Active Youth in South America
A masked teenage female stands in the center of a main bridge
leading to downtown Buenos Aires, Argentina, holding a homemade
wooden baton as she stares down local police and a line of traffic.
With every part of her being, this teenager from a poor barrio
outside Buenos Aires, who won´t reveal her name, is doing
everything she can to shut down a system she says only works in
the interest of a handful of people. Imprinted on her black mask
is the simple phrase: No Fear.
On this hot February summer day south of the equator, she is participating
in a militant road blockade with about 300 people from other barrios
around Buenos Aires. The group has occupied the bridge in order
to raise awareness about poverty and unemployment, which is getting
worse due to the collapse of Argentina's economy.
Physically, she is separated from youth in other cities and continents
who are fighting in their own ways for a better world. But ask
any young person who is fighting for justice, and they will tell
you their struggles are one.
"We are fighting a system that justifies the use of violence,
profits off of violence and uses violence to control populations
for profit," said Jai Jinh, an organizer with JustAct in San
Francisco, which coordinates global youth campaigns against militarization,
racism, and poverty.
Jinh facilitated a workshop at the World Social Forum in Porto
Alegre, Brazil in early February on how young people in different
countries are organizing against militarization. About 50,000 people
participated in the second annual World Social Forum from January
31 to February 5, with the aim of creating another world that is
based on justice and human dignity.
From Canada to Argentina, youth are organizing across borders
for justice and peace and against globalization policies that lead
to oppression and militarization.
In the United States, youth are building resistance to the war
on terrorism and to a political climate that has taken a dramatic
shift to the right since the September 11 terrorist attacks on
the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
"As of September 11, we realized the need to really focus
on the war on terrorism and to begin to organize around that in
our very different neighborhoods and in our very different communities," said
Nicole Burrows, an organizer with Listen Inc. in Washington, DC.
Burrows says her organization focuses on helping young people
of color who primarily live in poor communities develop leadership
skills and strengthen their community organizations.
"That work is really important on a national level because
young people are not always seen as leaders but also because even
when it's issues that affect us we're not even seen as constituencies," she
In Canada, students and activists are helping to coordinate
a global students´ strike
this November against the Free Trade Area of the Americas, which is a trade
liberalization agreement between every country in the Western Hemisphere except
Cuba. Students are hoping that workers will join them in the strike.
In Colombia, young people are fighting back against the U.S.-sponsored
Plan Colombia, which is funneling military and economic aid to
the Colombian government. Youth in Colombia say the aid is being
used in part to repress social justice movements and student organizing
Laura Moisa, an organizer with the Colombian Association of University
Students, says Plan Colombia is a military strategy to impose North
American imperialism in her country.
She said students in Colombia are coordinating a campaign to expose
the U.S.-backed war that is being waged against them and other
students in different parts of Latin America. She called on youth
throughout the Western Hemisphere to join with Colombians in a
common struggle, and to converge in Bogota in May for an international
protest against Plan Colombia.
"The youth in Colombia believe that peace will be achieved
with social justice for the world and for humanity if we all work
together to fight against imperialism and capitalism," she
said. "But we say that if imperialism wants a war, the people
are ready to wage a war to fight imperialism."
In Argentina, youth are at the forefront of struggles in response
to the economic crisis that is gripping the country.
In the poor barrios of Argentina, youth of all ages participate
in direct actions with their communities in which they blockade
roads to raise public awareness about poverty and unemployment.
During the actions, youth wear masks and carry homemade weapons
as they stand on the frontline of a blockade. People who participate
in the blockades are called "piqueteros," or picketers.
And within urban universities in Argentina, students are starting
to organize with workers and the unemployed in order to build coalitions.
However, regardless of which country they are from, youth say that repression
against their organizing efforts has increased since September 11, and they
believe things are going to get worse as the U.S. government expands its war
They agree that the bulk of their work needs to be focused on
doing public education campaigns to help people understand the
connections between globalization, militarization, and oppression.
"Ultimately, we're trying to use the whole issue of the war
as a means to build a broader movement and to expand young people's
understanding (and specifically young people of color) of the connections
between institutional racism, militarism, and poverty," said
Dustin Washington, an organizer with Youth Undoing Institutional
Youth also say they need to have a better understand of the culture
in different countries.
During the militarization workshop at the World Social Forum,
one person from Brazil said a youth group he works with erupted
into cheers when they first heard about the September 11 attacks
in the United States. He said he believes most Brazilians were
happy that the attacks occurred, but since have learned that there
is a huge difference between the U.S. government and the U.S. people.
"We have to make a distinction between the American government
and the American people; they are not the same thing," he
The World Social Forum received mixed reviews from those who attended:
some people loved it' some people hated it. Maude Prudhomme came
to Porto Alegre not for the official forum but to help coordinate
organizing strategies between students in North America and South
A college student from Quebec, Canada, Prudhomme said she learned
that youth in South America are very aware and very weary of economic
and cultural imperialism from the United States and Canada.
She said people often have the impression that people in the global
South should learn from people in the global North. But she said
her experience in Brazil helped her understand that people from
northern countries have much to learn from people in southern countries.
For example, she says youth in South America have a much higher
level of class consciousness than their counterparts in the North,
and are more embedded in their local communities when they do organizing.
"When you stop dominating then you can learn," she said. " When
you stop and realize that we have differences, then we all can learn."