Remarks to the CPUSA Youth Conference
July 17-18, 2010
We’re gathered here because the young generation, including among them our sons and daughters and grandchildren, is experiencing a profound multi-sided crisis that demands urgent action.
We’re here because the Communist Party recognizes how essential youth are to the outcome of present and future struggles; for mobilizing to defeat the extreme right in the 2010 elections and confronting the economic crisis, deepening the reform process, for winning a socialist future.
We’re here because the Party has an essential role in helping the Young Communist League (YCL) to regain its footing and play an active and even leading role again among youth and students, in a period in which youth attitudes are changing markedly and open to progressive and radical alternatives.
We’re here because the YCL could not absolutely exist without the Party. And the future of the Party is in doubt without a growing YCL.
The YCL is going through a basic transition, with a new membership, including those joining on-line daily, and emerging new leaders. Without proper attention by the Party, nationally, in districts and clubs, it is no exaggeration to say the future of the YCL is at stake.
Our experience historically has been that with the proper attention and attitude, the YCL can rebound relatively quickly.
So, this conference comes at a great time. It’s a moment to renew our understanding and approach to the young generation and the YCL, and recommit to helping the YCL in every way possible to tackle this difficult, challenging, exciting period and thrive.
It’s a great time because there are so many signs today’s youth are developing profound new progressive attitudes that will impact politics for decades to come. These attitudes are developing in response to and as a part of the great labor led people’s upsurge against the ultra right, but also the new economic, social and political circumstances they are growing up in.
The changes are so progressive some have dubbed today’s youth, the “we generation,” embracing the “common good” and rejecting the tenants of right-wing ideology.
Let’s paint a broad canvass of this generation.
The “we generation” is made up of youth born between 1978 and 2000, make up 95 million of the US population of 300 million, bigger than the 78 million baby boomers.
In 2008, they comprised 50 million eligible voters. By 2020, they will comprise 90 million voters representing almost 40% of the electorate.
Since 2006, the “we generation” or Millennial’ as they are also called, have been increasing their voter turnout markedly. In 2008 they were 20% of the vote, and increased turnout more than any other sector.
And vote they did. In 2006, 18-29 year olds voted 60-38% Democratic. In 2008, they voted 68 to 30 for Barack Obama. The youth were a key part of the coalition that elected Obama and gave the Democrats majorities in Congress. Youth were inspired by the Obama campaign, coming out in droves to volunteer and staff the operation across the country and cast their ballots.
Their orientation is also why Organizing For America is making the mobilization of the youth vote a top priority of its work this year.
Surveys show youth have widespread support for government action on jobs, more education funding, urgent action on the environment, changing US foreign policy, universal health care and regulation of the banks. They embrace social transformation on a grand scale.
Over 76% of youth think there should be a viable 3rd political party and an alternative to the two major parties. Thirty nine percent think of themselves as Independents, 36% Democrats and only 24% Republican.
The deep going economic crisis has shaken their confidence in capitalism. We are familiar by now with the Rasmussen and Gallup polls, which show that 45% and 50% respectively of today’s youth think socialism, however they conceive of it, is a better system than capitalism.
Youth are not just progressive oriented, but are more civic minded and politically engaged than previous generations. We saw all this on display in the US Social Forum in Detroit.
Each generation comes of age under a unique set of global, economic and political circumstances that shapes its outlook, mood and attitude. Distinct experiences are impacting them – they are growing up in a time of unparalleled economic hardship and environmental catastrophe.
This bleak outlook certainly gives rise to pessimism and cynicism among a section of youth. And yet Obama’s election has given many youth a sense of optimism despite the dismal economic and social prospects.
In painting the picture of this generation we see the gray hues of suffering and pain.
This is the first generation fully experiencing the decline of the US as a world power, and has grown up in an era of general economic decline in the living standards of their families and communities. They see the need for a new role for the US in the world.
This generation is experiencing the greatest gap in wealth of any generation in history.
The economic situation facing youth is dire, especially among African American and Latino and other oppressed youth. Forty-one% of children now live in low-income families. The special impact of racism has pushed 61% of African Americans, 62% of Latinos, 31% of Asians Americans and 57% of American Indian into low-income families.
