Archive for the ‘Civil Society’ Category

14-Year Old Boy Stands Up for Gay People Everywhere

December 30, 2011

This boy gives me hope for the world.  He shows more wisdom, maturity and comfort than most people on this planet. We need more people like him, giving others the courage to talk about embracing who they are.

“I too hope that one day people can be judged not by the color of their skin or by the people that they love but by the content of their character.”

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Riley on Marketing

December 28, 2011

If YouTube existed back in the day, this probably would have been me captured on camera.  I never played with Barbies. I never got the point. I hated everything about princesses.  In fact, my favorite book was The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munch because it ends with the Princess telling off Prince Charming (Ronald) because after her castle burns down and she’s left with nothing to wear but a paper bag.  Ronald comments that she looks awful, and she lets him have it! I could never get enough of that book. And, my father probably got the most pleasure out of reading it with me.

I also very much resented baseball and football. Why couldn’t girls play them? So, without further adieu, I give you Riley… Sing it, sister!

It’s Time

December 22, 2011

Reshaping the Case for Foreign Aid

December 5, 2011

Tell ‘Em Joe Sent Ya

 

 

A Snapshot of the Current Sentiment of Millennials

November 14, 2011

Posted at 06:58 PM ET, 11/11/2011

Penn State, my final loss of faith

By Thomas L. Day

I’m 31, an Iraq war veteran, a Penn State graduate, a Catholic, a native of State College, acquaintance of Jerry Sandusky’s, and a product of his Second Mile foundation.

And I have fully lost faith in the leadership of my parents’ generation.


Penn State football coach Joe Paterno arrives home Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011, in State College, Pa. (Matt Rourke – AP)I was never harmed by Sandusky, but I could have been. When I was 15, my mother, then looking for a little direction for her teenage son, introduced me to the Second Mile’s Friend Fitness program. It was a program resembling Big Brother, Big Sister with a weekly exercise regimen.

Instead of Sandusky’s care, I was sent to a group of adults, many of whom were in their 20s. They took me from a C-student to the University of Chicago, where I’m a master’s student now. They took the football team’s waterboy and made a 101st Airborne Division soldier.

I was one of the lucky ones. My experience with Second Mile was a good one. I should feel fortunate, blessed even, that I was never harmed. Yet instead this week has left me deeply shaken, wondering what will come of the foundation, the university, and the community that made me into a man.

One thing I know for certain: A leader must emerge from Happy Valley to tie our community together again, and it won’t come from our parents’ generation.

They have failed us, over and over and over again.

I speak not specifically of our parents — I have two loving ones — but of the public leaders our parents’ generation has produced. With the demise of my own community’s two most revered leaders, Sandusky and Joe Paterno, I have decided to continue to respect my elders, but to politely tell them, “Out of my way.”

They have had their time to lead. Time’s up. I’m tired of waiting for them to live up to obligations.

Think of the world our parents’ generation inherited. They inherited a country of boundless economic prosperity and the highest admiration overseas, produced by the hands of their mothers and fathers. They were safe. For most, they were endowed opportunities to succeed, to prosper, and build on their parents’ work.

For those of us in our 20s and early 30s, this is not the world we are inheriting.

We looked to Washington to lead us after September 11th. I remember telling my college roommates, in a spate of emotion, that I was thinking of enlisting in the military in the days after the attacks. I expected legions of us — at the orders of our leader — to do the same. But nobody asked us. Instead we were told to go shopping.

The times following September 11th called for leadership, not reckless, gluttonous tax cuts. But our leaders then, as now, seemed more concerned with flattery. Then -House Majority Leader and now-convicted felon Tom Delay told us, “nothing is more important in the face of a war than cutting taxes.” Not exactly Churchillian stuff.

Those of us who did enlist were ordered into Iraq on the promise of being “greeted as liberators,” in the words of our then-vice president. Several thousand of us are dead from that false promise.

We looked for leadership from our churches, and were told to fight not poverty or injustice, but gay marriage. In the Catholic Church, we were told to blame the media, not the abusive priests, not the bishops, not the Vatican, for making us feel that our church has failed us in its sex abuse scandal and cover-up.

Our parents’ generation has balked at the tough decisions required to preserve our country’s sacred entitlements, leaving us to clean up the mess. They let the infrastructure built with their fathers’ hands crumble like a stale cookie. They downgraded our nation’s credit rating. They seem content to hand us a debt exceeding the size of our entire economy, rather than brave a fight against the fortunate and entrenched interests on K Street and Wall Street.

