Visions of Tomorrow: Youth Demand a Better Future Keynote to YCLUSA Convention

 
BY:YCLUSA| June 13, 2006
Visions of Tomorrow: Youth Demand a Better Future  Keynote to YCLUSA Convention

From speech given to theNational Convention, May 27–29, 2006, New York City.

Welcome to everyone who worked so hard to make it here for our National Convention. Lets recognize the hard work that it took to get everyone here from selling chicken dinners in Oakland to concerts in Chicago to bowl-a-thons in New York City, YCLers all over the country have been working their butts off to get here today to participate in our 8th National Convention. I want to applaud all of you.

Who could have predicted even 6 months ago when we started planning this convention the upsurge in our country? Millions of people demonstrating in the streets, staying home from work and walking out of class for the rights of immigrants.

Then on April 29th we marched for the rights of the worlds people to have peace and sovereignty, and right here in New York City the Transit Workers Union and the people of NY stood up for the right of their union to strike and demand respect and dignity on the job! Student Labor Week of Action activists held hunger strikes and sit-ins demanding a living wage for working people. And theyre taking note they have to!

You better believe that there are some folks in this country that have not appreciated it one bit! For them to have seen the faces of so many young people represented at them arches, rallies, sit-ins, and walkouts has been astounding.

You see they have designs on our generation that dont involve us standing up or fighting back. Theyre more interested in training a generation of toy soldiers for their wars than young people with skills and education. When youth start demanding a future they get scared.

Over the last 25 years the ultra-right has done everything possible to take back what our parents and grandparents fought so hard for. In fact, all weve known for our lifetimes have been cutbacks, shutdowns, and attacks. We know up close and personal about after-school centers closed, vocational schools and programs eliminated, and parks paved over to make way for shopping malls and WalMarts.

We are paying high interest loans and Pell grants wont even pay for our books for a semester. In our high schools music and art classes are luxuries and science classes dont have beakers or bunson burners. In a lot of our classes the textbooks are older than we are.

And with their abstinence only education were really getting screwed. The AIDS crisis continues in our communities but they wont give us condoms. They wont make affordable birth control available and they continue to shut down womens health clinics that provide abortion services.

They tell us racism is over and cut affirmative action programs that were so hard fought for while young African-American, Latino and Native American youth are systematically shut out of educational and employment opportunities.

This year alone almost $50 billion were cut from social programs – including $12 billion from student loan programs yet theyve spent over $283 billion on the war in Iraq.

I cant even wrap my mind around $283 billion dollars on an unjust and immoral war while our schools and communities are sucked dry. We have cities that are cutting back on fire trucks because of budget crunches!

This is not to mention all of the displaced women, men and children survivors of Hurricane Katrina that are still trying to rebuild their lives and many without homes 9 months later! And still funding is denied!

Yet as crisis after crisis appears they try to throw the blame and keep us blinded to the real source of the problems. Today they are trying to sell the idea that somehow immigrant workers are to blame. Immigrant workers whove come to this country in large part because of a US foreign trade policy, which exacerbates world poverty and forces many to leave their countries to find work. Somehow these hardworking people are the source of all that is wrong in our country.

And in 2004 they told us it was the lesbian and gay community because they were destroying the US family.

And every year, at every moment terrorism is to blame.

On the train ride home from work I was telling my roommate a joke that goes something like this: Did you hear about Bushs new plan to combat the bird flu? Hes going to bomb the Canary Islands. She looked at me like, uhm, the bad part is that it sounds like something they would say.

And who are the they? Sometimes it feels like were shadowboxing with an enemy we cant see or name. Well they have a name they are the ultra-right and that means the most reactionary corporations and interests in this country that will seek a profit at any cost, including a war that has cost the lives of almost 2,500 US soldiers and tens of thousands of innocent people in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And they actually have names. They are Halliburton, Bechtell, WalMart, Exxon, DuPont, and Tyson. They are a small group of ultra rich families and individuals that control these corporations. They keep a low profile but control more wealth individually than entire countries.

This group of people, represented and in control of the Republican party, will literally stop at nothing, lying, tearing apart our constitution, violating international law, poisoning our planet and people, torturing and murdering human beings to make a profit and guarantee their control.

