

Kohei began doing campus organizing while at Brown University, but has stayed committed to Providence, R.I. With work on campus, "all you need is a place to meet, passion, and some access to resources, so you can make things like flyers" and where "you don't have to do all you do in the nonprofit world."

Similarly, Laura McCargar began her community-based work while at Yale University in New Haven, Conn. She "got involved with other students making a video on youth rights in encounters with police," then Youth Rights Media started in the summer of 2000. She says that her role as executive director fell into her lap in July of '02, and I can definitely relate.

From organizer-activist to administrator-fundraiser

None of us thought, "Gee, I'd really like to be an executive director of an organization." We got involved in communities. Our groups had bigger visions and needs than could be met without more structure, and here we are.

I know exactly why I became a fundraiser. But lately, I've been thinking a lot about why am I spending the majority of my time on any given day as an administrator. Can we avoid at least some of the bureaucracy and paperwork that keeps us away from actual organizing?

The biggest obstacle to less paperwork seems to be frequent reporting. Raising money inevitably leads to reports on what you've accomplished with that money, especially as funders are increasingly more interested in supporting specific projects, rather than general operating costs that make it possible to raise the money, design those programs, and maintain the space to hold them in. The general consensus seems to be that reporting and evaluation takes around 10 percent of our time. That time could be better spent.

Organizations are increasingly judged on specific outcomes, measures, benchmarks and deliverables. We are asked to quantify our work in clear numbers. I think there's a lot of value in this process, and others agree.

Kohei says, "In the past it's been more about going through the motions, but answering truthfully." Now, he notes, "We want it to be helpful, and we're headed in that direction." Laura echoes that sentiment: "Reporting is relevant and helpful I try to use the time to kick back and evaluate, which is valuable because it requires a certain discipline."

The flip side of the equation, however, is that -- in Laura's words -- "evaluation happens too often because of an externally imposed deadline," and she finds that it often induces anxiety.

The bottom line is that we want to evaluate our programs -- we want to have the opportunity to look at the work we do over time from a birds-eye view. But I know it is difficult to make reporting and evaluation truly mesh with the rest of the work, particularly because with a $300,000 budget, you probably have at least five -- and more likely 15 -- different kinds of reports and evaluation processes to follow.

Young executive directors I know put in an average of no less than 60 hours a week, and most of us have side projects that go on top of the core work for our organizations. I'm not particularly unique in the fact that I've built a nonprofit from scratch that is now at a $200,000 budget -- and it won't be until July 1 of this year that I will be able to leave my full-time job and get the possibility of a social life back.

I find that quality management is one of the biggest challenges as a young leader working with young people and young staff. Kohei estimates 35 percent of his time goes towards management; Laura simply says "a lot of my time," with a laugh; and I'd say I'm lucky to spend less than 30 percent of my time in this category. As a result, I leave the office many days with a guilty feeling because I know I've just cut it too close and in the process not given as much to others as I might have been able to.

Another thing that always seems to get pushed to the back of the to-do list is fundraising. Both Kohei and Laura agreed that they don't spend enough time on it, and I would concur. Kohei said, "I spend about 15 percent of my time on fundraising, but it should be 25 percent."

And the biggest loss is that we also end up skimping on time spent with youth -- staying in touch with the community we are serving. Whether it is just getting to know those we work with, or doing specific programmatic, campaign or case work.

Lack of community-based leadership

Another story within this story is that we're all working with constituencies that we're not a part of. Ivy League-educated, middle- to upper-middle-class people of color running organizations that work with low-income people of color are not uncommon. White folks who play the role of executive director in organizations whose constituency is mostly black are, sadly but truly, a dime a dozen.

Yet we're filling needs and doing jobs that are often the toughest ones to fill -- the jobs many would say cannot be filled within the constituency itself. And while we all feel strongly that top leadership can come directly from the constituencies we work with, and we're working hard to make that a reality, we also see some big hurdles in our way.