Now we are asking for jobs and are being told we aren’t good enough, to the tune of 3.3 million unemployed workers between the ages of 25 and 34.

This failure of a generation is as true in the halls of Congress as it is at Penn State.

Perhaps the most vivid illustration this week of our leaderless culture came with the riots in State College that followed Paterno’s dismissal. The display resembled Lord of the Flies. Without revered figures from the older generation to lead them, thousands of students at one of the country’s best state universities acted like children home alone.

This week the world found the very worst of human nature in my idyllic Central Pennsylvania home. I found that a man my community had anointed a teacher and nurturer of children, instead reportedly had them hiding in his basement. The anger and humiliation were more than I could bear. I can’t wait for my parents’ generation’s Joshua any longer. They’ve lost my faith.

Thomas Day is a graduate student at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago.

The Obama Generation, 1 Year Later

November 5, 2009

“Obama has been called a rock star, but this group’s experiences suggest that the campaign instilled a commitment to service, not a cult of personality.”

With nearly 6,000 staffers and tens of thousands of more volunteers, the Obama campaign didn’t just motivate people towards victory, they trained a generation of progressive leaders who will continue to imbue a culture of service and organizing.  This “progressive salesforce” can serve as an unbeatable force for the progressive movement — in both defining it and winning its battles — but we need increased engagement and means for these young people to translate the skills they learned on the campaign into productive, contributive careers.

The Obama Generation, Revisited:
The 2008 election galvanized young voters and organizers. One year
later, where are they?

 

Watch a video about the Obama youthquake, one year later, here.

Not everyone at President Obama’s healthcare rally at the University of Maryland on September 17 was as “fired up and ready to go” as he was. There were frat boys clowning around, students excited to see a president–any president–young men in matching T-shirts who were there solely because of their sheet metal workers union and one antiabortion activist with remarkable lungs. But it’s safe to say that on that drizzly day, the Comcast Center was packed with 12,000 mostly young people who supported the president and his healthcare plan. As the marching band played “Copacabana” not once, not twice, but three times, student volunteers made sure the spectators–some of whom had lined up at 5:30 am–stayed within the cordoned areas. Young women in Healthcare ’09 T-shirts craned to catch a glimpse of Obama, and after he finally emerged there was a cacophony of “I love you, Barack!”

On November 4, 2008, Barack Obama won 66 percent of voters under 30, increasing the Democratic share of the youth vote by 12 percent over 2004. Young people were among Obama’s earliest and most important supporters; people under 30, for example, represented Obama’s margin of victory in Iowa, the crucial first caucus. Rallies like this one, with thousands of young people putting their hands in the air for healthcare reform, are the most obvious indication of continuing youth enthusiasm for the president. Plenty in the crowd had volunteered for his campaign, including Eric Stehmer, 28, a University of Maryland graduate who has been unemployed for a year and has only catastrophic health coverage; Mouhamad Diabate, 21, a U of M student who canvassed for Obama and has several thousand dollars in medical bills that he’s trying to ignore; and Chrisi West, 30, an enthusiastic Virginia “supervolunteer” whose parents lost their home when she was a child after her father got sick, and who seemed to know all the student volunteers from their work together on the campaign.

West had never touched politics before Obama, and now she’s addicted, continuing to volunteer thirty-five hours a week for Organizing for America, the DNC group that grew out of the Obama campaign. The extraordinary impact of Obama’s election on young people is not limited to supporting his legislative priorities. It’s harder to measure than the audience at a rally, but the campaign is the reason, for example, a former professional cellist is now a union organizer and a former firefighter is an environmentalist. It galvanized a generation of first-time volunteers, and a year later many of them are still working for change they can believe in–which doesn’t necessarily mean they’re working for Obama himself.

In interviews with thirty young people around the country who worked on the Obama field campaign, almost all said that they continued their activism well after the endorphins of winning wore off. Obama has been called a rock star, but this group’s experiences suggest that the campaign instilled a commitment to service, not a cult of personality. Though many former campaigners are still fans and several now work for the Obama administration, most are less interested in Washington politics than they are in community organizing. As former staffer Marcus Ryan, 25, says, “Once you turn on that community organizing perspective, it’s hard to turn off.”

