>New generation of activists learns nonviolent ways to create change
>SF Chronicle Friday, August 11, 2000
>Jesse Osorio hangs suspended by a rope 50 feet in
>the air, tightening the climbing harness that keeps
>him from falling. Once secured, he turns to watch as
>a procession of young activists below him advances
>up a dirt road waving banners and chanting,
>``Corporate power -- we say no.''
>A line of menacing figures in uniforms blocks their
>path. One burly uniformed man advances, shaking
>his nightstick like a schoolmarm. ``This is an
>unlawful assembly,'' he shouts. ``Disperse or you'll
>The activists respond by breaking into a chorus of
>``Joy to the World.'' Then a scuffle erupts. Officers
>wrestle protesters to the dusty ground, roughly
>handcuffing their wrists behind them. True to their
>nonviolent civil disobedience principles, the
>demonstrators go limp while their friends link arms
>and try to form a protective circle around them.
>``Freeze!'' calls a trainer. Demonstrators fall silent,
>the faux officers pull back their papier-mache billy
>clubs, and 18-year-old Jesse starts to rappel back
>If this were a real demonstration at next week's
>Democratic convention, he would be unraveling a
>banner down the side of a building. But right now,
>he just wants to reach the lunch line before the
>potato salad runs out.
>Training for the convention protests is in high gear in
>Malibu, where Berkeley's Ruckus Society is
>conducting role-playing exercises and workshops
>for high school and college students who want to
>make a difference in the world.
>Jesse and his fellow Ruckus campers are part of a
>growing number of young people responding to the
>call of nonviolent political activism. In an era
>marked by voter apathy, they are challenging
>generational stereotypes of dot-com kids out to
>make a quick buck or disenchanted outsiders
>content to slack off into oblivion.
>This summer's camp has a specific goal: Ruckus and
>other organizations such as San Francisco's Global
>Exchange, the Youth Action for Global Justice
>Network (JustAct) and the Rainforest Action
>Network are preparing attendees for protests
>outside next week's Democratic National
>Convention in Los Angeles.
>At the convention, which is expected to draw
>10,000 to 50,000 protesters, young activists will
>speak for myriad causes. What joins them is their
>opposition to corporate globalization, which they
>say promotes sweatshops and prison labor, flouts
>labor laws and human rights and destroys the
>Some, like Jesse, are veterans of the huge
>demonstrations against the World Trade
>Organization meeting in Seattle or the International
>Monetary Fund meeting in Washington, D.C.
>Others will be confronting teargas, pepper spray
>and plastic bullets for the first time.
>They will also be facing potential arrest: An
>estimated 385 people, including Ruckus Society
>Director John Sellers, were jailed during
>demonstrations at the Republican National
>Convention in Philadelphia. At one point, Sellers'
>bail was set at an astronomical $1 million.
>Young demonstrators are unfazed by such potential
>hazards. They just take more first-aid classes and
>train harder. No one ever promised that change
>would come easily.
>Victor Menotti, program director for the
>International Forum on Globalization, predicts that
>this generation of dedicated teenage and
>post-teenage activists have the potential to shift the
>country's political balance.
>``There's a desire,'' he says, ``to defy all the
>stereotypes about youth, . . . that they're apathetic,
>that they're slackers, that they're materialistic.
>Seattle was a call to action, to come and resist
>something, just as Vietnam was.''
>And like Vietnam, it's galvanized youth throughout
>the Bay Area.
>Jesse is into his third month as a San Francisco
>YMCA counselor. Today he stands surrounded by
>screeching 6-year-olds in front of the Commodore
>Sloat Elementary School, counting heads after a
>field trip to San Jose's Raging Waters Park. His
>dark chin-length hair cascades around his face as he
>untangles himself from a sea of tugging hands.
>``Gotta make sure they're having fun and not doing
>nothin' crazy,'' he says, herding the undersize kids
>toting oversize backpacks into the school
>gymnasium to wait for their parents. ``They're
>always trying to test that limit.''
>Jesse knows about testing limits. As a kid growing
>up South of Market and in Hunters Point, he spent
>as much time getting drunk and high as he did in
>school. He even joined a gang ``for a minute.''
>``There was no opening for me to get involved with
>something positive,'' he says. ``All I had was the
>streets, so I basically lived by the streets.''
>That changed when Jesse joined the Third Eye
>Movement, a Bay Area organization that was
>founded to fight last year's Proposition 21, a
>juvenile justice measure that many say singles out
>youths of color. Third Eye has grown since then and
>continues to organize activism within the hip-hop
>``My mom says you need to take care of family
>before you can go out there and take care of the
>world, and it's true,'' Jesse says, watching the urban
>scenery fly past on the freeway ride west to Hunters
>Point. ``You have to fix your community first before
>you take on global racism, sexism, patriarchy, white
>supremacy. It all starts with the family.''
>``Act locally, think globally'' is more than a handy
>slogan for Jesse. In the past year, it has increasingly
>become his life.
