Nov. 30 is the first anniversary of the "Battle of Seattle." As thousands of students joined with trade unionists, environmentalists and others to demonstrate against the World Trade Organization, a new era of protest was dawning.
Many in the media have tended to portray the student protesters as thrill-seekers with little understanding of the issues and a questionable level of long-term commitment. Interviews I've conducted with nearly 50 student activists from national and campus organizations suggest a different picture.
Over the past year, these new young leaders have remained committed to their causes and have begun a process of addressing some difficult challenges, such as the lack of racial inclusion in the protests and the absence of a unifying vision.
"What we've got going thrives on a diversity of visions," says Dale Weaver, a graduate student organizer with United Students Against Sweatshops at San Jose State University. "Having one vision could exclude potential allies."
Student groups that organize around sweatshops, the environment and corporate accountability are often stereotyped as "privileged white kids." Many students are acutely aware of this criticism and are making constructive efforts to be more inclusive, such as approaching national African-American organizations and giving informational talks at meetings of ethnic organizations on campus.
"At the protest against the World Bank and IMF, I was talking to two black deputy officers who said that if we were marching in the streets for urban poverty, they would be happy to march with us," says Jesse Dickerman, co-founder of Rice Students for Global Justice at Rice University. "For the movement to be inclusive, organizing on the community level needs to be done by the same people who show up at the protests."
What will the students who were protesting the World Trade Organization in Seattle do once they graduate? Cynics expect that their activist ideals will slip away as they grab the first job that offers stock options. By contrast, 36 out of 40 students I interviewed said they plan to join social justice, labor or environmental-rights organizations in the United States and abroad.
William Winters, a member of the Student Environmental Action Coalition at Louisiana State University, says, "Through organizing in minority communities my contribution will be getting people from different cultural, racial, and economic backgrounds involved in the movement."
Rachel Grad, a writer for Ruckus, a social-justice magazine at the University of Washington, says, "Through progressive journalism, I want to enable everybody to have an audible voice."
During the past year, these young veterans of the "Battle of Seattle" have demonstrated staying power and sophistication. They -- and the movement against corporate globalization -- are not going away anytime soon.
Bhumika Muchhala is a research assistant at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. She has interviewed nearly 50 student activists from across the country for a written documentary on their experiences and thoughts about the movement that they have helped create. For a full copy of the written documentary, visit www.ips-dc.org, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 202-234-9382.
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