According to experts and campaign veterans, the Obama for America field operation hooked its workers on organizing in a way never seen before. As former New Mexico staffer Elizabeth Kistin, 28, puts it, “The candidate gets people in the door, but it’s the campaign that keeps them coming back.” The Obama for America catchphrase was “Respect, Empower, Include,” and the campaign offered young volunteers responsibility galore.

Still, not every worker had the same transformative experience. By all accounts this was the most diverse presidential field campaign ever, but it was largely white, middle-class college graduates who had the time and means to move from swing state to swing state as volunteers. Many of them earned staff positions as a result. But despite its weaknesses, the campaign seems to have achieved the near impossible: making crunchy old community organizing sexy. The question is: what will these freshly minted young organizers do with their new skills?

After the election, about half of the thirty interviewees are in school or returned to their old jobs, but the lives of the other half completely changed. Four work for the administration, five started their own Washington nonprofit, two are full-time organizers, two are organizers in training and one joined Teach for America. Three who were at different stages of becoming lawyers now have other plans. The interviewees joined the campaign for many reasons: because they identified with Obama, because they were sick of complaining, because they were antiwar, because they wanted healthcare reform, because they felt guilty for not helping John Kerry, because they loved Michelle.

Though most of them uprooted themselves and dedicated at least a month to the campaign, some integrated their activism into their everyday lives. Lana Wilson, 26, of New York, held a series of “Obamaerobics” fundraisers and sold Barack Your Body T-shirts to raise money for the campaign. Anthony Williams, 22, of Cincinnati, hired a white limousine to take people to the polls during a voter registration gig. Sgt. Mike Buchholz, 23, started a Soldiers for Obama Facebook group while he was in training at Fort Gordon, Georgia.

Longtime political observers are in awe of what Obama accomplished. “I spent most of my adult life where you say, Young people don’t vote,” says Democratic strategist Paul Maslin. “Now we have to throw aside those assumptions. That’s a terrific thing. Obama took what we did with [Howard] Dean to new heights. People clicked in and clicked on. That activism can’t be switched off easily.”

Professor Peter Dreier of Occidental College, who trained workers during the campaign and teaches community organizing, says that the key change from previous presidential elections is the difference between marketing a product and activating a community. “This campaign was about building relationships among people that last beyond election day,” he says. Partly because of the never-ending primary battle, Obama for America had offices in rural areas that had previously been ignored by candidates. In New Mexico, for example, the Obama campaign had thirty-nine offices in advance of the general election, compared with Kerry’s sixteen in 2004. But beyond the many warm bodies, there was the strategy that empowered them.

While the Edwards and Clinton campaigns skipped young people in favor of reliable older voters, former youth director Hans Riemer poured resources into cultivating the youth of Iowa. His team developed the Barack Stars program, which targeted 17-year-olds who would be eligible to participate in the caucuses. “Our whole student program was run by volunteers,” says Riemer, who previously worked for Rock the Vote. “Barack represents a thousand different answers to what young people were looking for,” he says. “Who he is, his background, the issues he’s worked on, his vision, his style.” Riemer and other strategists developed a campaign climate that kept volunteers coming back. Field organizers around the country built comfy offices that became rec centers for young people.

To veteran activists used to running campaigns on a shoestring, Obama for America’s volunteer-driven strategy wasn’t rocket science, but it was breaking news to the establishment. Volunteers on most large-scale campaigns can expect to phone-bank or door-knock and not much else. But on the Obama campaign, they could be promoted to several key roles: team leader, campus captain, data coordinator, phone-bank captain or house party captain. The local field organizer would meet with a prospective volunteer one-on-one; this initial conversation usually involved storytelling, during which the staffer explained what brought him to the campaign and then asked the volunteer for her story. From there, he would ask her to commit to something: hosting a house party or recruiting other volunteers, for example.

“What was so remarkable about the Obama field campaign is that it took a leap of faith in ordinary people,” says Zack Exley, the former organizing director for MoveOn.org and the Kerry campaign’s online communications director. “For thousands and thousands of young people, it was the first big responsibility they took on.” Nicole Derse, 31, the training director of Organizing for America, agrees. “Our success as a campaign depended on young people’s leadership,” she says. “At Penn State, we told our volunteers, ‘If you don’t organize your dorms, they’re not going to get organized. If you don’t get them registered to vote, they probably won’t vote.’ Young people aren’t expected to do that.”

