[sixties-l] Fwd: Defying Convention: New Generation of Activists

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Tue Aug 15 2000 - 02:26:35 CUT

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    >Defying Convention
    >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
    >be arrested.''
    >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
    >to earth.
    >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
    >Proposition 21.
    >``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
    >join together.''
    >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
    >Democratic convention.
    >``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
    >convention coverage.
    >E-mail Neva Chonin at neva@sfgate.com.

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