"A lot of these jobs require college or post-graduate degrees -- in accounting or social work or nonprofit management," says Kohei. As a guy who decided to leave New York University with three semesters left, I could argue that nonprofit managers don't necessarily need a degree. But I often joke that my real full-time job is working as a translator; I try to get wealthy and poor, old and young, black and white folks -- all to hear one another. To do this, I definitely needed my time at NYU and other experiences like that which were not and still are not available to the guys who sat in the barber shop with me and have the vision.

When it comes to following directions to the tune of eight-page proposals, matching the lingua franca of your chosen sector with your chosen funder, and learning the ropes of "relationship building" with program officers, something more than pure street smarts is definitely a prerequisite. There are precious few individuals who break the mold and learn to speak money and power fluently without ever really being exposed to anything other than poverty and powerlessness.

So even though I started doing social justice work with the hopes and dreams of being an activist and organizer, it's really not all that surprising that I now find myself sitting squarely in my office as an administrator pushing a lot of paperwork. Kohei and Laura are in just about the same place. If we envisioned anything, it was not this. But it's a position that needs to be played if we want to turn community uprisings -- often momentary -- into lasting change.

Some suggested solutions for getting back on track

Never one to complain without working to identify possible solutions, I'd like to evaluate the role of the young executive director and suggest how we -- director and funders might improve our lot in life.

1. Set up your own reporting deadlines. Consider setting up consistent times for evaluation and internal reporting independent of your grant requirements. Internal systems and processes will often be acceptable to funders, as they are willing to make exceptions if you make a good case. Work to be proactive rather than reactive in your evaluation so that you will be more able to set the standards by which your work is judged. For helpful resources, check out Innonet.org, or TheoryOfChange.org.

2. Encourage funders to give more flexibility and individual tailoring in reporting. I think that if funders would factor in spending some time on the front end with each grantee to discuss what evaluation structure would work best for that organization, the benefits would be significant. We should all be careful not to lose the quality of our work in all of our desire to quantify. Also, I found at least one foundation -- Cricket Island -- that used reports by other directors to connect our organizations and share their work.

3. Membership! There is a growing movement of nonprofit leaders doing progressive work around the country who are fed up with budgets that are ultra-foundation heavy. The nonprofit world is becoming more saturated every day, and in my opinion, too few that are doing relevant work. If we are to prove that we should be around, we need to do the hard work of developing membership bases and broad-based support in our communities that will prove our value. For more info, visit Incite! or Hbay.com.

4. More community members, including youth, on the boards and evaluation teams of funders. If we are to truly pave the way for organizations to have constituent leadership and support organizations that provide invaluable services, funders are going to need to be a part of the solution. Too often, an innovative or truly community-based organization has to depend on individual savvy of a director and smart program officers to get its point across. No one is better positioned to evaluate whether or not you've got the pulse of your community than respected community members. If funders made an effort to have more people -- like those they are seeking to help -- on their boards, I am confident there would be a rise in the percentage of organizations with indigenous leadership doing truly relevant work. For helpful info, visit YouthOnBoard.org or YouthEmpovermentProject.com.

The years ahead

As I look toward the future, I am confident that young leaders like me, Kohei, and Laura will make our mark. The only question that remains is how big that mark will be. By consistently taking the time to step back and evaluate our position and the effectiveness of our work -- while staying focused and driven to do the work itself -- we will do right by our legacy.

Campus Papers Can Save Journalism

It might never occur to an average news reader to venture over to a local college campus and pick up one of the free indy papers strewn around libraries and student centers. But if they're hungry for vital, original reporting, it wouldn't be a bad idea. As mergers and budget cuts squeeze local papers ever tighter, indy campus reporting has an increasing role in documenting local news.

Taking their cues from alternative weeklies like the Village Voice and the San Francisco Bay Guardian, feisty indy student papers explore the connections between local economies, politics, social trends and campus life. This year's winners of the 2006 Campus Independent Journalism Awards (CIJA) present the mature forefront of these papers and zines.