The US poverty rate is the highest among developed nations. That includes 19% of children, including 35% of African American children.
Not only are substantial numbers of youth growing up in poverty, they are arriving at working age in an economic depression. Many face the prospect of a lifetime of joblessness, poverty and misery.
According to EPI, “Since the start of the recession in December 2007, young adults have attained the highest unemployment rate on record (since 1948). The unemployment rate for 16-24-year-old workers peaked in September 2009 at 19.2%- passing the peak rate of 19.0% from November 1982-and started 2010 at 18.9%.”
Twenty million 16-24 year olds are unemployed. African American unemployment is at 32.5%, followed by Latinos (24.2%), and then whites (15.2%).
In 2009 72% of all teens were unemployed in Illinois and only 83% in Chicago. A staggering 88% of African American teens were unemployed statewide and 85% in Chicago
Through the juvenile courts and criminal justice system, the US incarcerates more of its youth than any other country in the world.
There are some 5 million young people aged 16-24 who are out of work and out of school. They find themselves alienated from society that is undergoing a scientific and technological revolution that constantly requires higher levels of education and training.
There are 18.2 million students attending universities. Large numbers graduate from college into unemployment. They can’t find jobs in their chosen professions, must work part time and live at home.
In addition, students are accumulating sizeable debt loads from their education, which makes many “indentured servants” for life to the banks. In 2008 67% of students graduating from four-year colleges had student loan debts. The average debt is approximately $23,000.
This generation has had to endure the horror of widespread gun violence. Homicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among youth 10-24 years old. In Chicago over 30 public school students have died from gun violence each of the past 3 years. 15 youth are killed each day in US, 80% with firearms.
Youth, especially youth of color, are victims of police abuse. The killing of Oscar Grant and the stop, question, frisk tactics of the NYPD of 52,000 African American and Latino youth in 4 years, “criminalizing the entire generation”.
This generation has grown up in an era of a new qualitative degradation in our environment, the alarm over global climate change, the outright criminality of corporations like BP. They feel the urgency to act now.
The picture of this generation also has a full rainbow tapestry. This generation is the most racially and nationally diverse young generation in US history. In 2006, youth of color comprised almost 40% of the young generation. This year for the first time, the number of births of babies of color was a majority. By 2050, 50% of Americans will be of people of color. This is already giving youth a sense of diversity, lending to widespread anti-racist attitudes, multiracial unity and broader acceptance and appreciation of diversity and having an impact on the struggle against racism.
Gay and lesbian sexual orientation are accepted without prejudice widely.
Because of the Internet and immigration, this generation has a more “global perspective.”
The revolution in mass communications is having a profound impact on youth, shaping their social practice and interaction. Facebook and Myspace have become major outlets for political engagement. Two-thirds said they had a Facebook account, and 36% used Facebook to promote political candidates, ideas or events. Forty-five percent said they had read a political blog; 30 percent had forwarded a political video, etc.
Youth are cynical about government and corporate leaders, think they are often self-serving, and think government should do more.
This painting has some bold new strokes too.
This generation is growing up under a progressive labor movement that is actively reaching out to the youth. There are some 4.8 million workers in the leisure, hospitality and food service industries. And 3.9 million in retail trades. This motivated the AFL-CIO to organize the Young Workers Summit to organize young workers and change the image of trade unions among the youth.
The young generation is also experiencing a progressive labor movement and its leadership in many struggles. The labor movement is embracing the youth and seeks to specially organize them, including someone in their top leadership reaching out to them. They have set up a special program just for this purpose.
USWA President Leo Girard recently called upon youth to lead a new civil rights revolution on the jobs struggle. Girard said, “Sisters and brothers of the next generation, it’s time for a revolution. It’s time to stand up and be heard. It’s time to mobilize online and in the streets. Together, let’s tweet, Facebook and text. Let’s rally, vote and, where necessary, sit in. Let’s lead the civil rights movement 2.0.”
So what can the Party do and what can the Party and YCL do together?
