Culture. Consciousness. Critical Thought.
We are the activist.
In the late 1990s, Left youth activism emerged from a stumbling stupor to showcase a passionate, creative movement of young people. Anti-sweatshop protests spread across the country’s college campuses with the speed and voraciousness of a tornado. Resistance to the increasing corporatization of public space, public goods, and public ethics became entrenched. Students formed alliances with labor unions, rebuilding bridges burnt in the 60s and 70s. A movement has taken form, with all the disparate parts – ranging from direct-action anarchists to police brutality activists – roiling around in the increasingly right-wing political culture of the US. We, too, are in the mix, as principled coalition partners and thoughtfully critical voices in the jumbled chaos of student politics.
Youth have always been important players in movements for social change. From the roles of the South African Student Congress and ANC Youth League in ending apartheid to British students’ part in reducing “third-world” debt through the Jubilee movement, young people have been vital parts of larger struggles, as well as building their own. It is clear that, in the US, significant political and social change will only come on the heels of a powerful, broad-based movement. By its very nature, that movement must be multi-racial and ethnically diverse; it must cross class lines; it must address the concerns of women, of the queer community. That we recognize this in no way means that we have come up with a means of overcoming it. To do that, student and youth activists must speak frankly about the barriers and divisions posed by race, class, gender, and sexual orientation.
As the progressive youth and student movement grows, it is increasingly important that there be a forum for critical debate and discussion within that community. Debate about the growth and future of youth political organizing is published regularly, but comes from the mouths and minds of those who have had little, if anything, to do with its genesis. It is time for that to change. It is time to open a space for youth and students to confront the issues they face in organizing; the activist is that space.
the activist must:
Encourage, develop, and give voice to the struggles within the young Left. This must be more than informative, it must be critical, thoughtful, and offer insight. It must stimulate and push forth dialogue about the strengths, weaknesses, direction, and priorities of young America’s progressive activist communities. Grapple with music, film, books, and the internet on our terms: young and bold, with a savvy ear and a politicized eye. Our generation is incredibly culturally attuned and we engage with culture on a political level as much as on an aesthetic one.
Our role as socialists
Significant, progressive social change in this country will only come from the work of a principled and broad-based coalition of organizations. Student movements do not erupt from a vacuum, but are led and fed by organizations; the anti-sweatshop movement was initiated and bolstered by union support. The success of the protests at the World Trade Organization in 1999 came not from a spontaneous conglomeration of interested parties, but from coherent, long-term planning on the part of organized labor, social rights organizations, youth organizations, and advocacy groups. We believe that a democratic socialist voice – which can articulate and defend the need for using public resources to solve social problems – has a place in that struggle.