Both the official and indy papers usually receive funding through the allocations of student governments (though the budgets of independent papers are dwarfed by those of mainstream dailies and weeklies, which traditionally hire and pay their student staff). The real distinctions between independent-spirited campus papers and the official newspaper -- that is, the publication recognized by the campus administration as the official paper or record -- are those of mission, coverage, style and tone.

"It's not a matter of being better than the campus daily, or their being better than us," explains Kay Steiger, editor-in-chief of the University of Minnesota's the Wake, which won for Best Independent Campus Publication of the Year (with a budget over $10,000). "We have a whole week to plan and carry out stories in-depth, so that means we cover a different kind of story and have a different kind of responsibility as reporters and editors. Someone has to cover the meeting of the board of regents; that's important. But we look elsewhere for stories."

Looking elsewhere has meant investigating issues like racial tensions between a growing Somali immigrant population in St. Paul, Minn., and students, or profiling the work and lives of local graffiti artists.

Occasional crossover of reporters from mainstream college dailies to alternative publications where they can find the time and freedom to work on stories they care about is not uncommon. Many journalists see working at the official paper as a prerequisite for entry into journalism school or a position at a mainstream newspaper.

"If you're working at the daily, you're there because you want to go to j-school or you want to get an internship at a paper when you graduate. You don't do it for kicks," noted Michael Hagos, illustrations editor at University of Virginia's Declaration and winner for best artwork/cartoon. "No one's at the Dec because it's a chore they're doing for their resume. Everyone's doing it for the love of great journalism."

Though that may be so, many past winners of the CIJ Awards have found careers in the independent press at publications like Salon.com, The Nation and Mother Jones.

Substance with style

The drive to report creatively carries over into the design and layout choices at indy publications. Brown's College Hill Independent, winner for best design/layout, uses a mixture of grids and open fields that conveys a sense of freedom and play. "The daily has a more formal, text-heavy appearance that's consistent with what they do. We have purposefully built in space for experimentation," explains editor Ben Mercer. "The designers make choices for each issue, and the editors live with it."

Yale's beautifully designed Environmental Leadership Magazine [PDF], winner for Best Independent Publication of the Year (with a budget under $10,000), aims to do nothing less than use design to reinvent environmentalism. "The idea with ELM was to use design to carry a message about environmentalism: that they can be one and the same."

At its best, the freedom to innovate with style, tone and topic makes for storytelling that's unapologetically impressionistic, yet deeply researched and rigorously fact-checked. Megan Murry, a staff writer for Ithaca College's Buzzsaw Haircut, produced a remarkably nuanced look at her small town's Republican mayor for her winning article [PDF]in the GLBT coverage category.

Murry begins by examining her own family's prejudices against liberals. She springboards from her presumptions about their small-mindedness to an investigation of her traditional, conservative town's unexpected defense of their gay Republican mayor against anti-gay activists. Murry discovers that in a town so small that the mayor knows the names of many of his constituents, distinctions between Republican and Democrat, red state and blue state, Christian conservative and gay rights activist can blur. Murry's work is an example of precisely the kind of counter-intuitive story that students are willing to cover and national indy publications might miss.

Playfulness in design and story topic choices can also leave these often openly progressive publications open to allegations of bias and a lack of objectivity. Every left-leaning publication, whether on campus or not, will face the issue of how to present political leanings fairly and even-handedly. But for publications that also emphasize investigative reporting, the issue can be stickier.

Student publications walk a particularly fine line. They invite submissions from the entire campus and, while editors offer coaching and critiques, most writers aren't trained journalists. The tone of indy student papers is also often sarcastic and snarky, even absurdist at times. Humor is used to make political points and first-person reporting is rampant.

"The question of objectivity is one we wrestle with," says Steiger. "We certainly have the op-ed pages, where opinions are plain. But investigative reporting is different. We don't push reporters to find particular conclusions, and we don't accept stories from people who are too close to an issue." That said, Steiger believes that there's no denying that the choices editors make about which stories to assign, whether about local tax cuts, a homeless shelter, or racism at the local police department, are informed by a progressive, muckraking spirit. "To some degree, investigative reporting itself -- just going out and finding out what's going on at a local level -- can be seen that way," says Steiger.

