By JAVIER ARMAS
“You can’t stop us!” “Prop. 21 is war on youth!” “We have the real power!” These are some of the many radical chants that hundreds of young people were repeating when they broke into a school in the Mission District of San Francisco.
This was called “the last showdown”-the last day of a week of protest that the organizers called the Week of Rage. Numerous youth organizations helped organize the week’s activities, as an expression of anger that many young people are feeling towards Proposition 21.
Proposition 21, which goes before California voters on March 7, would greatly expand law-enforcement measures against young people. For example, it would create new “gang” crimes and penalties-including a death penalty that could be applied to 14 year-olds.
The Week of Rage started on Feb. 21 in front of City Hall in Oakland, where many prominent hip hop artists performed and spoke out against this reactionary proposition. Before the music started, 60 adults acted in nonviolent civil disobedience in the Oakland police station.
The most prominent hip hop group, Dead Prez, made a profound impact on the young audience from their revolutionary lyrics and their knowledge of the political struggles Black people have faced.
Later, some 300 militant youth marched into the middle of an intersection and demanded the city release some of their older allies that had been temporarily detained for their civil disobedience action. Many young people felt greatly empowered when the police station partially capitulated to the demands and let a few of the adults out.
Throughout the rest of the week, similar cultural protests were taking place all over California. Many young poets and rappers were expressing themselves against our alienating society.
The main event these young activists were building for is the “freedom school,” “the final showdown.” On Feb. 26, hundreds of youth gathered at Dolores Park in San Francisco to be led to a “secret” school that they would “liberate.”
For hours there was music, poetry, and announcements that came from the stage. A 10-block march then ended when the participants broke into a middle school. People celebrated with music, food, and much socializing in this “liberated school.”
For about a half hour there was discussion about knowing your rights and about how not to incriminate yourself to the police. Other people spoke about how students have always been the backbone of revolutionary movements such as the Cuban and Vietnamese revolution.
All through the night, young people danced and celebrated the unity that was present between White, Black, Asian, Latino, and even Native American youth, with a sense of respect to keeping the heritage of the nationally oppressed from being marginalized from an inherently racist system.
Thus ended the Week of Rage.
It’s very healthy for young people, especially young people of color, to act and speak against their oppression. Unfortunately, taking over a school on a Saturday night is not going to make the situation better for the students who have to attend this school on Monday morning.
Also, as these cultural protests attract many youth, they do not have much of an impact on the adults who will be voting on the proposition. Many young people have resorted to this type of protest because they find the old left having rather “wak,” or non-stimulating, political events.
What needs to happen is a compromise where young people can be leaders, speakers, and organizers and feel that the unique culture of the hip hop generation (the label we have been given) can be incorporated into actions that include all social forces, groups, and individuals-regardless of age-who sympathize with the cause.
Having a broad-based movement with centralized actions will have the best impact on the powers who are pushing for such a reactionary proposition. This is the most profound way young people can fight back and begin a social movement that wins our democratic rights.
If you agree, join Youth for Socialist Action!
Student Protests Sweep Canada
By ADAM RITSCHER
The beginning of the month of February in Canada is usually marked by people trying to keep out the cold by holding their winter jackets a little bit closer, and resolving that they can and will defeat the blow and bluster of Old Man Winter.
This year though, tens of thousands of Canadian students decided to break the windy siege of winter with a coast to coast protest against the skyrocketing cost of higher education.
Braving wind and snow, over 20,000 students turned out for the Feb. 2 protest against federal cuts to public universities and colleges that was called by the Canadian Federation of Students. From Newfoundland to British Columbia, students organized demonstrations, teach-ins, and mock soup kitchens (to dramatize the difficulty of students to pay for both school and the basic necessities of life).
In York, Ontario, students erected a symbolic wall of debt with the names of hundreds of students and debts they had accumulated in trying to get through school. Actions were held in over 50 cities and towns across Canada.
The federal cuts in education come on the heels of a series of cuts in education spending over the last several years that total over $7 billion. In these years student tuition has risen so much that most students are forced to borrow tens of thousands of dollars in order to pay for their schooling. In fact the average debt of a graduating student in Canada is now estimated at $25,000!
At the same time that the government is making these cuts, the Canadian parliament is debating what to do with a $12 billion budget surplus. At the time this article was written though, the general sentiment of law makers in Ottawa was that this money should be given to several hockey teams to prevent them from leaving Canada!
These cuts in education are part of an overall attack upon working peoples standard of living, and as a result many working people and labor unions came out in support of the striking students.
Among the organizations that lent money, speakers, and support to the students were the Canadian Auto Workers; the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union; the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labor; and the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
Youth for Socialist Action salutes the Canadian student protesters. Attacks upon higher education are increasingly becoming the norm across North America.
Actions such as this one in Canada, along with recent battles in the United States and the dramatic and ongoing war being waged by UNAM students in Mexico City, point the way forward. We need to defend higher education, and only a militant mass action approach can be successful.