‘Power of Youth’ Unleashed

Published in The Tyee | September 1, 2012 | Circulation: 340,000 unique monthly visitors

Is today’s youth generation apathetic and self-indulgent?

That myth was busted last night at a packed, standing-room-only book launch for a new anthology about the “power of youth” and how to build movements for change.

Young activists from across the country spoke about their passion for climate justice, indigenous solidarity and strengthening a sense of community in a society being ripped apart by inequality and oppression.

“There’s this myth in our society that young people are apathetic,” said Brigette DePape, co-editor of the book Power of Youth. “We’re told that we don’t care about anything but ourselves — we’re the ‘Me Generation,’ we only care about our Starbucks and our MacBooks — and I have seen exactly the opposite in my experience.

“I have seen young people who care so deeply about the people around them, the environment, social justice, racial justice and independence struggles. They are actively putting forward their vision for a better world.”

DePape, who compiled and edited the book with Erika Shaker, said she was particularly inspired by young people worldwide — such as young activists who organized Egypt’s Tahrir Square uprising using social media, and helped spark the Arab Spring.

“I knew I had to do something, but I was really afraid,” she said, telling the story of her move to Ottawa in hopes of becoming a politician — and getting a job as a Senate page, delivering water to senators. On June 3, 2011, she did something: in page uniform and white gloves, she held up a stop sign with the words “Stop Harper,” before being removed and fired.

DePape, whose protest captured people’s attention — and imagination — from coast to coast, wrote for The Tyee about today’s movements for climate action as well as justice for missing and murdered Aboriginal women. (Find her Tyee articles here.)

“It was really through working with other young people and being part of a supportive and loving community that it gave me strength to be able to take action, and to shift paths,” she recalled. “I was inspired by young people around the world…. It’s really through being inspired by other young people that we are a very small part of a much larger movement.”

Breaking through ‘psychological isolation’

Published by Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), Power of Youth tells the stories of youth in a variety of movements and regions across the country.

“A lot of the way that capitalism functions is essentially to segregate people from each other, to perpetuate a kind of psychological isolation,” said Vancouver organizer Harsha Walia, one of the anthology’s authors and a founder of migrant justice group No One Is Illegal. “Ultimately, overcoming oppression and colonization means that we understand ways in which to live together with more fullness and purposefulness.

“There’s been a long-standing debate in terms of reformist versus revolutionary organizing. Those debates are real… but at a strategic level, those aren’t mutually exclusive. How do we imagine really visionary organizing — that really shifts the ideological terrain — where we’re talking about systemic issues like capitalism, colonialism and oppression, and not being afraid to name those systems, but also being able to win victories within those systems.”

Walia said that embracing anti-oppression — “actually understanding the diversity with which people live” — as well engaging in solidarity with indigenous people are vital to building stronger social movements.

“We have alternative media co-ops, bike stores, organic gardens,” she added, urging youth “to really think about how we can grow those decolonized spaces.” And, “How do we really integrate those spaces into our work?”

For Sean Devlin — from TruthFool Communications and one of the Power of Youth authors — the question of youth activism centres on whether people are willing to take risks for social change.

“We have a very small segment of the population taking huge risks for us collectively — either with the climate, banking, with scientific experiments or how we produce our foods,” he said. “They’re taking huge collective risks without our OK, in the name of individual profit.

“I realized, when I started working on climate [change], being surrounded mostly by people younger than myself, was that they weren’t as scared as I thought they’d be. They’re actually extremely courageous and very well organized…. They were taking individual risks in the name of the collective interest. That’s the moment we’re faced with: what are the individual risks we’re taking on a day-to-day basis in the collective interest?”

‘It’s a class conflict’: Quebec student activist

A surprise last-minute addition to the evening book launch — hosted by rabble.ca, CCPA and its Next Up intensive youth empowerment program — was a speech by Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, a former spokesperson for Quebec’s CLASSE student movement, which organized marches of hundreds of thousands of students this year against tuition rises and governments cuts.

He described meetings of 4,000 students or more — debating, discussing and voting to launch student strikes. In one story, a college staff person asked the students not to all leave at once following their meeting, because he wasn’t certain the building’s structure could handle the sudden shift of weigh.

“The actual conflict that occurred in Quebec in the last months was not a conflict of generations — a conflict between young and old,” he said. “It’s the kind of cliche the mainstream media love to say, but it really distracts from the source of the movement. For us, this movement is not generational…: it’s a class conflict.

“Our fight was not only to keep accessibility to education, which is obviously important — but also to keep capitalism from eating the last part of society which is not completely integrated into its logic…. It’s not a generational issue. But objectively, the mobilizing started and was sustained by students, who are in majority young people. There’s a generational aspect to the mobilization itself.”

The generational questions were raised, however, by anthology author Tara Mahoney, who started GenWhyMedia to “to create an alternative voice for our generation.”

“We based all our work on the idea that this generation is ready to see something new, they’re ready to help build it, and they’re ready to work together,” she said. “It’s just a matter of time.

“We reached that critical point — it’s already happening, in my mind, but the media doesn’t report it — there’s incredible things happening where people are building new energy systems and new ways of creating society…. A lot of things said about our generation are meant to keep us down and keep us feeling bad about ourselves — that we’re self-indulgent, self-focussed people. My experience has been the opposite.”

‘I have a voice now!’

The event was opened by Vancouver’s Kat Norris, with the Indigenous Action Movement, who described her own politicization as a young woman in Los Angeles.

“I’m very thankful for that, up to this day, because it helped me find myself, find my own opinions and thoughts,” she said. “I came back to what’s now called Canada with the thought and the feeling, ‘No one’s going to mess with me, because I have a voice now!’ I knew what I wanted to do for my people — to be a voice.

“I just to say to our youth: I’m very proud of you, and where you’re at. Some of us had to learn the hard way. It doesn’t matter who you are — what background you are, what your economic level is — we all have to learn all the lessons, whether it’s personal, educational, or whatever.”

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