While many staffers and volunteers speak of the excitement in the campaign offices, the work wasn’t always fun. Zerlina Maxwell, 28, who took a year off from law school at Rutgers to work as a field organizer in Virginia, experienced the highs and lows. The high was Karl, a dedicated 89-year-old volunteer who arrived early for every Saturday-morning canvass. The low happened when she knocked on a door on a quiet street in Yorktown. “This woman said, Nigger, get off of my porch and take your shit with you!” says Maxwell. “She threw the literature back at me and slammed the door.”

Maxwell wasn’t the only young worker to experience racial tensions while working on the campaign for the first black president. Speaking off the record, many African-American staffers and volunteers noted that the static wasn’t just with belligerent voters. Some mention a lack of respect on the part of young white field organizers for fellow organizers or local volunteers, some of whom had much more experience. In some states, white field organizers were sent into any and all communities, but black organizers worked only in African-American areas.

Others were frustrated by the weaknesses of the campaign’s mostly young, inexperienced staff. Obamaerobics instructor Lana Wilson volunteered in Toledo, Ohio, for six weeks before the election and wasn’t entirely sold. “They had limitless energy and enthusiasm,” she says. “But they had no office experience and no experience delegating tasks or making people feel appreciated. I thought, There’ll be an arrogant generation of people saying, ‘I worked on the Obama campaign.'”

Wilson needn’t worry too much about their egos. Though some campaign staffers now work for the administration or nonprofits, it turns out that in this economy a year as a field organizer isn’t the résumé boost some may have hoped for. Young organizers emerged from victory into a full-blown recession, with high unemployment, huge cuts in the nonprofit sector and a 21 percent decrease in internships nationwide. Much of the scaffolding for civic engagement and the entry-level positions that come with it had shrunk or disappeared.

Plenty of former staffers went back to previous gigs or enrolled in grad school, but some faced bleaker prospects. According to Demond Drummer, 26, a field organizer during the primaries in South Carolina, one of his most dedicated volunteers was a high school student who got to chair a meeting with Obama’s sister. That young man had a history of discipline problems in school, and he is now behind bars (Drummer’s not sure why); he will be out this month. “He’s a leader, but he had nothing else to do after the election,” says Drummer. In Kansas City, Missouri, where he lives, Exley sees former superstar field organizers working at coffee shops.

Exley, whose New Organizing Institute offered fellowships to several former field organizers, including Drummer, believes that Obama campaign veterans represent an extraordinary talent pool for the progressive movement. “On the right, they always suck up talent after elections to keep them warm and employed with healthcare until the next campaign,” he says. “I think [progressive] groups didn’t understand that the experience of being an Obama field organizer was something special and enriching, because on other campaigns people didn’t really get much out of it. In most places, the Kerry field campaign didn’t give young staff or volunteers a disciplined, accountable experience. The Obama field campaign was in most places an incredible work experience for young people.”

Absent any systematic attempts to recruit them, hundreds of Obama campaign vets flocked to Washington in hopes of finding work in the administration or the many nonprofits headquartered there. Many remained unemployed as the administration’s hiring process dragged on: after working for months with no days off, they found themselves on an extended unpaid vacation in an expensive city, draining their savings accounts.

Some who survived the long wait were rewarded with administration jobs. Hallie Montoya Tansey, 29, known for her work as field director for the League of Young Voters, joined the Obama campaign early and was a deputy field director in Wisconsin for the general election. She’s now a confidential assistant to the chief of staff of the education secretary.

At The Nation’s request, Montoya Tansey compiled a list of 101 young staffers and dedicated volunteers she’d met while on the Obama field campaign. Their current occupations offer some insight into where field campaign grads have gone since the election. Of the 101 she profiled, about 70 had never worked on a political campaign before. Since the campaign, sixty-three have found jobs within the administration and its many departments. A former drug and alcohol counselor works for the Office of Drug Control Policy; a former producer on MTV’s The Hills was hired as a data manager at the DNC. Another nine have taken jobs on new campaigns or with elected officials. Others are back in school, unemployed, working for nonprofits or waiting tables. (Montoya Tansey’s sample is consistent with reports from other former field organizers.)

Since the election, two of the thirty campaigners I spoke with have worked on Organizing for America’s campaign for healthcare, and another, Nicole Derse, has a role in running it. Marianne von Nordeck, 29, is a former concert cellist who’d never participated in politics before. She was mentored by Derse during the primaries in Massachusetts and New Hampshire–“Nicole totally changed my life,” says von Nordeck–and went on to work as the field director of a State Senate campaign in the general election. She now works as a healthcare organizer for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), a union with 1.6 million members nationwide. Von Nordeck went a year without asthma inhaler refills because she had no health insurance, so the issue resonated with her.