And at every point Bush reminds us that hes the decider and hed be very happy if we just stopped complaining and let him continue his decideration.

But our great decider doesnt have respect for the laws according to a recent story in the Boston Globe he claims he has the authority to violate and ignore over 750 of the laws that have been passed since he came to power. He decided that instead of veto-ing laws hell just sign them and ignore them. And this is who we have in the white house.

And whos there to check him? If the ultra-right controls the Republican Party and consequently every branch of government how can we even begin to challenge him?

And this is the key to the theme that has become so popular at the immigrants rights marches Today We March, Tomorrow We Vote!

And some people will tell you that voting doesnt matter. Its enough to keep marching. But weve seen that even after millions marched in the streets, walked out of class and protested Bush still invaded Iraq over 3 years ago. It doesnt mean that we have to give up our actions in the streets, those protests were and continue to be very important but we have to match them with political action that will break the stranglehold that the ultra-right has on our Government. Lets translate that people power into political power and march our butts right on up to the ballot booths and vote!

You think it doesnt matter if you vote or not? Well consider what happens if they do stick around?

You better believe it will be a lot worse than just more of the same:

New wars like the one their threatening against Iran means that well need more troops. And if we need more troops you better believe theyll be heading for our schools to recruit.

And since well have to cut the budget even more to fund these wars were going to have to cut gym programs and just have JROTC programs to help snatch up even more young people for their wars.

And since our schools dont have enough funding or teachers and our classes are overcrowded well have to privatize them and turn them all into charter schools like theyve done in New Orleans. And there wont be enough of them for everyone so those who are always left out will have an even harder time getting into college so the military will be our only option anyway.

And well, those who do make it to college wont be able to pay for it because financial aid will be a thing of the past. And if you cant get into college or pay for it and you still dont want to go to the military you can work at McDonalds, WalMart or KFC for minimum wage.

And because there will only be more attacks on unions dont expect to have a union with benefits or health care. If you do get a union job you can look forward to the bosses shoving more two-tier contracts down your throat where youll earn less and have less benefits and rights than the guy sitting next to you who does the same job.

And dont worry about retiring because that social security thing? Well the ultra-right is gonna get rid of that too. And immigrants, well we can import them for sub-poverty wages, mistreat them and ship them back to their countries.

And the only reason they might not build a big wall to keep us isolated from the rest of the world is that half of the country might be underwater as the global warming crisis spirals out of control.

And while were all busy working and running around trying to figure out how to survive theyll just flush that whole constitution and Bill of Rights thing cuz hey, there wont be any textbooks in our schools so we might not miss what we didnt learn about in the first place.

Their imagination is endlessand this is the world they have in store for us if they get the chance to stick around.

And I want to ask if anyone else in here is tired of trying to imagine the next thing theyre going to come at us with. Is there anyone else thats tired of fighting against things all the time?

But we dont have to live with it!

Their plans for our generation dont have to become a reality. Their way of seeing the world filled with war, hate, poverty, violence, inequality, racism, sexism, homophobia, oppression, and limitations on democracythat doesnt have to be the answer.

And we arent the only ones that know that there IS an alternative. We arent a lone voice in the wilderness.we are standing with millions.

We see signs of resistance popping up all over the world. Theres a wave of resistance in Latin America socialist Cuba has lead the way for over 40 years, and now Venezuela, Bolivia, Brasil and Uruguay are standing up to US corporate interests too. And its not just Latin America all over the world people are resisting US imperialism.

The Iraqi people are organizing a national unity coalition to take control of their country and take back Iraq for the Iraqis! There is a world movement to stop AIDS and fight the drug companies that are profiting from it. The people of Palestine are fighting the Israeli occupation and looking for peaceful solutions. All over Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America they are organizing against US free trade policies being shoved down their throats.

And all over the globe millions marched and stood up against war and occupation.

And in our country, in the belly of the beast, resistance is building. People are tired of the lies, tired of the corruption, tired of the scandals and theft of our national treasury to fund war and Bushs quest for empire. His approval ratings in the US are hovering around 30%. 30%! On the other hand as Stephen Colbert told Bush to his face a few weeks ago that means over 60% of the people approve of the job youre NOT doing.