Public watchdogs

At a more concrete level, alternative publications function as public watchdogs, monitoring university officials, activist groups, student governments, local institutions, and even other campus papers. In his story "More Than Misquoted," Dartmouth Free Press reporter, Carlos Mejia, uncovered practices of repeated stonewalling of activists, misleading headlines and even inserting lines into letters to the editor to make writers appear less creditable at the competing daily paper, the Dartmouth.

Ironically, the Dartmouth Free Press finds itself more accountable to a student government than the Dartmouth, which is not technically affiliated with the college. "We pride ourselves on the quality of our editing and fact checking," says Mejia. "Each story is edited at least three times and we confirm our sources and have a fact checking process in place." Mejia echoed the sentiments of many editors of alternative campus publications, who feel that to some degree they must adhere to a higher standard of accuracy.

Articles like Murry's and Mejia's point to what experts on alternative media see as larger implications of alternative campus publications. John Hochheimer, who is the founding coordinator of Ithaca's journalism program, has long regarded experience in independent journalism as a backbone of an education that leads to full civic participation.

"How do we define mainstream media? How do we define alternative media?" asks Hochheimer. "Mainstream media is entrenched in institutionalized power, while alternative media questions that power and the structures that support it."

Hochheimer treats student participation in alternative media as a means of giving them the skills to question that power. "What I tried to do in founding the journalism program at Ithaca, and what I try do in my classrooms is teach students how to question the world around them, uncover the hidden stories behind what they see and report that information in such a way as to make it relevant to the people reading it."

Incubators of political movements

Right-wing groups have long understood the importance of active conservative papers on college campuses. Groups like the Leadership Institute have for decades funded conservative papers to the tune of tens of millions of dollars annually. Conservative papers also outnumber progressive-leaning papers on campuses. This is in part because progressive papers suffer from lack of funding and thus rise and fall while conservative papers tend to stay stable. Yet most college campuses will always have their independent, progressive papers, especially large state schools and private colleges and universities with substantial endowments. Whether focused on general interests or on particular themes like race or gender, such alternative publications are ubiquitous and powerful. Programs like the Campus Journalism Project and Campus Progress recognize the value of these publications as incubators for future independent journalists, political leaders and community leaders.

The worth of such papers to political movements isn't hard to fathom. Newspapers coalesce disparate campus activist groups by giving them a forum to discuss local and national political issues, mobilize referendums or protests and call out unethical activity. They reach a wide audience of thought makers and can have a huge role in defining discourse on a college campus. They also give reporters, pundits, muckrakers and occasional partisan hacks a chance to stretch their wings.

Their impact has been palpable, for example, in setting the tone around a recent janitors' strike at the University of Miami and calling for support of pro-labor policies at University of Wisconsin-Madison, the State University of New York-Buffalo, and Georgetown. And where papers lead, students and administrations often follow.

Editors at Ithaca's Buzzsaw Haircut have seen articles lead directly to changes in policies about the waste of paper used in on-campus advertising, student organizing around tuition hikes and military recruitment, and better wheelchair access on campus.

Papers also have a unique vantage point from which to see and fill needs on college campuses and to gather students from many different parts of the campus community. For example, editors at the Wake were receiving so many creative writing submissions that they decided to create a new literary supplement, the only literary journal at the University of Minnesota. Editors of Buzzsaw Haircut worked with activists, war veterans and bloggers to organize a series of panels to discuss the war in Iraq. "We forced students to actively engage in a conversation that too many had forgotten, and brought together students from a range of backgrounds and opinions to talk about issues in forums that weren't polarizing and didn't simplify the complexities of our current situation," says editor Kate Sheppard.

As progressives are hailing the rise of a new kind of campus activist, publications are being established as increasingly crucial for creating a centralized forum and identity. Hochheimer also sees them as the perfect place for students who will go on to careers in law, business and nonprofits -- in addition to journalism -- to learn about community engagement. "And that makes for journalism that's more than mere stenography," he adds.