“I couldn’t go back to what I did before,” she says. “We didn’t all drop what we were doing and change our lives just because we liked Obama. We wanted to move the country forward.” Of the nineteen campaign coordinators AFSCME hired last spring to work on healthcare reform, fifteen are Obama campaign veterans.

Not all of the former field campaign workers have von Nordeck’s zest for policy change, but even if they’re not active community organizers, several hope to return to organizing as soon as they can get jobs in the field. Many interviewees emphasized that the campaign gave them a new sense of community.

That’s true for Mike Jones, 20, a sophomore at New York University. Jones was one of the young superstars of the primary season; he fundraised in order to volunteer for the campaign (“Working for free is very expensive,” he says) and was eventually hired as a field organizer. He worked in Nevada, Texas and his home state, North Carolina–all while he still had braces on his teeth. “If I had emerged from the campaign with only a reinforced political ideology I would have been missing the point,” says Jones. “Before, I didn’t think of community as an instrument for achieving.” Over the years, Jones’s sense of community has been shaky. Because of his parents’ financial difficulties, he spent high school in a Christian group home called Crossnore, which supported him financially during the campaign as well as in college.

Jones received an undergraduate research grant from NYU that he’s now using to invest in the community he left behind. He interviews young residents of group homes in California, New Jersey and North Carolina about how they construct their personal histories despite their transient lives. It’s a skill he developed on the campaign during those crucial one-on-one meetings with volunteers. “It was the experience of sharing a personal narrative with a complete stranger that laid the foundation for the organizing,” he says.

It’s clear that the Obama campaign has had a striking impact on the paths of young people who had never been involved in politics before. Until November 2007, Marcus Ryan was a firefighter with the Tatanka Hotshots in South Dakota. When he heard Obama’s speech during the New Hampshire primary, he says, “The hairs raised on the back of my neck. I realized something’s happening in America, and you either answer that call or you don’t.” The 25-year-old joined the Obama campaign as a volunteer in Texas. By the time of the general election, he was on staff as the regional field director in Miami. On November 4, after the election had been called for Obama, Ryan strategized with fellow campaign workers over rum and Cokes about how to use green jobs to fight poverty. Soon after, he and several other young Obama veterans came up with the DC Project, which aims to generate demand for green jobs [see “DC’s New Green Shoots,” page 17]. “It’s more exciting now, because the campaign was a promise of what was possible,” he says. “And now we’re trying to make sure that promise is granted.”

Caroline Gibbons, 22, had never voted before; she was eligible in 2004 but didn’t change her registration from Queens, where she grew up, to the Bronx, where she was studying at Fordham University. “I’m very liberal and outspoken, but I thought of elections as something for the wealthy and well connected,” she says. That changed her senior year. She’d been a fan of Obama’s since his 2004 DNC speech, and starting in the fall of 2007 she registered voters on street corners. After graduating, she forfeited her law school deposit and accepted a Teach for America position instead. “I thought I’d be a hypocrite if I took the ‘When in doubt, be a lawyer,’ route,” she says. In August 2008 Gibbons started as a second grade teacher in Coahoma County, a poor area in the Mississippi Delta. She changed her registration and drove people to the polls on November 4; the county went 73 percent for Obama. “My students think he’s the best president we’ve ever had,” she says. “Teaching is one way the momentum I felt from the campaign is actually carried out, day to day. These kids can keep it going.”

Some of the first-time volunteers are like Chrisi West: still behind Obama 100 percent–she phone-banks and campaigns for healthcare with Organizing for America at the same farmers’ markets she visited before the election, on top of her full-time job at a nonprofit. But others have been disappointed by the president on issues like civil liberties, the Iraq War, the presence of usual suspect lobbyists or because of the way the White House handled the Van Jones case. For Arizonan Jake Harvey, 20, who dedicated much of his freshman and sophomore years at Northern Arizona University to the field campaign, it’s gay rights.

Almost a year after the election, Harvey, who was diagnosed in April with leukemia, has mixed feelings about Obama’s presidency. “I still have a box of campaign gear and newspaper clippings from 2007 that I will one day share with my children, grandchildren and the students I teach,” he says. “But now that he’s been in office for nine months, I’ve become a little more cynical. As a gay person, I am holding him to the fire to deliver.”