Our starting point is the role of the CPUSA, and by inference the YCL. Our role is to help build the broad democratic movement for change and within that the organized might, influence and leadership of the working class, specifically organized labor. Our role is to identify the chief stages of struggle, the main obstacles to progress at each stage, today of course the struggle against the ultra right, and help to assembly the broad coalition of forces necessary to advance.
This is also done in unity with what we have identified as the other essential class and social or core forces – the racially and nationally oppressed communities and women.
Also among these essential core forces is the young generation. All of these core forces overlap and interpenetrate and influence each other.
A great challenge before the Party is to deepen its relationship to the youth on many fronts and levels. This includes on the most immediate political tasks, and to help deepen youth’s relationship to the working class and other core forces
The role of the Party is also to simultaneously build popular support for the ideas of socialism, the socialist current, and among the young generation in the “battle of ideas.” To chart the path forward that will result in “wresting by degrees” control by capital.
The Party does all this by working shoulder to shoulder with the YCL on all the main struggles of the day. The Party also takes its own independent initiatives to influence the youth.
For example, shouldn’t we seek to involve youth in the 2010 election coalition? Help them set up OFA chapters on campuses, and be involved in targeted campaigns through their unions and other organizations?
Shouldn’t we work to bring youth into the developing jobs coalitions that are springing up around the country?
Shouldn’t we help organize broad support for youth oriented legislation, including for jobs, education funding, etc. ?
Shouldn’t we work jointly together to increase the mass circulation of the People’s World/Mundo Popular? Isn’t our news source also great for the young generation? What can we do to make it even more attractive to youth?
The YCL should be the place leading young communists learn their trade and develop their world outlook: the organization and vehicle from which they can most effectively engage and influence their peers.
The YCL is especially needed because youth have a need for their own forms and “path” to a socialist outlook, forms and a language they and their peers understand.
The YCL, like the Party, is an indispensable and unique organization to the working class and people’s movement. YCLers describe it as a “schoolhouse of struggle.”
The way we conceive it, the YCL should and can play a vital role in uniting the youth and uniting the young generation with labor and the other core forces through its initiatives and action.
The YCL also plays an indispensable role in building the left and communist current among the youth, in developing the forms and activities where youth can be learn Marxism.
It’s an organization where youth can fully embrace their incredible diversity, learn working class and revolutionary morals, treat each other as equals, strengthen their defenses against racism, male supremacy and anti-gay bias.
Another great challenge for the Party then is to help build the YCL into an organization and movement with a mass following among youth.
What kind of organization and movement is up to the YCL and will result from its day-to-day activities. It is determined by the material conditions and the needs of young people. It will not be and cannot be the same kind of organization that the older generations were schooled in, fell in love in, and got married in, including my generation. It must be specifically for, by and about this “we” generation, with its own stamp.
For example, how is the YCL being shaped by the Internet and mass communication revolution? How can the YCL and we utilize the Internet to reach and engage a far greater audience of youth, the 50% who believe socialism is the future?
The Party not only gives a political lead, but also provides a wealth of experience and Marxist education for developing the YCL membership and those around it. Districts and clubs give practical assistance and mentoring to establish and build YCL grassroots organizations and become engaged in coalition struggles.
The young generation has only known the Internet and the revolution in mass communications. It is as natural to them. The potential for reaching youth with our ideas is greater than ever before, and we can do it easily and inexpensively if we (and the YCL) master the use of the Internet.
The communist youth movement will the forms of communication it has grown up with and adopted naturally: social networking and particularly video, audio and digital forms; a streaming radio or video production must replace concept Dynamic; in fact with radio or video production all aspects of the YCL movement can proceed within a single enterprise: educational, organizational, political.
The Party would be remiss if we didn’t do everything we could in this moment to reach out and engage the youth with our ideas. We would be equally remiss if we didn’t take steps to build the YCL.
Can we assist the YCL in developing its mass communications platform?
Can we organize schools for youth in cities across the country, jointly organized by the National Party, Districts and the YCL?
Can we continue to organize a Party speaking tour on campuses across the country?
Together we can ensure this young generation takes its rightful place in history and helps advance the working class and people’s movement on the road to socialism.