I woke up this morning in my grandmother’s house in the middle of the farmlands of rural west Texas. I drove alone through miles of cotton fields and watched the men on John Deere tractors harvesting this year’s crop. They carve intricate patterns in the red earth as they strip the white puffs of cotton. Miles of these fields surround the prison where my father is being held. He can see little else beyond the fences and concertina wire, so the planting and harvesting of the fields provide some of the only non-prison activity in view.
Avalon Publishing Group/Nation Books firm published in November 2005 a book of letters from various younger Movement activists, titled Letters From Young Activists: Today’s Rebels Speak Out. The book was co-edited by Dan Berger, Chesa Boudin and Kenyon Farrow. It also contains a preface by former Weather Underground fugitive Bernardine Dohrn, who was one of the 1960s anti-war activists interviewed in the Oscar-nominated documentary film of a few years ago, The Weather Underground. (Co-editor Boudin’s still-imprisoned father, David Gilbert, was another of the 1960s anti-war activists interviewed in The Weather Underground movie). Toward Freedom recently interviewed Dan Berger about the Letters From Young Activists book project.
When I first decided to write you, I was ready to go for the jugular. I wanted to let you know, in no uncertain terms, just how much I disagreed with your political positions, abhorred your relationship with the Bush clan, and anything else I could think of. I decided I was going to look through every nook and cranny, leave no stone unturned in search of what would be some faulty move, a misspoken word, or some sort of flaw that I would use to turn you out on paper. I downloaded whatever I could find on you: commencement addresses, interviews, speeches, and your famous remarks to the 9-11 Commission. I even went to the bookstore, and purchased some right-wing puff piece posing as a biography. Just as I was preparing to write, you were nearing the end of your tenure as National Security Advisor, and nearing your Senate confirmation as the new Secretary of State. And I was poised to give you what the Black gay children call a “read.”
While many of their peers are being recruited to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan, high school and college students across the country are engaging in a grassroots effort to stop militarization and recruitment in their schools. The growing number of counter-recruitment efforts and the large turnout among young people at the September 24th anti-war march in Washington DC are evidence that youth are providing essential momentum to the anti-war movement. Before surveying the growing counter-recruitment movement and its potential, it is helpful to recognize where student anti-war activists find their inspiration to get involved in these issues. This is particularly important when considering the challenges of isolation, apathy and consumerism facing young people today.
For the generation of activists politically shaped by the Vietnam War the similarities between then and now are striking; the nation is deeply divided and US soldiers fresh out of high school are dying by the hundreds each year. From heading national peace organizations to demonstrating weekly in their communities, these older activists are at the forefront of the movement. This was seen recently with Cindy Sheehan’s catalyzing actions outside of Bush’s ranch which evolved into a nation-wide tour with other military families. Sheehan has become the unofficial spokesperson for the peace movement. Given all of this, what role have youth in the United States played in the anti-war struggle? What challenges do they face within the movement and within the larger political culture? A closer look at some current student-led campaigns will show how, despite widespread youth apathy, young activists are creating the essential urgency needed to end the occupation of Iraq and move toward forging a sustainable peace. This will also help address a crucial dilemma for the wider anti-war movement: How can activists, young and old, inspire committed action?