Before the election, Harvey wasn’t in the legislative loop. He is now, and as soon as he’s recovered from chemo, he plans to get more involved in gay rights organizations focusing on issues like “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Like everyone interviewed for this article, Harvey had his own reasons for devoting a year to Obama. But though the interviewees’ priorities are different, the skills they developed are similar, as is the sense that they can organize communities to win.

This is the “Yes We Can” generation. Working on the Obama field campaign has given them an unrestrained, sometimes naïve optimism, and if Obama indoctrinated them with anything, it’s a belief in the power of civic engagement. Some plan to use the tools they learned to hold the man they elected accountable. More want to advance their own issues on their own terms. But none of them want to be Associate No. 27 at a corporate law firm. They’re just hoping somebody notices and offers them a job.

About Elizabeth Méndez Berry

Elizabeth Méndez Berry, an award-winning journalist, has written about culture and politics for publications including the Washington Post, the Village Voice and Vibe. more…

Secretary Clinton Announces Civil Society 2.0 Initiative to Build Capacity of Grassroots Organizations

November 5, 2009

Really promising initiative launched from the State Department earlier this week.  You know that when State is making technology and civil society a priority that it’s really hitting home.

Marrakech, Morocco
November 3, 2009

In her remarks today to the Forum for the Future, Secretary Clinton announced Civil Society 2.0, which will help grassroots organizations around the world use digital technology to tell their stories, build their memberships and support bases, and connect to their community of peers around the world.

Building the capacity of grassroots civil society organizations will enable them to do the work that, in the past, Western NGOs and governments have done. With increased capacity, communities are better able to initiate, administer and sustain their
own programs and solutions to shared problems.

“Civil Society 2.0” includes the following components:

  1. Deploying a team of experienced technologists to work with civil society organizations around the globe to provide training and support to build their digital capacity. The competencies developed in the trainings will include:
    • How to build a website
    • How to blog
    • How to launch a text messaging campaign
    • How to build an online community
    • How to leverage social networks for a cause
  2. Partnering these technologists with local civil society organizations and governments to develop and implement
    technology-based solutions to local problems.
  3. Publishing interactive “how to” programs and curriculum online to help organizations that do not have access to in-person assistance.
  4. Creating a curated open platform that allows any citizen or company to develop, share or suggest content for the curriculum.
  5. Allocating $5 million in grant funds for pilot programs in the Middle East and North Africa that will bolster the new media and networking capabilities of civil society organizations and promote online learning in the region.

The United States is a strong supporter of civil society around the world. Civil society activists and organizations work to improve the quality of people’s lives and protect their rights, hold leaders accountable to their constituents, shine light on abuses in both the public and private sectors, and advance the rule of law and social justice. They are key partners for progress.

The Forum for the Future is a joint civil society initiative of the countries of the Broader Middle East and North Africa region (BMENA) and the Group of Eight (G8). It brings together leaders from government, civil society and the private sector to exchange ideas and form partnerships to support progress, reform, and expanded opportunities for the people of the region.

http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2009/nov/131234.htm

AYM ’09: Moldova’s Twitter Revolution

November 3, 2009

My final installment on my series on the Alliance of Youth Movements in GOOD Magazine.  Natalia is incredible.  Her poise and articulation are something to strive for, and her work is truly inspiring.  See the original post in GOOD here.


natalia

Interviews from the Alliance of Youth Movements summit: Natalia Morari.

On the 6th of April of this year, 15,000 Moldovans rallied in the streets the day after their national election to protest the Communist Party’s rigged victory. It might have looked like any post-election protest in an emerging democracy but there was an important difference: This protest was organized entirely through new media—Twitter, email and text messages, and social networking sites. The number of peaceful protesters continued to grow over the course of a few days, and they eventually succeeded in upsetting the Communist Party’s majority in parliament.

Guest blogger Erin Mazursky spoke with Natalia Morari, one of catalysts of the protests and keynote speaker at the recent Alliance of Youth Movements summit. Morari now leads ThinkMoldova, a platform to help young Moldovans take part in the future of their country.

ERIN MAZURSKY: How did you mobilize so many people in such a short period of time?

NATALIA MORARI: When the results were announced the day after the election, with the Communist Party as the winners, so many of my friends were saying they wanted to leave Moldova. The country was in mourning. So a few of us met up at a café to talk about what we might be able to do. We decided to do a flash mob that evening in the center of Chisinau, Moldova’s capital city.

