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Active Youth in South America
Chris Strohm

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 said.

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 efforts.

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 on terrorism.

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 Racism.

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 said.

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 America.

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."

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