By JAVIER ARMAS
California voters are faced with a decision this March-whether or not to pass Proposition 21. Many California youth are threatened and becoming politicized on this issue. What is Proposition 21, and why are young people so threatened?
Proposition 21 gives prosecutors, instead of judges, the power to send many juvenile cases to adult court, which will push more 16 and 17 year-olds into state prisons. It will allow law enforcement to define gangs as three or more people with “similar characteristics.” These “suspected gang members” are now subjected to legal wire tapping.
Youth will get a felony conviction for only $400 of vandalism while now it takes $50,000. This initiative will eliminate the confidentiality of youth records so an employer can pry into any crime a person committed when they were young.
It can impose a mandatory secure lockup for many juvenile offenders regardless of the need for treatment. It will impose a 180 day jail time for misdemeanor gang offenses as well as creating a death penalty for certain “gang” offenses.
The California Department of Corrections has estimated that Proposition 21 will require 22,000 new prison spaces over the next 30 years at a cost of $1 billion. The crime rate of youth has been decreasing steadily in the last 10 years.
Those who understand what creates crime and what prevents it understand that this initiative is not going to lower crime; that’s why the Chief Probation Officers of California are against this initiative.
So why are young people facing such a reactionary proposition? If the rate of crime is not high, why are politicians and the media portraying young people as criminals and violent offenders?
This is happening for two reasons. One is that while the mainstream media is boasting about “the best economy ever,” working people are suffering from hidden unemployment, wretched poverty, and a high cost of living. As the working class and even many middle-class people suffer, the ruling class needs to create new scapegoats to divert their growing anger.
They are now pointing the finger at youth and saying that this is the group that is responsible for society’s problems. Since young people have few legal rights, they become the perfect scapegoat.
The second reason is that of direct profits. Prisoners have a certain account of money to buy products in the jails. In 1995, California had $64 million in prisoners’ accounts. This money doesn’t just collect dust.
AT&T estimates that prisoners spent $1 billion in long-distance calls in 1995. The Corrections Corporation of America, whose revenue rose by 81 percent in 1995, is listed as one of the top 200 small businesses by Forbes magazine.
Sending people to prison is creating a large market for capitalism. Sending young people to adult prison is ideal for the capitalists, who will do anything to make a profit.
This March we must explain to people what is really behind this initiative and not let it become law. VOTE NO ON PROP 21!
Even if this initiative is passed, young people have to realize that this system is against them and that a social movement is needed to win the rights we deserve. Politicians, lawyer groups, and liberal teachers are not the ones who have the capabilities to win these rights.
Only if we mobilize thousands of young people to struggle in a movement that is independent of the Democrats, Republicans, and other ruling-class institutions can we win and protect our rights.
Los Angeles Conference Attracts Radicalizing Youth
Around 65 people turned out on Jan. 23 for the first ever YSA-sponsored Southern California educational conference. The conference attendees, predominantly youth, got a full day’s dose of the politics of Youth for Socialist Action and Socialist Action.
The first of three sessions was called “capitalism and war.” The speaker was Carole Seligman, the National Secretary of Socialist Action, and she delivered a piercing analysis of the dynamics, motives, and history of war under capitalism.
Youths attending this session got a great lesson in what the forces behind capitalism are that cause war, and what we as revolutionary socialists can do to stop it.
The second session, given by San Francisco YSAer Paul M., was titled “Which way for the youth movement: why we need to build a revolutionary youth group.”
The impressive speech dealt with explaining and learning the lessons of the Leninist strategy of party building, and applying them to the youth movement.
The fruitful discussion that followed Paul’s talk proved the interest and education that the youth got out of it.
The last session, on the World Trade Organization, was given by Jeff Mackler, who is a national committee member of Socialist Action and one of the head organizers of the movement to defend Black prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal.
The talk dealt with the significance of the Seattle anti-WTO protests, the debate over free trade versus protectionism, and the state of the world economy. Again, great interest was shown in the subject and talk by the number of youth there; many took part in the discussion afterwards.
Present at the conference were youth from Santa Monica, Santa Barbara, Irvine, San Francisco, and more. Perhaps most impressive was a delegation from the Socialist Student Union of Hamilton High School, who sent several members.
The Hamilton students are working closely with the Los Angeles YSA, and they are involved in their own struggle against the school administration to keep their organization alive.
The conference showed what the YSA has been saying all along: young people are beginning to question the present state of things, and this radicalization is giving us socialists a great opportunity to win them over to our ideas.
We can surely expect to see more of this in the future.
The YSA down here has a lot of upcoming activities.
We are holding a forum on the case of Elian Gonzalez this week, and we just initiated a student committee to organize some action around the case, including a protest in front of the Westwood federal building.
The YSA is also organizing a discussion class on the Nicaraguan revolution.
In addition, we helped to organize a teach-in for Mumia Abu-Jamal during the first week of February at UCLA. Speakers included Jim Lafferty (National Lawyers Guild, KPFK), Mike De la Rocha (UCLA student president), and Jeff Mackler. Over 100 attended the several-day event.
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