And in every country around the world, and here in the US, young people have been a part of that struggle. We are fighting back. The supposedly apathetic generation is saying, hold up Bush!

Were tired of fighting against things.

We are young, we have active imaginations and dreams – we are a generation that wants to fight for something! We want to vote for something!

Think about what we could actually be working for and have a real chance to win on if we were able to wrestle away control of our government from the corporations.

We could end this war in Iraq and bring our troops home and take care of them once they got back.

We could reverse the billions of dollars in tax cuts for the rich and give the money back to our schools, communities and hospitals.

We could restore funding for financial aid programs for students to go to college.

We could raise the federal minimum wage. You know if it went up the same as the rate of CEO pay wed be making $15/hr?!

We could change the labor laws so that millions of young people could sign cards and join unions to get our just respect and a decent wage. This means that instead of working 2 and 3 jobs we could work just one at a decent wage!

This victory, a decisive and powerful defeat of the ultra-right in the 06 and 08 elections will give us some space. It would give us breathing room to stop defending against attacks and do the work necessary to go on the offensive and expand rights of youth.

And it wont mean well have to stop fighting, were going to have to fight even harder but well be fighting to win not just to defend!

And some will say that the voting wont matter, that it wont matter if the Republicans come out and the Democrats come in. They say that there isnt but an inch of difference between the two parties so why get involved. There may not be but an inch, but millions of working people in this country and around the world live on that inch!

What could possibly change for us if we were able to at least gain back the House if not the Senate from Republican control? Whats on that inch for us?!

Lets flashback to how a bill becomes a law – remember that from social studies class?

The speaker of the house and chairs of the committees in Congress change when the party with the majority changes. The chairs of the committees have very powerful positions because they determine what bills will be debated and when they will be voted on. Right now the Republicans have managed to block any progressive legislation from seeing the light of day. With a Democratic victory in November we could finally bring some of them out of Committee for debate and vote.

The Education and Workforce committee would be chaired by George Miller. Whos he, right? Hes one of the sponsors of the Stop the Raid On Student Aid bill, which would cut interest rates in half on student loans. For a graduating student who can expect debt of $17,500 upon graduation, this would mean a reduction of over $5,600 in interest payments. According to the US Dept. of Education student debt has increased by more than 50% in the last decade how much could you cut off your loans?

This committee is also holding up the Second Chance Act of 2005, which would provide funding and support for services for young people whove been incarcerated and giving them a second chance by supporting job training and college readiness. This could provide millions of young people the opportunity to re-integrate in society instead of constantly shuffling them from juvenile detention centers to jails.

The Education Reform sub-committee would be headed by co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Lynne Woolsley. This is the committee where the Student Privacy Protection Act is being tied up. This bill would require parental consent in order to release the information of high school students to military recruiters and reverse the provision of the No Child Left Behind Act, which gives recruiters the contact information of all eligible high school students.

And who here wants to impeach Bush? Well the articles of impeachment for George Bush are being held up in the Judiciary Committee. John Conyers would introduced them would chair that committee and bring them out for a vote!

And in the House, we are just two representatives short of passing the Employee Free Choice Act, which would give workers the right to freely choose to join a union and include more harsh penalties for employers that try to interfere or punish workers when they are trying to form a union.

All that on one supposedly small inch!

But can we win?

If you had asked most of us this a year ago it wouldve been hard to imagine how but we can. People are pissed off and fed up! A recent Pew Research Center Poll found that Bush has become a major weakness for the Republican Party and is causing problems for the upcoming elections. In fact 31% of voters polled said they considered their vote in the Congressional races a vote against Bush.

And our movement has the experience to wage an effective battle! In 2004 we saw one of the most broad, lively and energetic movements in our country to defeat Bush. Thousands of people flooded the battleground states. The relationships, experience and groundwork that we laid will be invaluable as we look to the Congressional races this year and the Presidential races in 2008.