Citizen Journalism at Its Best

Refugee reporters living in a Liberian refugee camp outside of Accra, Ghana, have a lot to celebrate on June 20, World Refugee Day. Today marks the two-year anniversary of the Vision, the only newspaper in the world written by and for Liberian refugees.

Despite a series of obstacles, challenges and struggles -- editors getting malaria, going without food in order to afford printing, not having an office or a paid staff -- the Vision survived. Today the paper is a thriving monthly publication with a website that attracts readers from all over the world.

Dozens of camp dignitaries, officials, international media, volunteers, friends and family of the Vision team recently turned out for a special celebration featuring Ghana's Amnesty International Director Prize McApreko, music by the famous a cappella group Ebony Heritage, and a mock reading of breaking news by a high school press club.

Buduburam refugee camp, located about an hour west of Accra, Ghana, is home to more than 40,000 survivors of Liberia's 14-year civil war. Two exiled journalists living at the camp felt that Liberians were not being portrayed fairly in Ghanaian media. They wanted a paper for their community that would accurately reflect their news, as well as educate and inform them about their rights. Without an office, and barely enough funding for printing, Jos Garneo Cephas, 35, and Semantics King, 27, pulled together the first issue.

"In the history of Buduburam, some refugees have suffered arrest and detention without trial," said Cephas. "Stories carried by the paper contributed to the release of many of these refugees. Today the negative perception and stereotype in Ghanaian media which portrayed Buduburam as being a den of people living with HIV/AIDS, a training ground for mercenary activity and that refugees are land dealers is proven wrong and the record is set straight."

Subsequent stories have included profiles on human rights NGOs at the camp, features on children's feelings about moving back to Liberia, and updates on ex-warlord and former Liberian president Charles Taylor's trial.

Only a few of the reporters who write for the monthly paper have had any formal journalism training. Currently, the newspaper's office is a small children's classroom with a bunch of plastic chairs and one small marker board for writing. None of the reporters are paid for their stories. They hope that, by having their work published, they will be able to return to Liberia and get jobs as journalists.

"Now that repatriation is in process and we've got new leadership in Liberia, the Vision is going to go back as of March 2007 to continue educating the Liberian citizenry of their basic human rights," King said. "If they have the knowledge, they will be able to identify rights violations by government agencies and politicians. If they know, they will be able to protect their rights and the rights of others. That is the vision for the Vision."

There were many moments during the past two years when the future of the paper looked grim, said King. With lack of funding and resources, the challenges piled up.

"There were times when I was hungry, I had no money for food, or to pay my bills," he said. "But somehow we managed to keep the paper going. It was our dream, and we never gave up on it."

Ghana's Amnesty International director McApreko honored the efforts and perseverance of the Vision team in a speech he gave at the anniversary celebration.

"At the time when a refugee has to leave his country, he usually has to do so when guns are next to his door," McApreko said. "On the basis of that, he hasn't got the time to take any of the wealth for which he has spent all of his life working for. The only thing he has is his mind, his health, his energies and what he has naturally. I see this reflected in the newspaper. You realize that these are people who do not have all the financial support that other media have, yet they have been able to come up with theVision."

McApreko said that Amnesty International was especially grateful to the newspaper because of its focus on human rights.

"We have given all our attention on politics and all the other events and most of the time we forget about human rights," he said. "Human rights are issues which have failed to serve in many of the developing countries. If today we have a newspaper which is redirecting all of its core competences and energies toward the realization of human rights, I think it is very heartwarming. More so because it has been initiated by people whose very human rights have been violated to the height that it's ever possible."

The paper has received a small amount of support from several international NGOs, namely Teaching Projects Abroad, (TPA) a British volunteer placement organization that funds the printing and Journalists for Human Rights (JHR), a Canadian-based NGO that provides journalism training to Vision reporters.

Richard Garner is JHR's journalism expert trainer. He officially launched the Vision at their two-year anniversary celebration.

