Sunday, September 30, 2007
The Next Generation: Presente
As the First Ladies of CODEPINK were coming together in 2002, I was thinking about where and how I would go to college. Like many teenagers at the time, I witnessed the events of September 11, 2001 live in French class. I watched footage of the invasion of Iraq in history class. I participated in discussions during lunch with teachers and fellow students, the majority of which enthusiastically supported US military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. Living in West Virginia, many of these students would follow in the footsteps of their parents and grandparents and enlist in the armed forces having very little understanding of the effects of war on the human body, mind, and spirit. In addition to the typical talks on drugs and safe sex, my high school also sponsored several appearances by and speeches from military recruiters proposing enlistment as a career option. I, myself, was dating a guy in the National Guard. In all of the speeches, films, debates, and conversations there was very little representation of and even blatant disdain for internationalist, pacifist, or feminist stances. I remember feeling alienated and unsure. This feeling continued and grew through college in rural West Virginia.
I learned in university-level political science courses that in addition to structural and legal explanations for America’s low voter turnout, there are also psychological. Like many people my age and those who lived through the Civil Rights Era, I used to believe that my generation is more apathetic and alienated than any previous group of American youth. I was not taught, however, a means of overcoming these deleterious psychological effects. Out of some strange combination of hope, disgust, and anger I took off for Washington, DC to participate in the events of September 15, 2007. Like many of my fellow progressive-minded youth, I dreamt of traveling back in time to an era where people of all races, classes, and genders came together in mass for a common objective. It was there that I discovered CODEPINK in addition to many other groups campaigning for social justice. It was there that I discovered an active youth culture which betrays the notion that my generation can only sit around and bitch about our problems. Having been raised as the first with the Internet to connect to the whole world, my generation is also subject to voyeurism. Until September 15th, I had only known of these groups through the Internet and not as real, powerful, passionate people. After marching through the streets, I joined several thousand on the lawn of the Capitol building just before the police barricades. I looked around, and realized I’d found what everyone said no longer existed. It was beautiful.
For the demonstrations on September 29th, I wanted a more intimate exposure to the peace movement. Desperate to work with a group of both feminist and antiwar orientation, I decided to stay at the CODEPINK house for three days. I was amazed and elated as I was greeted by leading members of CODEPINK as a friend and an equal. I could not believe that I was hugging Medea Benjamin and other women involved in struggles for peace and social justice; that I was marching with women I never thought I’d meet in person. I am amazed above all with the warmth, accessibility, and organization of this group. Anyone who doubts the passion and social involvement of young women today can alleviate those concerns with a visit to various CODEPINK efforts or even a stay at the DC house.
“What do we want? PEACE! When do we want it? NOW!” This was one of our many demands as we marched through the streets of DC on the 29th. What a way to become acquainted with our capital! Having read about the disagreements between feminist, pacifist, and revolutionary groups of all races during the 1960s and 1970s, I expected some conflicts among various special groups of the peace and social justice movements. I am surprised and happy to say that this conflict did not occur. In fact, at the end of the formal march, a group comprised of possibly 75 members of SDS, FIST, Troops Out Now Coalition, individual protestors, and CODEPINK members converged to block the intersection of Constitution and Pennsylvania. Though some veterans of the peace movement were present, the majority of this group represented a multifaceted bunch of young people. We held the intersection, without direct police interference for roughly six hours. Six lanes of traffic in downtown DC were blocked off by this nation’s emerging and growing progressive youth for at least 6 hours. Once we realized the police were not prepared to intervene, we ordered pizza, set up tents, played music, and danced in the streets. We made sure that the police and those passing by knew one undeniable fact: these streets are OUR streets. Around 9PM, we collectively decided to end the protest on a positive, energetic, and victorious note to be played again in the future. The experience was nothing short of magical.
To young women and men wondering if they are alone in their dreams of ending wars of racist imperialism, the objectification and exploitation of women and the working class, the lack of affordable, quality health-care and viable progressive politicians in office, I have one strong message for you. YOU are the ones which must change this nation. We cannot leave this up to veteran members of various grous; we cannot simply watch Cindy Sheehan, CODEPINK, Troops Out Now coalition, ANSWER, and IVAW demanding change and facing arrest on television and the Internet. We must join them in the streets, in the halls of Congress, and anywhere else we can get major media coverage and make a large impact. If we do not, we become the next generation of apathetic complacency. We are the next generation of peace and social justice activists, and there are warm, passionate people waiting to welcome and assist you. Let’s see what we can do on October 21st and 22nd!