We immediately began sending out messages in every way we could—through Twitter, Facebook, email, SMS—with the message: “If you believe your vote was stolen, if you did not vote for the Communists, come to the center of the city.” And people came. We are generally a quiet people, and tens of thousands in the street is a big deal.

EM: What is your hope for Moldova?

NM: My dream used to be to live and work in Moscow. I left for Russia in 2002, went to college there, and became a journalist. In 2007, I was arrested in Russia because I was writing about various corruption scandals. The experience made me come back to Moldova, and I realized that my place is there. I really want to do something great for my country’s future and raise my children there.

So many young people leave for the West, get their degrees, and never come back, but these days more and more of these young people are coming back with the intent of making real change. My hope for this country is that together, these young people can help shape a better future.

EM: How is ThinkMoldova helping to make this happen?

NM: ThinkMoldova is currently creating a platform for young, educated people interested in politics, economics, and social life to come back and talk about how we can best develop the country, and who are willing to start working on the issues in our country when they are young. We are bringing in people from all over the world who have helped shape progress in their own countries on issues from tax reform to infrastructure building so that we can learn from others’ experiences and apply it to Moldova.

EM: How is this generation, the so-called Millennial generation, different from generations past?

NM: The only thing that’s different about our generation is that we have this great opportunity to feel like we are a part of the big world. If I were born in Moldova 100 years ago, I never would have seen other European countries or dreamed about visiting America. Now, we can travel all over the world sitting just in front of a laptop. We have more freedom of expression, a greater access to information, and new experiences just because we can communicate with each other through the internet.

It’s a question of who uses this information and to what ends, of course, but you are not just born in your country. Our generation isn’t confined to our respective nationalities—American, British, Moldovan—we are global-Americans, global-British, global-Moldovans. We have more possibilities now, and I think that’s great.

EM: What was your favorite part of your experience at the Alliance of Youth Movements summit?

NM: It was really crazy to meet someone like Oscar Morales, who mobilized 12 million people around the world against the FARC, or a kid like Shubham Kanodia, who is just fourteen, who made a great social movement in India after the Mumbai attacks. The most interesting thing was to find how similar we were and know that, for example, someone who was in Ecuador is experiencing different problems but driven by the same principles. All these people were young and all these people do believe that they can make real changes. To feel like we were all connected was the great thing about A.Y.M.

Young people played a large role in Sunday’s National Equality March

October 15, 2009

U.S. Student Association’s press release
regarding Sunday’s National Equality March:

Students March for Justice
Young people played a large role in Sunday’s National Equality March

WASHINGTON, DC—The National Mall in Washington, DC has been the
epicenter for many of America’s most memorable social justice
moments.  Last Sunday was no different as tens of thousands of people
marched and rallied for LGBT rights during the National Equality
March.  While many participants were stalwart civil rights activist
veterans and seasoned political leaders, young people played a large
role in the historic events.  Students from New York, Kentucky, and
Minnesota spoke to the crowd, which included hundreds of their college-
going peers.

The United States Student Association (USSA), the country’s oldest and
largest student-led organization, believes that no one should be
denied basic human rights on account of sexual orientation or gender
identity.  “It is important for students to be engaged in the fight
for LGBT rights because social justice isn’t secured for just one
group but for all those who seek a better world,” said Gregory
Cendana, the organization’s first openly gay Asian American President.

In addition to the traditional access and affordability barriers to a
higher education, LGBT students face potentially unsafe living
conditions, homophobic classmates and professors, institutional
heterosexism, and an overall lack of university support.  “Queer
students joined the National Equality March in order to demonstrate
that we are tired of injustices and have the numbers to prove it,”
said USSA Queer Students Coalition chair Nestor Rivera, a student at
UC Santa Cruz.

Queer students of color face particular obstacles in the fight for
social justice and the USSA works with the community to address some
of the specific challenges. “As both queer and students of color, one
of the obvious but unique struggles that we face is reconciling the
intersection of these identities,” said USSA Queer Students of Color
Caucus chair Rich Yap, a student at UCLA.

The National Equality March, and students across the country, showed
the world that the LGBT community will no longer allow the dreams of
equality and justice to be deferred by political conveniences. The
USSA urges all Americans to participate in the National Day of Silence
on April 16, 2010.

Usher Looks to Mobilize 5 Million Youth

October 1, 2009

Usher explains his new Power by Service campaign