Young people are up to the challenge. In 2004 youth-run organizations helped to organize and register 4.6 million new young people to get out and vote the majority of them voted against Bush and more than half were young people of color. The YCL was there and present for those experiences – we learned alongside them through our Midwest Project.

The YCL has to be at the table this fall too. Every club and every member needs to be out there and involved. And we need to bring everyone we work with out too! This is a national campaign to change the Congress and we are gonna be a part of that!

We dont have to be millions to have an impact! Just think about what a small group of YCLers have done in less than four years since our last convention!

We organized dozens of young people to head to the battleground states in 2004

In Ohio our YCLers were asked to lead up get out the vote teams because of our experience and hard work.

In Cincinatti we helped defeat an anti-gay ballot initiative.
In New York we worked on a campaign to elect Frank Barbaro defeat a Bush Republican and elect a real progressive

In Chicago we helped to form a youth vote operation to elect Barak Obama.
In St. Louis we were instrumental in electing John Bowman a progressive state representative. Bowman publicly acknowledged the key role the YCL and Communist Party played in his election.

We have supported and built the SLAP since its founding. Over the last four years our members from St. Louis, Rhode Island, Milwaukee, Washington D.C., Florida, California, Chicago, New York, Buffalo and Nashville have helped to win living wages and union contracts.

We helped to found and build the National Youth Student Peace Coalition. It brought together the most active and exciting y & s groups in the country. The YCL not only helped bring those groups to the table many of them meeting and working with each other for the first time we also helped to organize one of our nations largest national student strike. Over 450 high schools and colleges participated.

In NY we helped to found the Uptown Youth for Peace and Justice. It popularized the idea of a poverty draft organizing. Its open mics and anti-war marches in Harlem/Washington Heights focused on the impacts of war especially on African American and Latino youth.

And our clubs all over the country continue to participate helping to concerts, educational forums, and creative actions with high school and college students to protest military recruiters.

Weve helped to connect the issues and organizations not only here in the US but with the world youth movement. In 2003 we took 75 young people to see socialist Cuba for themselves, meet young Cubans and talk about our lives and struggles.

And this past summer in August we helped to get over 700 young people to Caracas, Venezuela to participate in the 16th World Festival of Youth and Students where we met some of the over 15,000 young people from around the world to talk about the struggles for peace and against imperialism and war. How many of you were there?

Weve had an impact far beyond our numbers, weve learned how to be effective and weve built some lasting and important relationships with other youth organizations. Now its time to really grow. How many other local coalitions like the Uptown Youth for Peace and Justice could be formed? How many other progressive candidates could be elected? This country needs a radical youth organization and there is an opening before us.

As the movement of young people who reject the policies of the Bush administration grows, so too will the search for an alternative to capitalism. That makes the need for a strong and vibrant Young Communist League (YCL) even more crucial. No other youth organization out there combines radical politics, a long history of youth organizing and multi-racial unity like the YCL does. The YCL is the natural home of young people that want to talk about building unity, beating back the ultra-right, and winning Socialism!

And we have to grow so we have something for them to do and get involved in! We have to have an organization that is open and engaged in struggle for them to participate in.

When I say growth I mean numbers and bodies yes! I mean clubs and organization on the ground. I mean we have to be developing new leaders. I mean we have to increase our visibility so people know were out there.

We have to use our resources

The Peoples Weekly World is our voice too and it comes out once a week, we have to get it out! In the lead up to the Convention we helped launch its Whats Really Good youth column and every week there are voices from the youth movement featured in the pages of the PWW.

Dynamic is our magazine and is the hottest youth magazine out there have you looked at this issue?! We have to get it in our school libraries, local bookstores and coffee shops.

And we have to work more with our partners in Revolution here Im talking about the Communist Party USA. Our comrades raised over $70,000 towards this Convention. Together we made a real contribution from organizing townhall meetings on the fight to save Social Security to our joint work on the 2004 elections. They continue to inspire us with their work and deep involvement in the Labor, Peace, Civil Rights, and peoples movements.

Sometimes the hardest part is just going from 1 person to 3 people. How do we begin to build a club? But this weekend were going to look at how we do that, were going to talk about the issues we want to for, were going to talk about how to build the YCL and get active, and were going to talk about how our approach helps make the connections between what were working on today and where were trying to go. Were going to lay out an Action Plan thats going to help us grow in impact, size and importance over the next four years. And were going to elect a leadership thats going to help us carry it out!