>In a converted dining area off the main room of the
>Osorio home, Jesse's bedroom literally smells like
>teen spirit. Posters promoting hip-hop concerts, the
>World Trade Organization protests and
>anti-Proposition 21 events share space on the wall
>with his graduation medals. Laundry lies scattered
>on the floor.
>Jesse pulls a large, silver letter ``K'' from his shelf
>and grins mischievously. ``This `K' came from
>Seattle. It was part of a Niketown sign.''
>His mother, Angelina Osorio, shakes her head. As
>petite and well-ordered as her two-bedroom
>house, she surveys Jesse's domain with large, sad
>brown eyes. ``My other son,'' she says, ``is very
>Jesse credits his mother for keeping him alive and
>healthy until he found his path as an activist. She
>moved to California from Mexico in 1968 and has
>devoted the past 17 years to supporting her five
>children and increasingly frail husband, who was 72
>when Jesse was born, on the thin salary of a nurse's
>``I guess I was lucky to have a tough mama who
>cared about me,'' Jesse says. ``She wasn't one of
>those parents who just tossed me out and let me do
>my own thing. No matter what crazy hell I brought
>home from school, she always cared about me and
>wanted me to get my education.''
>Cleaning his room is the least of the struggles
>Angelina and her youngest child have shared over
>the years. In middle and high school, Jesse was
>called on the carpet for cutting class and being
>habitually tardy; throwing water balloons at girls and
>drinking beer on school grounds; talking too much
>in class, and, most often, mouthing off to teachers.
>Angelina was, more often than not, beside herself.
>``I said, `Jesse, why do you talk to your teachers
>that way?' He said, `Mom, because I don't want to
>talk behind their backs. I want to tell them my
>feelings to their faces. And I don't like the way they
>treat us.' ''
>Jesse raises his head proudly. ``I don't like it when
>people abuse their power to get their own way,'' he
>responds. ``If you want to win, then win by your
>knowledge, not your power. Just because you can
>override other people doesn't make you right. I
>don't care if you're the top person in the world.''
>He learned how to deal with that sense of injustice
>when he transferred to McAteer High School for his
>senior year and discovered the Third Eye
>Movement. Suddenly, he says, his frustration found
>a focus as he learned about the roots of class,
>racism and what many teenagers regard as the
>criminalizing of youth through legislation such as
>``From the get-go, I knew I fit in perfectly. We
>were all mad at the world and were finding ways to
>channel that anger.'' Soon he was volunteering for
>HIV/AIDS education and other community
>``Instead of learning all the academic stuff, I learned
>about myself and what I wanted to do,'' he says.
>``Someone once told me that you can be a
>straight-A student and still flunk at life. Well, if I had
>to choose one, I'd rather get an A in life. I'd rather
>live happy and dumb than smart and lonely.''
>Third Eye introduced Jesse to a new world of social
>activism, from fighting gentrification to opposing
>corporate lobbies. When a coalition of Bay Area
>activists set out to protest the WTO in Seattle, he
>went along. What he saw there amazed him.
>``It was so cool,'' he recalls, smiling. ``It showed me
>for the first time how powerful people can be if they
>His mother would rather he had just stayed home.
>``When those things happened in Seattle, I was
>scared,'' she says of the WTO protests. ``I sat so
>close to that television, looking for Jesse. I was so
>worried about him. Even before he went, I said,
>`Jesse, I don't want you to go there. They put
>students in jail.
>`` `I don't want to see that happen to you.' He said,
>`Well, Mama, if they put me there, at least it's for
>something good.' ''
>She watches Jesse set up a game of Twister with his
>niece. ``I liked the way he talked, and I was proud
>of him, but I worry. Nothing happened to him,
>thank God. Then he told me he was going to Los
>Angeles. I said, `When are you going to stop this,
>Jesse? First Seattle, now Los Angeles. And then?' ''
>Jesse stops his game and sits quietly for a moment.
>``Mama, the way I see it, there's a revolution
>happening. We can't fix things overnight, so I guess
>whenever we see an opportunity to make some
>noise, we're gonna have to take it. We have to fight
>for what we think is right.''
>A pause. Then gingerly, his mother suggests, ``But
>couldn't you go to college first?''
>The sun is setting over the Pacific Ocean as the
>Ruckus campers prepare for dinner. The scent of
>braised tofu wafts through the cooling mountain air.
>Jesse, dying for a hamburger but reluctant to insult
>his friends' cuisine, sits on a bluff smoking a
>Chesterfield and contemplating the coming
>``We're making sure that we create actions that
>won't have a high tendency for people getting
>arrested,'' he says of Third Eye's contingent.
>``We're gonna have some folks who are under 18,
>so we want to make sure we bring them back.''
>Jesse surveys the hazy downtown L.A. skyline. ``I
>don't know what's going to happen down there, but
>I think we're ready, willing and able to sacrifice
>ourselves for what we believe in.''
>With a final drag, he crushes out his cigarette and
>heads back toward camp.
>Look for a follow-up about Jesse, Stella (see
>accompanying report) next week in The Chronicle's
>E-mail Neva Chonin at email@example.com.
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