"It's been an absolute privilege for me to work with these unbelievably beautiful and committed human beings and journalists, not only a professional privilege but a personal honor," Garner said. "I've been working for 15 years as a journalist, and I can tell you, if I live to be 150 and if I work another 100 years as a journalist, I will never accomplish anything near the level of what has been accomplished by these people here at this camp."

Garner challenged people to find another newspaper in West Africa that surpasses the quality of the Vision.

"Obviously I work in this business. I understand the enormous challenge it is to found and run a newspaper anywhere in the world where you have the resources and an environment where it's conducive to do it, and still it's tremendously difficult," he said. "I defy you to find one that absolutely outshines the way this paper looks, the way it's written, and the heart that goes into it. It's literally a miracle. If you are not inspired by this story, you should see a doctor, and get a heart transplant because this is what inspiration is all about. This is what journalism is all about."

Increasingly Active Young Voters Are a Gift to Democrats

Democrats have been given a gift -- and for the most part -- they don't even know about it. While party regulars spent the 2004 elections courting "the base" -- worrying about the soccer moms and office park dads -- a large group of voters turned out for Democrats without the party's paying any attention to them at all.

This group was the only one to give a majority to John Kerry, and 73 percent of them are planning to vote this year. Who is this magical group? Young people. Despite years of neglect by the Democratic Party, this new generation of young voters actually likes us. In fact, they are more progressive than any other age group.

Yet most Democratic campaigns spend next to nothing reaching out to young people. They pass over this receptive voting bloc because outdated conventional wisdom says that young people don't vote and it's a waste of time and money to try to target them. In fact, even in the face of incontrovertible evidence -- that 18- to 30-year-olds do and will vote for Democrats -- the most recent polling memo from Democracy Corps does not even mention reaching out to young voters at all, and less than 10 percent of the poll sample was under the age of 30.

In 2004, several outside groups ignored the advice of the Washington establishment and made young voters a priority. The results: 18- to 30-year-olds were the only age group to vote for John Kerry and turned out in the largest numbers since 1992. And then in 2005, a few outside groups attempted to turn young people out for Gov. Tim Kaine in Virginia and it worked again. But this time, the effort was large enough to help push the candidate past 50 percent plus one.

It occurs to me that we might be on to something here. We might have an actual strategy for returning Democrats to a majority party that depends on something other than trying to swing a few evangelicals and trying to win on a message that consists of little more than "we're not them."

Here's why Democrats would be smart to invest in young people:

1. They actually like us. This is the only age group that voted for Kerry.

2. They will vote if we reach out to them effectively. Young people had the largest increase in voter participation of any age group in 2004.

3. There are a lot of them -- 60 million to 70 million. This generation is almost as large as the Baby Boomers.

4. This is most diverse generation ever in America. One in three is a racial minority.

5. We keep losing when we write young people off. Democrats have to try something new if we expect a different result.

The numbers alone make it clear that this group could not only make an electoral difference immediately, but -- more important -- losing them now could mean losing them for the rest of their lives.

We decided that getting young people involved, aware and persuaded would be the best long- and short-term investment we could make. Nearly every Washington insider who came through our office told us we were wasting our money because young people don't vote and when they do it is for Republicans. Worse, we were accused of being dangerous for drawing money from allegedly proven programs to the ones that are way too risky.

Rather than allowing this sort of thinking to become a self-fulfilling prophecy, we chose to ignore this advice and invest in things we thought had the chance of working. That has turned out to be our smartest political decision yet. Our investment in young people delivered the greatest bang for the buck of any political investment we have ever made.

So now that the numbers are in, why isn't the DNC making a major investment in young people? Why does College Democrats continue to have a budget so small that it can't support more than a couple staff people? Does the Democratic Party know of another untapped, massive progressive voting bloc that we could mobilize?

If you look at how Howard Dean is spending his time, I'd have to guess he thinks evangelicals are the key for Democrats. To that I say good luck, and let me know how it went for you in December 2006 when we may be wondering why voters abandoned the Democrats again in the final months of the campaign. Then, I will once again suggest that it might be easier and more effective to turn out young people who actually agree with us than to change an evangelical's mind.

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