This Convention speaks Look at us! Were bold and creative! We have to share that and get it out there not just here in this hotel in Brooklyn but each of you in every city and campus that youre living and working in.

And you know we have lots of young people that are out there that want to be part of this new emerging movement. There are young people that are not interested in individualistic responses; young people that know that we need a movement and organizations to make change happen. And there are other wonderful organizations out there and some really great people that we work with that are out there working side by side with us everyday.

But the YCL has one thing none of those other groups is offeringbecause what were selling isnt just a band-aid for todays problems. Were not just talking short term remedies, were talking solutions for the long haul.

We have a vision.

We know that change will only come if we have a collective solution to some of the largest problems facing us today. It the state of the entire world our fault? Bush told us in his state of the union that we are energy dependent because each of us is addicted to oil. Driving my car to the grocery store is not why we have a global warming crisis. We have to re-order our priorities and make systemic, radical changes.

We have a vision.

We see the connection between today and tomorrow!
We know that beating the ultra-right and getting rid of Bush is just the first step.
We know that the movement will have its ebs and its flows and that things will not always go our way but that vision will help us get through and stick with the fight.

After the war started we fought to keep the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition together and continue the fight.

We have a vision.

After the 04 elections we said we cant give up, we have to keep on fighting. And we encouraged our friends and partners to stick with it.

We have a vision.

The YCL sees a world where young people are valued and have a contribution to make to the world. And this is not some long off utopian dream. Right now our schools and hospitals are falling apart. We have a shortage of teachers, nurses, engineers and carpenters.

The YCLs vision means the creation of a national jobs program where young people are trained with the skills for those jobs and given decent salaries so that they can support their own families.

The YCLs vision includes a Youth Bill of Rights that guarantees EVERY young person the right to an education, a job, a place to play sports, to dance, a space to express themselves culturally, and a home to live in?

The YCLs vision tells us that unity is not a secondary matter that at every point of the way we have to fight for the leadership of young people, the working class, People of Color, Women and LGBTQ people.

That is us! That is the Young Communist League. We are immigrants. We are trade unionists. We are students. We are artists. We are unemployed. We have AIDS. We dont have health care. We need abortions. We are in debt. We are brutalized by the police. We are subject to the poverty draft. We are paying the price of every decision that this government has made!

But we are not victims! We are fighters!

These are OUR battles.

This is OUR future.

This is OUR fight.

It wont come easybut its possible. Right now the Young Communist League has an opportunity that only comes once in a lifetime. In preparing for these remarks today I was speaking to an older comrade about the political moment we find ourselves in today and he was pointing out the similarities between today and the civil rights movement.

He said the mark of an approaching change in society, when things change in a qualitative way towards progress is when you can not only imagine the other way that something can be, but when you speak about it to others they can share that vision and know that something has to change.

Theres a feeling in the air.

The generations before us knew that segregation and racist violence had to change and they saw a way to change it. It was a movement with a vibrant youth participation that had the ability to see that despite the challenges that they encountered, they were helping to give birth to a whole new world with concrete changes of in the lives of everyday people.

Today we are a generation that stands at our own crossroads with the challenge of carrying forth the struggles of those that came before us. Young people have dreams about the other world that is not only possible but necessary. And the energy is there to make it happen.

So lets talk about what that other world looks like and lets talk about how we see getting there! The YCL is the only organization out there thats able to combine our unique blend of optimism and vision with a concrete strategy on what it will take to win and the experience to know how to get the work done. That is the contribution that the YCL makes and has to continue to make.

We cant just talk about it we gotta be about it!

We all, collectively, are the inheritors of that legacy and the names and faces and documents that you see outside on the display boards of YCL history. Those are all of our grandparents that is our family album.

The Young Communist League is just as important today as it was then and each of you are what will help to give energy, unity and longevity to our movement.

We can turn the tide.

The world is ready.
Look around
The youth are ready.

YCL are we ready?! YCL, Giveem hell!

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