Posted by CODEPINK Staff
By Anna Kaminski
From the Climate March that occurred on Sunday, September 21, 2014 to the protests in Hong Kong to the ongoing struggle against police brutality in Ferguson, there is no denying that we are in a global moment characterized by widespread discontent. As an activist, it is both empowering and heartwarming to see people in the streets unifying under the belief that “we need change”. We do need change. Not only have the systems going unchecked led to a rise in police brutality and the normalization of racism, but it has also led to the normalization of gender-based violence, the radical destruction of the environment, and the grave abuse of state power.
Despite my sense of empowerment when looking at examples of student involvement - like students at St. Louis University coming out to join the Ferguson protests - I am hesitant to get overly enthusiastic about the results and wonder what will happen when students realize that they have a midterm coming up. While I do know that exposure to this culture of protest is ultimately a good thing, I wonder how long students will maintain their interest if they don’t have institutional support or a larger platform for sustained engagement.
The anti-war movement is currently trying to rebuild itself by reaching out to other movements and drawing connections between war and issues like climate change and police militarization. I recognize there has been little protest with regard to Obama’s new wars in Iraq and Syria. While protests under Bush drew millions, this time around, we’re lucky if 30 people show up. As the new DC Coordinator for CODEPINK, a women-led anti-war organization, I am bottomlining the new Youth Engagement Campaign and launch of a national Youth Action Network. This campaign aims to get students not just involved in the anti-war/human rights movement but interested in making connections and mobilizing for change across the wide spectrum of injustice. However, before I can even try to make a plan for getting students on board, I must first understand the reasons for a lack of their participation in movements, which frankly should be more popular.
Among seasoned anti-war activists, it is common to point to Obama’s election as the turning point when protests dropped off. This certainly has pertinence but it isn’t the only reason. At the time of Obama’s election, people mobilized by rallying for change, progress, and hope. Unfortunately, we not only got a strict adherence to the status quo of partisan politics, but we also got a grave abuse of executive power. This abuse of power and the maintained status quo have only further contributed to the lack of widespread youth involvement in calling for change.
Student pacification through our education system, coupled with a conscious fear of NSA spying, is one of the greatest contributing factors to the lack of student involvement. Student loan debt and the fear of being watched and penalized for being “radical” during college has pushed students to become careerists from early on. If you want to work in diplomacy, students feel that they must think twice before writing that op-ed for their college newspaper critical of our foreign policy. If you want to design greener airplanes and work for Boeing, you might think twice about getting involved with your college chapter of Greenpeace, which has been referred to by some as an “eco-terrorism” group. Finding a job at the end of your college career is a valid concern and legitimate cause of stress. At American University in DC, it almost seems poetic that the Department of Homeland Security is just across the street.
Furthermore, in many instances the flaws lie with the institution of education itself. In the social sciences, instructors must always remain unbiased, using real world occurrences such as the use of drone strikes on ISIL as an opportunity to teach about applying theory rather than coming up with solutions rooted in historical, political, social, or economic analysis of what is occurring on the ground. A protester on the Saint Louis University campus said it best in response to a police officer who, trying to keep demonstrators from entering the campus, said “Students are trying to get an education here.” One student responded defiantly, “This is an education.”
In addition to pacification by education, young people and adults have become pacified by entertainment media. The collective trauma of 9/11 on US citizens created an emotional vacuum which pop culture moved quickly to fill. The reality of war was replaced with reality television, which provided an opportunity for escapism and avoidance of the harsh reality of Bush’s war. Moreover, social networking services put the focus back on the individual, which has created a culture rooted in self-interest and even sometimes a normalization of vanity.
I certainly can’t condemn the reasons that movements have failed to sustain as I am also a product of my education and the post- 9/11 era social politics. All I can do is try to make a plan to support youth and find creative ways to re-engage them.
We must first realize that a demand for justice is simply not enough. Being opposed to war and racism is not enough; it serves to inspire but not to sustain. Movements framed in the negative only further disenchant younger generations. Instead of being “Anti” we must be “For.” We have to be “for” the solution but first we must imagine what that solution looks like. We must realize that the causes of climate change, racism, war, sexism, poverty are all intertwined. Basic principles of economics demonstrate that supply needs to meet demand. Today, the supply of reform must meet the demand of change. We need to creatively think of viable solutions, implementable alternatives, and work collectively on a roadmap for how to get there.
At CODEPINK we have worked on a Youth Manifesto, which clearly states our opposition to War and its correlation to issues across the spectrum of social change. While I ask the youth to join us in opposing war, I must also reiterate the most important point. We are not only opposed to war in a concrete sense, but we are opposed to the war on progress. When we say join us we mean “us” in a grander sense—be a part of the real movement for change, hope, and progress. We must learn from the activists who have come before us and continue to push forward. This manifesto is the step forward that as young people, we all need to take. The movement is restarting. Are you coming?
Anna Kaminski is the DC coordinator for the peace group CODEPINK, based in Washington DC as well as a visual artist. She is interested the correlation between art and politics and open source media. Get involved with CODEPINK and follow her on twitter @annaekay